Find Comfort in Children's Wear

Kids: they're unpredictable, temperamental, lacking in motor and social skills and yet absolutely adorable. Beyond their endearing language, sense of wonderment, naturally smooth skin and never-ending imagination, the real thing that sends them off the cuteness chart are the perfectly imperfect outfits they sport. Usually topped with ice cream stains and playground-scraped knees, children's attire reflects the joy (and clumsiness) of childhood.

Trends for the tiny

Although children's wear is innately more casual than its adult counterpart, notes Deb McClaran, Alstyle Apparel and Activewear, the trend of novelty apparel‚ and super casual styles has made its way down to the smallest of consumers. This confirms a trend recently chronicled in a Wall Street Journal article, Why Not Wear Pajamas All Day?‚ that focuses on the teen trend of rocking PJs to class and other public venues, much to the annoyance of many a parent and teacher alike. 

The irony is this trend may well be on the onus of the adults. Younger and younger children want to look more like their big brothers and sisters, or more like their parents,notes Mindy Anastos, L.A. T Sportswear. And this casual, relaxed, what some may call lazy, look is a strong trend in daily adult wear; track suits and exercise gear donned outside the gym. 

McClaran expects dominating adult styles to continue making their way down the size charts, noting that the prominent heathered styles can be expected in the youth market as well. In addition, Amit Gupta, Monag Apparel, lists off popular styles as pajamas, T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweaters, sweatpants and leggings, all top choices for designs done in junior, girl and toddler sizing. As far as that sizing goes, Anastos explains that juniors' styles tend to have a more form-fitting cut than the girls' version that are cut slimmer than garments made for toddlers.

The classics 

Even with a more fashionable push in children's wear and the insurgence of playful non-traditional looks, classic styles can't be beat. Clean, classic blanks are a constant and prove to be a steady segment of the market, notes McClaran. Basic T-shirts, long-sleeved styles and lap-shoulder crawlers in kid friendly colors are among the best performers.

Help them learn colors through clothes! Color variety is becoming increasingly popular in wholesale children’s clothing with many companies offering 30+ choices. (Image courtesy L.A. T Sportswear)

Other strong holds for the market include comfort and value. Comfort is absolutely even more important when it comes to children's wear, explains Matt Waterman, HanesBrands Imagewear. Perhaps offering some insight into the popularity of all-day PJs, scratchy, itchy fabrics cut either too saggy or too clingy are a no-go for tykes.

Gupta adds that it doesn't matter what the style or fashion may be; if it doesn't feel like a second skin, it is not going on the body. To help accommodate, many companies incorporate label-free necks, says McClaran as well as a trend toward softer and lighter designs, moving from 6-oz. fabric to 5-oz. as the standard.

Fit is also paramount in the comfort department. It needs to move, stretch and breathe because children, regardless of how well behaved they are, are wiggle worms. They just can't sit there and look pretty, Anastos muses.

Do your homework

Although children's apparel conveys fun and light-hearted, a little thing called the Consumer Product Safety Information Act (CPSIA) has put a bit of a damper on the market. Restrictions on lead content and the removal of phthalates and other materials have caused controversy and some confusion on what means of decoration, dying and manufacturing are appropriate for the 12-and-younger crowd.

Many decorators have undoubtedly toyed with the idea of dropping out of the market altogether in lieu of navigating the murky waters of CPSIA legislation. For our customers, we've definitely had some that have said they're not going to bother with it, says Anastos. But the market doesn't go away; somebody else just steps in to take it.

Currently, one of the most difficult parts of the law involves dyes and decoration: inks, rhinestones, zippers and a number of other embellishments likely to make its way inside a teething toddler's mouth. With decoration-heavy designs dominating both retail and wholesale in kids' wear, it may be time to bite the bullet and figure out a game plan to forge ahead. Anastos suggests seeking the advice of an attorney, someone that can understand the ins and outs of the law and then translate it into real world applications. 

McClaran also stresses the importance of self-education. If importing or purchasing materials to be used for decoration on a garment, she says it is vital to know every ounce of detail surrounding that material—where it was created, how it was created and the fibers that comprise the material. When in doubt, ask. Contact suppliers, distributors and manufacturers to get the low-down on product compliancy.

Playful promotions

Customization in the children's market has tremendous potential, declares Gupta, solidifying the fact that children's wear is not going away in the wholesale channel. Color has become an increasingly important selling point for the market, expanding beyond the traditional black, white, pink and sky colors often seen in kids' clothing. Gupta suggests incorporating vibrant, lively colors into the mix, adding to the spirit of youth and the number of options available.

Anastos also suggests keeping not only color swatches, but also a full range of sizes on hand for reference. Especially if your contact isn't a parent, she says, as they may not be very familiar with the sizing.

Athletics are always a good option for children's promotions; Waterman points to performance apparel as an increasingly-popular offering in sport and camp programs. The popular moisture wicking and anti-microbial fabrics could be a great fit for sports merchandise geared toward the next generation of basketball and football players as well as school spirit supporters.

On a similar trend, Anastos notes an increased popularity in high school and college sport merchandise sized for tots, primarily because high school students have younger siblings likely to someday attend the same school, and parents and grandparents tend to be exuberant towards their own alma mater. Offering youth-sized shirts donning phrases such as Future Hornet, for example, current school business can be expanded. Although licensing fees and registration also come into play, licensed promotions‚ whether sport or cartoon-related‚ are always an easy sell, she says.

Whether trending toward the fashionable, older markets or sticking with tried-and-true basics, styles have to change to keep it interesting. It doesn't necessarily have to be fashionable in the terminology that you would use in adult wear, but it has to be unique and fun, states Anastos. One thing is certain in the world of kid's wear: it's a changing landscape. Between new regulations, changing styles and a growing audience, the market will keep you on your toes‚ much like watching a sugar-high child around monkey bars.