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From cradle to school: opportunities for babies’ and children’s clothes and footwear

The babywear market is highly fragmented with few dominating brands in the mass market, allowing manufacturers who can provide good quality and design to develop. Global retail sales of babies and children’s clothes and footwear are expected to see sustained growth and reach US$237 billion by 2016. The BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are emerging as important markets. Their combined sales have exceeded that of the EU and are expected to jump 50% from now, to US$73.8 billion in 2016.

Sustained demand for babies’ and children’s apparel

There is a sustained demand for babies’ and children’s clothes and shoes as they are necessities. But since used infant clothes and shoes usually remain fairly new, there are secondhand markets or voluntary transfer of used items in a lot of markets. Therefore, the demand for new infant clothes and shoes may not be proportional to the number of newborns. However, due to improved nutrition, babies and children are growing faster in size than before, which has shortened the product life cycle. Furthermore, baby apparel is always the most popular newborn gift, lending some support to the sales. The global sales of babies’ and children’s clothes and footwear are expected to see a steady annual growth of 5% in the next couple of years, hitting US$237 billion by 2016.

Table: Global Retail Sales of Babies’ and Children’s Clothes and Footwear

Strong growth from emerging markets

According to Euromonitor International, mature markets, including the US, EU and Japan currently account for about half of the world total in terms of sales. The US and the EU markets are expected to see a mild growth while the sales in Japan are likely to be stagnant. The BRIC countries are emerging as important markets. Their combined sales reached US$48.7 billion in 2012, exceeding that of the EU. It is forecast that their sales will jump 50% to US$73.8 billion in 2016.

Chart: Retail Sales Forecast of Babies’ and Children’s Clothing and Footwear in Selected Markets

All about design and quality

The babywear market is highly fragmented with few brands dominating in the mass market. Although consumers have a preference for familiar brands, more importantly, they look for high quality and suitable design of clothes and shoes for their babies and children. Generally speaking, babywear should be simple, comfortable, safe, easy to put on and take off, and comparatively loose.

The use of fabrics in different types of childrenswear is largely universal. Knitted fabrics are commonly used for casual wear. In the summer, cotton, gingham, gabardine and sail cloth are often used for daytime wear while double knits, velveteen and corduroys are good during cold weather. Fleece is increasingly popular for outerwear because it dries quickly and is easy to wash, although wool is still more preferred in some markets.

The weather conditions in different markets may have an impact on the choice of fabrics. For example, in countries where the humidity is high, moisture-wicking garments will be in greater demand. Manufacturers should also be aware that the size and body shapes of babies and children in different countries can be quite different. This will affect their designs and supply of clothes and shoes in different sizes.

Bright colours such as pink, light blue and yellow are the traditional colours for baby wear. In mature markets, parents are usually fashion-minded enough to accept the innovative use of colours and fancy patterns, such as warm and cool colour combinations, in apparel for babies and children. It is also common to add some fun elements in the design of childrenswear. For example, babies wearing the words “don’t look at me, that smell is coming from my dad” can attract a lot of attention. In contrast, consumers in developing economies tend to be more traditional. In particular, manufacturers and designers should be aware of the cultural meaning of different colours. For example, in Brazil, purple means death and mourning while in Belgium, pink is used for baby boys.

Practical and safe

Comfort and safety are the most important considerations of parents when buying clothes and shoes for their babies and children. Infant clothes are usually one-piece with full openings for easy changing, and easy access to nappies for frequent nappy changes. For all types of children’s clothing, materials should be non-flammable and non-irritating without harsh dyes or potentially harmful chemicals. It is also essential to pay attention to the accessories and small parts of the clothing. Dangling strings, tassels and ribbons should be basically avoided as children may pull, tear and bite their clothes, which can pose choking and strangulation hazards.

Manufacturers and exporters should check and comply with the import regulations, safety standards, voluntary industry standards, as well as the labelling requirements of their targeted markets. In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates the sale and manufacture of consumer products including children’s clothing and footwear. There are several mandatory textile standards including the Standard for the Flammability of Clothing Textiles and Standards for the Flammability of Children’s Sleepwear. With respect to children’s footwear, there is a restriction on the lead content limit and the use of paint or surface coatings.

In the EU, the safety of children’s clothing and footwear is covered by the General Product Safety Regulations 2005. There is also a Code of Practice on the design and manufacture of children’s clothing to promote mechanical safety and a Standard covering cords and drawstrings in children’s clothing. In Japan, besides the usual product safety standards, exporters should be aware of the sizing standards on garments for infants, boys and girls set by the Japanese Standards Association.

Regulations on children’s clothing and footwear are in general less stringent in BRIC countries than in the US and the EU, but exporters should also note the country-specific requirements when exploring the emerging markets. For example, China has enacted a standard for the inspection of export and import clothes which gives clear requirements on the torsion and pull stress of small parts and ornaments on children’s clothes to avoid choke risks caused by children swallowing the small parts. In Russia, children’s clothing and footwear are subject to obligatory certification under the Federal Agency for Technical Regulations and Metrology.

Finding the right channel

In most developed economies, the sales of childrenswear are concentrated in specialist apparel retailers and mixed retailers including department stores. In the UK, grocery retailers are also one of the major distribution channels. However, branded clothing is usually sold through specialist stores or department stores. It is worth noting that, in mature markets, the share of non-store retailing is higher, ranging from 7% to 17% of the total sales of childrenswear. Online stores are gaining popularity in general for their convenience, especially for babies and children’s products, among mothers who are busy looking after their children at home. Babywear should list a numerical size, referring to age in months and the approximate weight of the child the garment should fit.

The distribution pattern in emerging economies is heterogeneous. China’s distribution network of childrenswear is close to that in mature markets, dominated by mixed retailers and specialist apparel retailers. In India and Brazil, sales of childrenswear are highly concentrated in specialist apparel retailers, with 93% for India and 60% for Brazil. In Russia it is dominated by non-grocery retailers.

Table: Sales of Childrenswear by Distribution Channel in 2012


Photo: A specialist retailer for childrenswear in India
A specialist retailer for childrenswear in India


Content provided by Picture: Wenda Ma
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