The global fashion and luxury sector has received a battering in the last year or so. But one segment, which often goes unnoticed, is going from strength to strength: the childrenswear market. Historically dominated by a handful of traditional players, today the kidswear arena is growing, diversifying, and rapidly becoming one of the key motors of the industry.
In the last few months alone, we have seen an influx of moves into the market, as established brands recognise kidswear as an opportunity not to be missed. From Farfetch-owned Browns to LA-based streetwear brands, appetite can be seen at every end of the fashion spectrum, with the market now said to be worth an impressive $145bn.
There are a number of reasons for this sudden explosion.
For established businesses, venturing into children’s clothing is seen as a sure-fire win: having already earned the trust of their customers, fashion labels can position themselves as the first choice when shoppers become parents. For brands looking to diversify their product ranges, as well as their revenue streams, it is an exciting and relatively low-risk market for expansion.
“For brands looking to diversify their product ranges, as well as their revenue streams, it is an exciting and relatively low-risk market for expansion.”
The premium kidswear space is also benefiting from a number of long-term trends, not least the move towards more considered purchasing and the steady rise in the average age of new parents. With more disposable income, today’s shoppers are opting to buy from higher-end brands which assure quality and longevity.
Specifically, a greater awareness of sustainability is driving growth. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap) more than 300,500 tonnes of clothing end up in UK landfills every year. Brands tackling this issue by providing well-made items designed to last and be handed down are coming out on top. Moreover, parents are choosing 100% cottons and linens over synthetic blends, and avoiding heavy textile chemicals and mass-produced items. As a result, the premium space is booming.
One such brand is Frugi, an organic, sustainable and ethnically-sourced childrenswear company. I caught up with Frugi’s chief executive Sarah Clark, who told me that “people are being much more mindful. As a child clothing range we’re premium – our customers like the fact that they can spend a bit more and know that what they’re getting is durable and can be handed down.” Mini Rodini is another example. One of Scandinavia’s fastest growing kidswear players, the brand has built its business on a staunch commitment to sustainability, ensuring that 99% of all products are made from materials with a ‘lower impact on nature and human health’.
The space has also benefited from the rise of “Mini Me” or “Mummy and Me” culture, a phenomenon involving parents coordinating outfits with their children in an Instagram-worthy twin fashion. While celebrities like the Kardashian-West clan spring to mind as obvious purveyors of this trend, we’re also seeing high street and mid-market brands get on board. In late May, for example, the H&M-owned womenswear retailer & Other Stories launched its first kids’ capsule collection, offering miniature versions of its key pieces.
Many of the trends we see in the rest of the fashion market are reflected in this kidswear space. As children rarely need to try clothes on, the category lends itself to a digitally-native, direct-to-consumer model. Many online-only brands are benefiting from providing ease for working parents who want to save time and order straight to the door.
The market is also responding to important shifts in culture, and moving away from traditional or restrictive gender norms and labels. Canadian luxury multibrand retailer Ssense recently launched its first kid’s department, featuring a pioneering gender-neutral assortment covering all age ranges from newborn to fourteen years old. Refusing to pigeon-hole children into the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ categories, the business is also providing a more sustainable hand-me-down solution, allowing products to be worn interchangeably by brothers and sisters.
“Handing down clothes remains common practice among parents, so it’s no surprise that founder entrepreneurs have found a way to commercialise this behaviour.”
Like in the rest of the fashion sector, rental and resale are significant areas of focus. Handing down clothes remains common practice among parents, so it’s no surprise that founder entrepreneurs have found a way to commercialise this behaviour. London-based Kids O’clock is a resale site which offers families a peer-to-peer marketplace to buy and sell premium kids clothes. Parents can buy a floral Petit Bateau dress for £12 (RRP £39-£59) or a woollen jumper from The Animals Observatory for £25, usually priced new between £68 and £130.
I spoke to Sarah Clark about how Frugi is navigating the resale trend. “The recommerce angle is super interesting,” she reflected, “our biggest head scratcher is whether we should own it ourselves, or whether it’s just enough to create something that’s good quality so the customers see the possibility of reselling as an added benefit.”
In the coming years, I would not be in the slightest bit surprised if many of the premium brands entered into the ‘re-sellers’ market and started facilitating their own second-hand marketplaces for loyal consumers.
In the renting space, companies like The Little Loop and Graceful Changes are promoting the circular economy by providing ways to rent kids clothes. By subscribing to Graceful Changes, parents can curate a package of kids clothes which can be exchanged at any point once outgrown.
Like in the sportswear and luxury markets, China speeds ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to kidswear, representing an impressive $37bn chunk of the global market. The market in China has grown proportionately with the tech boom, rising in popularity with the emergence of WeChat, Tmall and Luxury Pavilion. Indeed, the category is so successful in China that it outperformed both menswear and womenswear in 2019.
As the market develops, it will be interesting to see which patterns emerge in the talent landscape. From a design perspective, trends in kidswear move far more slowly than in mens or womenswear, and products for children demand an entirely different set of functional considerations. As startups grow, and kidswear units become more substantial, we will continue to watch with interest to see from where hires are made and which talent strategies are adopted. In any case, it seems as though the kidswear sector has evolved into a powerful emblem of modern society. Answering questions of sustainability, identity, the environment and the economy, and providing actionable solutions, this growing nook of the fashion industry seems more progressive than ever.