Trends from the Playground

Jennifer Elgin is a freelance writer and broadcaster, covering fashion and sports beats for various media outlets. She attended the School of Journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she earned her B.S. in Broadcast Journalism. She loves fashion, fishing, the color red, traveling and sports. She currently resides in Memphis.

On a recent shopping expedition for an upcoming baby shower, I found myself wholly immersed in the sensory-overload experience that is today’s kidswear selection. Swimming in a sea of sweater sets and yards of tulle, I am not intimidated, but rather ecstatic with the choices that surround me. Bright, eye-popping hues and patterns, velvety-soft fabrics and delightful textures: Children’s apparel is a veritable wonderland that combines form and function while allowing buyers to express their own tastes and interests. 

Whether it is our collegiate loyalty and pride, a devotion to all things pink with paisley, who we consider to be the greatest rock band of all time or the family-run business we choose to champion, there is no shortage of head-to-toe gear in which to wrap the children we love. Take a look at what the kidswear market truly looks like for today’s savvy parents. 

This season’s headliners

According to Kathleen Vuong of K-V Collections/Kavio! In Commerce, Calif., my assertion that the metaphorical fashion apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in these formative years is certainly represented this season. Parents are able to choose diminutive replicas of the clothes in their closet to outfit everyone in the household.

“Smaller versions of their own wardrobe are exactly what are hot right now. Using the same style fabrics that are being used in mommy and daddy’s looks is a current trend. The vintage distressed look is a great example of this, and the soft, bleached-out look that is so popular in women and men’s apparel is now being used in kidswear. This new look offers an alternative to the basic solids offered traditionally and allows parents to share their sense of style with their children. This supports markets that cater to the whole family because the styles cross over and share the same basic qualities. If parents can relate to it in their own apparel, why wouldn’t they be interested in getting the same for their kids?”

So before decoration enters the picture, identical textures and silhouettes that adults choose to drape on our own bodies have been restructured to a tinier scale that showcases individual personalities and clothing purchases with which we are already familiar. Raw edge detailing, tie fringe hems, stylish burnout designs and super-soft blends are a few examples of the vintage craze Vuong says will lead this season, along with the staples of warmer weather’s welcome return. 

“For the upcoming spring and summer seasons, dresses are still a big kidswear item. Not only are they adorable, but they offer a simple solution of one piece in place of separates for parents when it comes to dressing their girls. Light and breathable fabric that allow kids to stay cool and comfortable while offering versatility for parents is another major trend in kidswear.” 

Getting your money’s worth

Current economic trends demand focus on stretching hard-earned dollars to their fullest potential, especially when it comes to meeting basic needs for the children in our lives. Clothing and accessories sales can survive hard times, as they are an everyday necessity, but not without rising to the occasion of shifting emphasis on product stamina.

“Back-to-basics has become the new mantra for today’s budget-conscious consumer,” states Tricia Welsh of Kideapolis Inc., which designs and manufactures wearable blankets for all ages. “They want items that are fun and durable, and the market is ready for fresh and practical items for children.” 

Vuong resounds this message: “In this financial climate, consumers will be looking for the best quality at the best price. Instead of marketing to people’s wants, it becomes about their needs, and in order to capitalize on this new mentality, one needs to understand this. For parents it becomes an investment, so by marketing kidswear as durable everyday looks at an affordable price, the economy-conscious parent can feel better about their choices.” 

The Laughing Giraffe is offering interlock knits that are very soft and stable for embellishment while satisfying the basic requirements of price and quality, according to the company’s Clive Rock:  “Fashion colors and coordinated pieces help make kids look great with a vast range of knits in bright colors and fashionable styles while being cost effective.”  

Mix-and-match clothing in complementary colors that both genders will love to wear can really boost a child’s wardrobe and add longevity at the same time. While fashion trends may determine what end products we see on the rack, the marketing is directed more toward product quality that will sustain the busy lives of babes and look good. Parents want the decisions and purchases they make to last and maintain integrity longer, now more than ever, and this is a trend we can all get on board with.

Effects of the CPSIA 

Recent modifications to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) to include children’s apparel also play a role in today’s kidswear scene, as everyone involved in the processes of creating an end product are affected in some way by these legislations. 

Says Vuong, “Test results regarding the flammability and the chemical contents showing how specifications of the new laws are being met are a must. Suppliers should be responsible for obtaining the tests on their products and making them easily accessible to consumers, and decorators must verify the information with the distributor and ensure the products they buy from suppliers meet the required standards.” 

It really is on everyone’s shoulder to keep these regulations in check. To date, many consumers aren’t yet aware of this new, larger umbrella, as Welsh explains, “One of the first things we need to remember is that most parents do not have any idea that their children’s clothing and accessories could potentially pose a chemical threat to their child’s health. Stories about chemical poisoning, such as lead, have been related to toys, children’s jewelry, the paint on children’s furniture and so on, not apparel.”  

Both sources agree that this could be a great opportunity for distinguishing a product from competitors by embracing the changes and using adherences to them as an advantage by marketing compliance with CPSIA rules. Without scaring moms and dads who are already overwhelmed with the barrage of data and guidelines conducive to the well-being of their kids, Welsh emphasizes the power of clearly labeling products to reassure consumers the products they choose to buy are up to code.

“Most parents don’t really want to know the details behind the safety of their child’s clothing, stroller or toys,” she says, “they just want to know that what they are purchasing is safe for their child and won’t be making tomorrow’s headlines as the latest children’s hazard.”

According to the parents I approached with this simple, but confidence-boosting proposal, she is speaking their language, loud and clear.

That’s my boy!

The next time you have an opportunity (or excuse, more appropriately) to re-enter the kaleidoscopic world of sorbet and playground-inspired colors, dream-like fabrics and gorgeous embellishments, do so armed with these practical tips that any parent-client themselves would want for their own little ones. The added bonus is that fashion needn’t be sacrificed when shopping smarter and safer; they are incorporated into today’s apparel and accessories. 

The common threads that sew kidswear together will remain the same, regardless of seasonal trends: safety, endurance and expression of taste. So before these tykes grow up and shock us with a declaration of allegiance to our alma mater’s arch rival or decide they have no interest whatsoever in anything paisley, your clients have the distinct simple pleasure of announcing to the world through the clothing you supply that those little carbon copies are theirs, and they couldn’t possibly love them more.