Picture handfuls of mac-and-cheese squishing between fleshy fingers and completely missing mouth, milk cascading over lips and soaking into bib, bits of French-fry clinging to sprigs of newly-sprouted hair. It wasn’t the first time my nephew Ayden attempted a self feeding, but it was the public performance of his life, to date.
All napkins down, we spectators contributed to the scene with red faces contorted by epidemic laughter. Mom paid how much for that shirt he just destroyed?!? Looking back, perhaps the question we should have been asking is: What made her choose that outfit as a worthy canvass of this type of specialty decorating in the first place?
“Of course, cuteness is very important,” says Jamie Thayer, mother of our favorite little mealtime entertainer, explaining what she looks for in Ayden’s apparel.
“Elastic waists are also important. Little kids love to climb around and be as mobile as they can be, so sometimes jeans can be tough. Sweat pants are always nice to have. Third would be price: They are little and they ruin their clothes so price is a factor. But if it is really cute,” she continues, “sometimes I will pay the higher price because my child is spoiled.”
And what first-born isn’t?
Though Thayer mostly minds style, fit and cost, her son’s preferences in clothing are a bit more basic.
“Colors are important,” she reports. “Ayden really likes blue, he likes motorcycles and monster trucks. Those are important to him, therefore important to me.”
In addition to “blue anything” Ayden’s other affinities come into play, particularly when he accompanies his mom on shopping trips, tempting her to impulse-buy items flaunting his favorite cartoon characters. But, as a purely parental penchant, Thayer admits she tends to purchase brands like OshKosh because of the attached recognition.
Mothers like Thayer who look to and pay for established names are seeking out a trusted quality, according to MONAG’s Amit Gupta.
Gupta also points out another trend in which mothers dress their kids in outfits that resemble their own, turning to retail in this instance because, until now, there were not a lot of coordinating blank options available.
“It is imperative that the decorators use trendier-style blanks,” he advises, as a means to remain on par with retail. “And it’s necessary for them to educate and let the customer know about the quality of garments they are using and why it is as good or better than any of the brand names.”
While Thayer does occasionally overlook her retail urges to obtain zoo-animal and baseball-game shirts and hats, the intent behind buying these items is more for the souvenir sake of it—a memento that says “my child was here” and fulfills parents’ and grandparents’ innate impulse to spoil.
But once home, Thayer confesses she’s less likely to reach for the simpler styling of her promotional purchases when more fashionable options are nearby. But if logos were rendered smaller in the name of practicality and versatility, Thayer thinks these nostalgia buys just might win out.
Once consumers are made aware of the potential in wholesale, they are more likely to dip into their closet for those existing purchases, as well as return for repeat business, Gupta predicts.
“The children’s wear market is definitely changing from basics to more stylish and trendy outfits,” he says, reinforcing Thayer’s buying and child-dressing habits. “Skirts, skorts and capri pants, as well as raglans for children, are now more popular than ever.”
With kids’ styles tagging along after their full-grown equals in terms of fit and fashion, Valtex’s Paul Kunitz still sees new opportunities within old markets.
“Of course the same opportunities are out there that have been out there for years,” he reports, mentioning the collegiate decorated-apparel market in particular.
Although many college shoppers who frequent the campus bookstore and local schoolthemed shops are not parents themselves, kidswear items are not ignored.
“In my opinion,” Kunitz offers, “it’s probably the parents who come to visit their college kids, and they see stuff for little kids too that may be for little brothers and sisters or it could be for grandchildren. Another area that’s been strong for a good while is in a lot of the college-alumni catalogs,” he continues, “and children’s as well as adult products go into those catalogs, and they’re sent to alumni.”
Kunitz also mentions ad-specialty outlets for embellishers looking to team with promotional consultants. Hospitals or state and local government programs and giveaways in which these organizations promote awareness or deliver a certain message about newborns are ways to get involved, according to Kunitz.
He names company store and catalog products and premiums as further options. “There are, of course, the premiums, where the product may be given away,” he says, with opportunities for merchandise such as infant Ts and body suits accompanying necessities such as diapers and baby supplies as freebees or low-priced options with company branding.
Kids are everywhere so, in almost any market, kidswear should be a viable option so long as it’s of the quality kind.
“In today’s market,” Gupta says, “more and more people are looking for personalization of premium-quality products for kids. Day-care centers, hospitals, resorts, school sport teams and companies are all embellishing their brand on children’s wear.”
To bolster sales farther, Gupta also recommends making a habit of mixing it up.
“A larger selection of colors and styles in blanks provides printers and embroiderers opportunities to offer more variety to their customers and go after different markets,” he declares, adding that today’s customers will appreciate this selection as they tend to transition away from traditional pink and sky colors to more bright, vibrant and dark colors.
“Customers also seem to have more liking for variety of colors and are not hesitant to try new bold solid or combination of colors for children,” he reports, citing black, chocolate, olive and orange as examples.
Along with their color variety, consumers are demanding leggings and shirts or jogging-suit outfits for girls, and jogging pants paired with comfortable Ts for boys, says Trisha DeLauro, daycare educator and Gymboree clothing-store manager.
“These items are practical because they are comfortable to play in and still look neat and presentable,” she says.
As for what’s not practical, DeLauro mentions young girls trying to dress older, as well as a strong aversion to overalls. While they may just be a tug and a couple clicks to get on, they become an infuriating enigma for those taking them off, putting them back on and repeating throughout the day.
“They are definitely not good for potty training,” she proclaims.
While trendiness does come into play, sensibility frequently takes precedence. Mother-to-be for the second time around, Thayer seeks out stylish placket shirts made of cotton and polo-looking styles with a long-sleeve layer underneath for Ayden, but anticipates some obvious changes for what she’s been told (and hoping) is a girl.
“The color choice is different and there are also more accessories,” she says. “But I am wondering about the convenience of so many fancy dresses on a tiny baby. Will I like them or will they be annoying?”
However impractical, the showier items are sure to serve their purpose for pictures, parties and even in public.
On the surface, DeLauro names trends in sequins, glitter and other shiny materials for girls’ outfits, jeans and pants, and glow-in-the-dark scenes on boys’ T-shirts and sweatshirts.
“Little boys clothing is getting much cuter,” she remarks. “The different styles, graphics and colors they are using instead of the traditional blues and just putting sports items on their clothing makes it more interesting for both the child and adult.”
Safety meets softness
While all kids deserve a touch of style, glamour and bling, as the saying goes: safety first! From banishment of string ties on hoodies for infants, toddlers and even youth, to snap testing and reinforcement, new red flags and resulting precautionary measures crop up constantly. But an item manufactured to exact safety specifications must be embellished with the same regard to be considered truly safe. And it’s at this point where inks and extras come into play.
“If they’re putting some kind of little stones or little embellishments on there, they have to make darn sure there’s no chance of these things coming off, or a child starts to chew on it,” Kunitz cautions.
“As far as what’s different for children’s wear,” he goes on, “I would say that probably more water-based inks are being used in recent years because of the fact that they can make a nice soft print from it. Always a matter of concern for the infants especially, we try to make the fabric itself as soft as we can, and therefore the embellishment certainly is desirable to be soft as well.”
Water-based inks, sublimation prints, and digital direct-to-garment techniques can be used to achieve this desirably soft finish.
“One major concern with tiny infants, boy or girls, is how soft the clothing is,” Thayer agrees. “Parents are always so protective over the newborn, like using special expensive detergent and soft comfy cotton sweat pants as opposed to jeans.”
With something soft for baby on the inside, it’s within the decorator’s power to sell into markets with quality kidswear that speaks to Mom on the outside.
One tactic that, according to Kunitz, has proven affective in approaching the resort-chain market, involves presenting a program with ideas for different prints and resort-location souvenirs.
“The printers themselves have to be aggressive enough to be able to come up with the designs,” he advises. “Our product is just the canvas that the picture is put on.”
A decorator’s selling success, Kunitz has observed, lies in the imagination of the artwork’s creator.
“You can have a great garment but if you don’t have a good artist to put a design on there, they’re not going to buy it.”
To that, DeLauro adds that, in earning her business, decorators should offer versatile designs covering a range of ages on premium items. Because, as all sources agree, when it comes to kids, quality counts!