5 Aug 2019
Unicorns and Mom-and-Me Outfits Dominate US Kids Clothing Expo
Despite their best efforts, mermaids can't replace unicorns in the affections of young ladies across the US, while matching mum-and-daughter ensembles still outsell dad-and-lad combos, according to exhibitors at New York's Children's Club.
A matching mum was the must-have accessory at New York's Children's Club fashion show. All things unicorn and mermaid also continued to be popular with little princesses, according to exhibitors, while remembering the functional needs of young fashion models was seen as vital for sales success. There were also signs that a number of international brands were looking to better meet the demanding expectations of US buyers.
Among the many exhibitors offering so-called 'mom-and-me' sets was Rafael Rayek, a Florida-based swimwear specialist. Confident that these were very much on trend, Director Jenie Rayek said: "We have bathing suits for mom and daughter, son and dad, brother sister and so on. I think that new parents really want to match with their kids, so it's very big for us at the moment."
Finding success with a very similar range was Love Bubby, a New York-based manufacturer of pop-culture slogan-bearing knitwear. Outlining her company's particular take on the style, Founder Jamie Windau, said: "We have a range themed around 'mommy and me' – so, for example, we have a shirt that says 'Queen' and we have a kid's shirt that says: 'Queen Bee'.
"Also popular right now is our Speaker of the House design, which we launched last summer. Our best-seller, though, is still our Little Feminist collection, which has topped our sales charts since we introduced it two years ago."
Although mom-and-me combinations were on offer from many exhibitors at this year's event, Windau remained unconvinced of the long-term potential of the look. Outlining her concerns, she said: "Essentially, we have two types of customer. We have customers who want to just buy for their child and then we have customers who want to buy something matching for their child and themselves. It's not, however, a 50-50 split.
"In fact, I would say that only about 10% of our customers go for the matching outfits option. We also sell to retailers that target women and kids, however, and they do tend to do well when they can offer both options."
While the majority of parent-and-child combinations were geared to the mother-and-daughter market, London-based Me and Henry had on offer options for the less well-served father-and-son sector. Explaining why the company had moved into this particular space, Founder Mark Jeynes said: "Overall, there is a real gap when it comes to boys' clothing in general – stripy, polo shirts, not Ralph Lauren and not J Crew, but affordable.
"As a buyer at John Lewis, I was aware of the gap, but couldn't fill it. When I started out on my own and found myself representing a wide range of brands, I found it was easy to sell girls' outfits, but really hard to get a boys' line that worked. All the stores that I knew were saying: 'What about boys? What have you got for boys?' While they do like tractors and appliqué chunky graphics, they also want something a bit classier, but it wasn't out there. As a result, we came up with Him and Henry, a range of matching shirts and polos for dads and lads."
While finding something that appeals to young gentlemen may seem a little daunting, finding something that appeals to young ladies is simplicity itself and has been for several years now – unicorns. Indeed, while seasonal fads come and horned, uni-horned magic horses remain the must-have motif for little princesses across America and well beyond.
One of the clear cheerleaders for this abiding style was Dainty Girl Accessories, a Quebec-based children's outfitter. Explaining that the company was more than happy to ride this particular trend for as long as possible, a Sales Representative said: "The unicorn is still very in right now and, as you can see, most of our stuff is unicorn-related. While mermaids are also popular, they are definitely a poor second to unicorns."
One trend that was somewhat less visible than the ubiquitous unicorn, but very much a topic of conversation across the showfloor, was the continuous pressure on prices that still characterises the US market. Addressing this particular issue, Karine Senequier, a Sales Representative for Noukies, a Belgian supplier of children's clothes, toys and furniture, said: "US buyers really go for the European look and that is what they want to buy from us – they like very sweet things, as well as things that are proper or simply chic.
"They are, however, only looking to pay about US$15-17. While they want to have something chic, they really don't want to pay what it's actually worth."
Me and Henry's Jeynes – a fellow European – believed, however, that it was actually better to accept the realities of the US market, saying: "Pricing is really important. You need to be aware of the average price that customers will pay for a basic T-shirt, for instance.
"Most buyers are looking for the wholesale price of a T-shirt to be between $12-14. While you can come over with a fancy T-shirt and price it at $20, you're not going to get that. You're still going to get $12-14."
At the event, Jeynes was representing several non-US brands, having built his business by advising European clothing labels how to crack the US market. Maintaining that all-inclusive pricing was a key element in this, he said: "One of the biggest differences here is how customers expect to be treated. Overall, they want everything to be included in the cost price.
"You are not going to get an order if you tell them there is an additional shipping charge. You have to factor that into your pricing before you try to sell here, so the customer is not deterred by extra costs.
"The second thing you have to bear in mind is that the US testing process is hugely different to the European one. As a result, you have to submit everything to a completely different testing body to make sure that it all complies with every US regulation. Quite often, a new brand will come over here, secure orders and then find it can never fill them – largely because they'd face legal action if they tried to ship anything that hadn't been approved by the US testing authorities."
While many at the event were keen to stay ahead of changing trends, there were still some exhibitors who believed success could be found through a more consistent offering, with Dotty Dungarees, a London-based business specialising solely in dungarees and dungaree dresses, being a prime example.
Outlining the company's philosophy, Co-founder Georgie Parr said: "Our thing is to focus one particular product – classic dungarees. While we do have our thing, we do vary our offering in terms of colour, primarily on a seasonal basis, although we also factor in changing trends.
"While it's nice to sometimes incorporate some of the latest trends, we basically produce a classic garment and can't see any merit in continuously trying to reinvent the wheel. Although we are well aware that a lot of childrenswear is trends driven, we believe that if you find something that really works for your kids, it's nice to be able to carry on buying it."
Children's Club 2019 took place from 6-8 January at New York's Jacob K Javits Convention Center.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York