4 Oct 2016
Back Stories and Animal Prints Set the Style for US Kids' Fashion
Playtime New York, the 13th iteration of North America's leading trade show in the kids' fashion sector, saw demand peak for edgier urban looks, items of clothing that actually tell a story, matching outfits and those ever-appealing animal prints.
Animal prints once again proved popular with buyers at the Playtime New York kids' fashion show. A good backstory was also seen as vital, with both buyers and consumers keen to engage with brand and lifestyle aspirations. Overall, it also appeared that American shoppers are far more inclined to buy complete outfits than their separates-loving European cousins.
Among those capitalising on the demand for animal-print items was Netherlands-based Oeser, a first-time exhibitor at the event. Commenting on its debut experience, Marloes Hilbers-van den Mortel, the company's International Sales and Marketing Manager, said: "We love to do fun prints and there is always a theme for our collections. Our 2017 collection is all about the ocean. It's called Big Fish, Little Fish and features stingrays, octopuses and sharks. We also feature sushi. We always like to make people laugh. Kids' clothes should always be fun, as well as comfortable.
"We have had a good response to our yellow stingray print, people have really picked up on that. It's cool on its own, while the more daring customers can mix and match the yellows."
As a first-time entrant to the US, Oeser was well placed to note some of the key differences between the North American and the European approach to children's fashion. Addressing this particular issue, Hilbers-van den Mortel said: "What we have found in just the few days that we have been here is that there are more people buying sets. They buy matching items and we can sell them as a set.
"In Europe, people like to take different bits and pieces that go together, but they don't buy them as sets."
Ana Bianchi, Founder and Designer of New York-based PaperGirl, was also finding that animal prints were selling well. She said: "The elephant print is very popular, as are our peacock and tiger ranges."
The PaperGirl range was perhaps the best example of another dominant theme at the event – the importance of a 'backstory' that consumers can engage with. Bianchi's collection took a very literal interpretation of the notion of a backstory. She said: "The important thing about all our dresses is that they tell a story. Here, in the hangtag, the girls are going to find a story that they can read. This makes the conversation with the clothes far more interactive and much more immersive. The dress itself is part of the story.
"The Spring 2017 collection tells the story of a trip around the world. This includes a stopover in many different places. In each one, I borrow from the local culture and turn it into a story. There are things from Sweden, Morocco, Australia, China, Greece, Japan and Mexico."
Each PaperGirl dress comes complete with its own mini storybook. Although increasing costs, this added value also allows for a higher price point.
Another exhibitor with an engaging story to tell was New York's Paisley Magic. Explaining her own approach, Janki Desai, the company's Founder, said: "We use traditional Indian art work, which is cloth-printed. It is a 5,000-years-old technique that is only practiced in India.
"We mainly use cotton and silk. These are very soft materials, making them ideal for babies as they don't irritate their skin."
According to Desai, her collection had largely received a positive reception at the New York show, with buyers paying particular attention to some of its detailing. Acknowledging this interest, Desai said: "They like certain details – such as the lace that we use and some of the traditional prints that we use. The pinks, oranges, yellows and floral patterns work particularly well. People almost seem to view them as mobile artworks, particularly those featuring floral designs."
Love Me Baby, a New York label, was also relying on an intriguing backstory to support the brand. Laura Bennett, the Designer behind the company, said: "We're working in collaboration with Curtis Kulig, a renowned New York graffiti artist. You can see his tag all over the city.
"We teamed up with him, taking his tag and putting it on children's clothes, including a line of gender-neutral American-made cotton kids' and babies' clothes. We are trying to keep things a little more fashion forward, providing playground-wear for kids who aren't into frilly dresses, while sticking with a black, white and red palette."
Despite being so closely associated with New York, the Love Me Baby range has won fans well outside the city. Keen to highlight this, Bennett said: "We are selling all over. We find that because our range is so iconically New York, it's really popular in many places well outside of the city. We have had interest from Saudi Arabia, Japan, and all these other little pockets of America. This is despite the fact that the story behind it and all of its colours are quite bold and New Yorky."
Love Me Baby was not the only brand keen to add a little urban edge to its children's fashion range. Assessing her own approach, Tatiana Abracos, Creative Director of South Carolina-based Benitakids, said: "I love street art and I love street wear. As a result, my new collection is easy to wear, but with something of an edge.
"I have a mix of Japanese and French influences, largely on account of my recent travels. I lived in New York for 15 years, though, and there are a lot of cool people there. While America is more commercial, in Europe you can be a little more daring."
Abracos also noted the differences in taste across the US, saying: "In New York – because there are so many people from so many places around the world – it is something of a mix. There is a market for everybody. The West coast is a little bit different, largely because of the weather.
"Now I live in South Carolina, where long dresses are in. Everything is a little bit more preppy."
Ines Vilaseca, Owner of the Barcelona-baseVersatil-E childrenswear brand, was a little surprised at just which styles were selling well in New York. She said: "I thought that maybe, due to the large Jewish community here, it would be more classic, but they seem to be the ones that are the most daring, something that I find very intriguing."
Bianchi was another to note the need to tailor product lines to the different regions around the US. She said: "For me, the East coast has been much better. People tend to be way more casual on the West coast. As I don't have T-shirts here, that has been a little bit of a challenge. While some things feel a little bit too formal for the West coast, they do well here.
"I also sell into Mexico. There they dress the kids in more than just the T-shirts and shorts favoured in the US."
With many years of trading experience in Europe, Hilbers-van den Mortel had clear views on the differences that characterise its constituent markets. She said: "In France and Spain they like things to be a bit more conservative. Germany, though, loves our prints.
"In the Netherlands, we wouldn't sell one-pieces for kids more than a year or a year-and-a-half in age. In Germany, though, we can sell much bigger sizes.
"It's these little differences that make the job such fun. Every time we add a new country to our list, we find that there are little specific things that we can do to help sell our brand better in the local market."
Playtime New York was held at the Metropolitan Pavilion and Altman Building from 31 July-2 August. The event attracted some 180 exhibitors, as well as 2,000 trade visitors from across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York