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Kids’ footwear steps up its game

bobux i walk 'duke' in denim £46

Drapers explores how athleisure and “mini-me” trends are fuelling a growing kidswear market.

Footwear retailers will soon be in the middle of their busiest kids’ period: back-to-school shopping. This annual occasion is a key event for retailers as parents prepare for the school year ahead, and provides a welcome boost to businesses’ post-summer sales.

The overall footwear market is forecast to grow 1.5% in 2018, while the kids’ footwear market is forecast to grow 1.2%, GlobalData reports. Despite this rate being slightly behind the sector as a whole, retailers and brands believe kids’ footwear holds untapped potential.

Footwear retailer Schuh has launched 16 kids-only stores since the concept’s debut in Braehead in October 2012.

Schuh managing director Colin Temple believes the kids’ market represents chances for growth, but requires a tailored approach: “The kids’ standalone stores are a great addition to our portfolio, but this market can be challenging for a number of reasons. There is a bigger stock investment with children’s shoes because of the additional sizes required to fit each stage of development. We’ve also found that servicing our Schuh Kids stores is quite different from our main stores. We have a keen focus on training, and the excellent staff working in our Schuh Kids stores have the task of addressing two customers at once, ensuring that both the purchaser (the adult) and the wearer (the child) walk away with nothing but a positive experience.”

Schuh kids lakeside

Schuh Kids Lakeside

For Debenhams, quality is driving growth in the kids’ footwear market. “Children’s footwear is a changing market and we have seen that customers are becoming savvier and making more considered choices,” says Shani Delargy, head of childrenswear at Debenhams.

“They look for newness and don’t want repeats or updates from last year. They are happy to trade up where the offering is new and well designed.”

Kidswear is an opportunity for us, as we target busy mums and dads

Deborah Sharpe, Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer is focusing on back-to-school trade to boost sales in this sector. Last year, the retailer trialled half sizes and a school shoe-fitting service in 30 stores, training 750 colleagues in the process. 

“Kidswear is an opportunity for us, as we target busy mums and dads. In footwear especially, there’s a real incentive and a chance to position ourselves as a more specialist retailer,” says head of technology for kidswear at M&S, Deborah Sharpe. “Due to the success of last year’s back-to-school trial – with the fitting service performance rising by 28% ahead of control stores – we are now rolling out the scheme. We are set to introduce additional sizes including half sizes and varying widths, and introduce the fitting service to 55 stores. Underpinning all of this work is a constant focus on reliable quality.” 

The price is right

At kids’ footwear brand Start-Rite shoppers are polarised by price, says product director Kate Tansley. “[School shoes are] an area for us that continues to go from strength to strength. It is very much tried-and-tested styling, good fit and quality, which is our heartland. But customers are very split in terms of price. People tend to fall into two camps: either value shoppers or shoppers who buy premium brands that command trust. Price sensitivity can be a real challenge, but if the quality is there and the product is right, it is important to have a confident pricing strategy.”

Another key opportunity within the market is in the rise of athleisure, believes Dina Moon, head buyer at designer kidswear retailer Childrensalon.

“Trainers in adultwear have been the protagonists of this year in fashion and we’re expecting to see more and more popping out in the kids’ lines. In our experience, the biggest prospects in the market are represented by sliders and trainers, which are going through a renaissance. Especially when logo driven or highly embellished. Also extremely popular is the sock trainer, which many brands are offering several versions of.”

Moon adds that the market has become more competitive as more brands and retailers invest in the area: “The most evident change I witnessed over the past year is the considerable increase of kidswear collections available on the market. There has been an influx in the amount of options as well. Additionally, more brands are offering early delivery drops, which is challenging, as we have to schedule all buying appointments in very little time.”

bobux kid pixie sandal in navy with gold

Bobux

Andrew Sharp, CEO of kids footwear brand Bobux, agrees with Moon, adding that large chain retailers and small independent retailers have been put under intense pressure. 

“The smaller retailers that have invested well – particularly in smarter technology to better understand their customers – are reaping the benefits. But if they haven’t invested well, and instead have been rigid at a time when they need to adapt, those are the retailers that seem to be struggling.

“Larger chains are facing similar issues, and while they often have more resources to invest, we are seeing many of these retailers losing large chunks of market share as they look to cut costs rather than add value.”

Sainsbury’s head of buying for its Tu clothing line, John Carolan, also believes that the demand for athleisure has grown.

“We are starting to see a big switch in formal footwear being updated with more casual, sporting styling. We’ve seen an increase in bright colours and technical fabrications being used to create playful but practical styles for kids. 3D applications are being used to create novelty footwear updates in the sports and leisure categories. We’ve seen growth in this trend over the past few years and now we’re seeing aspects filtering into ‘occasion leisure’, which has become popular with weddings and communions, for example.”

Little lookalikes

There has also been a rise in the “mini-me” trend – garments modelled on adult products, produced in children’s sizes – Carolan adds.

“The mini-me trend is growing and we’ve seen particular increase in the sandal category, especially in pool sliders, Grecian-inspired gladiators and loafers. Due to the fast pace at which children need footwear because their feet are always growing, providing great, quality footwear at great prices makes supermarkets a destination for parents.”

Moon agrees that mini-me styles are doing well: “Mini-me is as popular in footwear as it is in clothing. Evidence of this is the success of brands such as Sophia Webster Mini, Fendi, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. Although generally, I must say this season all brands have upped their game, especially on the footwear front.”

Retailers are tapping into the mini-me trend, as millennial parents are dressing their children like themselves

Mamequa Boafo, GlobalData

Senior retail analyst at GlobalData Mamequa Boafo says the rise of mini-me, and interest in celebrity collections such as kidswear brand Fearne by Fearne Cotton, taps into the demands of the “increasingly style-conscious parent”: “Social media has been influential in driving demand for childrenswear as a new wave of fashionistas has emerged in the way of celebrity children following in the footsteps of their parents. In addition, retailers are tapping into the mini-me trend, as millennial parents are dressing their children in the same clothing and footwear as themselves. We have seen players such as Matalan and River Island, and on the luxury end Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, respond to this consumer interest with dedicated ranges.”

In an extremely difficult retail landscape, the kids’ footwear market is growing. Despite challenges such as economic uncertainty, increased competition and the rise of digital platforms and marketing, those investing in service and adapting to popular trends including athleisure and mini-me styles can capitalise on this sector of the kidswear market.

Footwear is a priority for children, and requires updating and replacement more frequently than adult footwear because of the rate at which children grow. The retailers that listen and adapt to consumer appetites are sure of a win in the step up to the back-to-school period.

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