Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s apparel brand The Row caused a stir on social media on Wednesday when it dropped an unexpected fall childrenswear collection. Its mix of bold autumnal colors with elevated designs were an immediate hit — and a new direction for a company that had never done children’s fashion before.
Someone hide my credit card before I buy my baby nephew the entire The Row kids collection: pic.twitter.com/s2JzaGEutD
— Alyssa Vingan (@alyssavingan) September 28, 2021
But those who have been observing shopping data for the last six months may have seen this coming. Children’s fashion has been growing in popularity. The childrenswear market grew faster than men’s and women’s fashion in the last two years, reaching $252 billion globally and $34 billion in the U.S. last year. It’s especially notable among luxury brands and retailers. Saks Fifth Avenue alone added 60 new brands to its children’s category in 2021, including big names like Off-White, The Row, Armani and Moschino. Going back further, Farfetch quadrupled its children’s offerings between 2016 and 2017.
Tracy Margolies, the chief merchandising officer at Saks Fifth Avenue, said the retailer has seen exponential growth in the sales of childrenswear over the course of 2021, though she declined to provide dollar amounts. She and her team have been working to bulk up the representation of luxury and streetwear brands accordingly, which have made up the bulk of the growth in kids’ sales in 2021, according to Margolies.
“We expanded [kids’] apparel and shoes, as well as other prime children’s categories,” Margolies said. “And we added the tween category, recognizing that this age group is becoming more fashion savvy at an earlier age, leading them to seek out ways to define their personal style. Additionally, we’re doing special product launches with brands we know our customers really love and will gravitate toward.”
For a retailer like Saks, selling more kids’ clothes serves the dual purpose of increasing customer loyalty. It turns Saks from a place where you buy clothes for yourself to a place where you can buy clothes for your whole family. More reasons to return to a store should, in theory, lead to higher loyalty.
“This strategic shift to serve the whole family has enabled us to not only increase our sales in the kids’ category, but also establish a deeper relationship with our customer by offering a wider array of luxury items for the entire family,” Margolies said. “Customers who choose Saks to purchase across categories, including kids, contemporary, designer and accessories, tend to over-index within our top customers.”
Streetwear is a particularly notable trend among designer childrenswear. At Saks, designer sneakers have been one of the biggest drivers of childrenswear growth. Matt Alexander, CEO of retailer Neighborhood Goods, said he’s seen a strong correlation between streetwear and kids clothing shoppers.
“We found out really early that customers shopping Stadium Goods were also shopping a lot of Primary, a children’s brand,” Alexander said on the Glossy Podcast in late September. “They’d spend $1,000 on sneakers then go across the store and spend $100 on a kid’s onesie. That’s hip parents coming in. So there’s lots of opportunity to think creatively about the connection between these two categories.”
And streetwear companies like Kith have been keen on adding more kids’ clothes to their collections. In late September, Kith partnered with classic kids’ brand OshKosh B’Gosh, marking the first time Kith had ever done an exclusive kids’ collab.
“I’m always inspired by brands that stand the test of time,” said Ronnie Fieg, founder and creative director of Kith of OshKosh. “So I can’t think of a better partner for [this].”
Like all good collaborations, Kith x OshKosh B’Gosh allowed both partners to benefit from the other’s expertise. Kith earned experience in the growing children’s category, and for OKB gained Kith’s streetwear credibility.
“Collaborating with an innovator like Kith was a natural fit for us,” said Jeff Jenkins, evp of global marketing at OKB’s parent company Carter’s Inc. “This classic-meets-modern partnership will evoke nostalgia and excitement among consumers.”