The childrenswear retail market is set to hit £5.9 billion by 2016. Images looks at how the market is changing and how garment decorators can secure a slice of the action

The kidswear market is at an exciting point: online clothing stores are popping up, everything Prince George is seen wearing sells out within seconds of him being photographed, and there are more styles in the imprint market that have been specifically designed for children then ever before.

Brands such as Skinni Minni, SOL’S and Mantis are beginning to shift the childrenswear imprint market in a more fashion-focused direction, and customers appear to be responding to the change with Mantis reporting good sales of targeted, retail-inspired designs such as its kids’ Baseball T.

The promotional merchandise industry, however, still tends towards designing kidswear that is unisex rather than designing different garments for girls and boys. To Kirsty Macdonald, brand manager of Mantis World, the childrenswear market is currently in a similar place to where womenswear was 10-15 years ago. “The expectation then was that women would just wear T-shirts that I would suggest had been designed for men,” she says. “The womenswear market is now incredibly buoyant – we’re seeing very specifically designed women’s T-shirts.” The hope – and the signs are good – is that childrenswear will follow a similar trajectory to womenswear, also continuing to grow in size and stature.

One noticeable change is that children are no longer automatically expected to wear smaller versions of adults’ garments without any allowance made for their different shape. As well as the difference in body shapes between boys and girls, attention is also starting to be given to the different requirements of different ages groups: SOL’S, for example, this year introduced the Melody Girl’s T-Shirt.

“Boys and girls shapes become increasingly different [as they grow older]” points out Kirsty. “A 10-year-old girl doesn’t want an oversized T-shirt with shoulder seams hanging halfway down her arms and short sleeves that are halfway down her forearms.”

From left: Pink is still popular with younger girls, says Howard from TShirt Studio, SOL’S Girls Cherry T-Shirt, the Baseball T is a favourite from Mantis

Mantis took the decision last year to replace Humbugs, its kids’ range, with two new kids’ brands: Mantis Mini and Mantis Kids. It followed in-depth research by the company into what the market needed and was asking for, and resulted in the total number of kids’ clothes they offered being reduced by around 20%. The overall profit for that division has gone up despite the reduction in garment numbers, however, indicating that Mantis’s research data is sound. “New products we introduced at the back end of last year are working. They’re working really well. They’re in the top five of our kidswear sales,” says Kirsty, adding: “It’s about being much more clever with our offering and listening to what the customer wants.”

One of the items introduced was a girl’s specific tee: The Girl’s T-shirt has a gently curved hem, a slighter shorter sleeve than the boy’s tee and the neckline is wider. For 2016 the brand is introducing a vest dress for younger girls to run around in, while for older girls they are introducing the Sweat T, a short-sleeved sweatshirt with a curved hem.

Colourful demands

There are often stories in the media about parents demanding gender neutrality when it comes to kids’ clothes – no more pink for girls and blue for boys – but it’s not something Howard West, director of Fairford-based TShirt Studio, recognises: “The pastel blues and pinks are still the most popular, along with white, which is the best-selling colour of all.” Isabelle Attal, area manager for SOL’S, says: “Generally, the colours depend on the country. However we offer lots of different colours for kids besides the classic pastel ones, such as fuchsia, black, dark purple and many more.”

From left: Hoodies printed by TShirt Studio, a kids’ tee printed using the DST system from Global Print Solutions

As part of the research Mantis did they looked at colour, and found that black, white and grey are more appealing to the older children – those above age 8 – as they tend to be more retail savvy. In the younger age group red sells very well, along with turquoise and bright pink. Bright pink is no longer a popular colour for older girls, while for babies, purple has also been struck off the wanted list.

As for the fabrics, Howard says: “Organic sales are especially strong in babywear, and are also stronger in children’s ranges than in adult ranges.” Isabelle agrees, commenting: “We have an organic body, the Organic Bambino, and an organic T-shirt, the Organic Kids, which are very successful.” It would appear that parents are more concerned with buying materials that they perceive as being “better” for their children and also the price difference between organic and non-organic clothes for children is far smaller than that for adults’ organic clothing.

Printing is still the choice of decoration for most, although this is changing, says Isabelle. “Generally speaking, printing is the most popular decoration for kids garments, but we’re seeing more and more embroidery and sublimation for polyester products, as for instance on our Sporty Kids T-shirt.” (See How to embroider babywear for Madeira’s top tips for effective embroidery on kidswear.)

The TShirt Studio uses direct-to-garment printing, with the babywear market generally asking for slogans about the parents, according to Howard: ‘Mummy, will you marry Daddy’ is apparently very common. Football-related slogans are also popular, Howard adds.

From left: The Sporty Kids T-shirt from SOL’S is ideal for sublimation printing, the Mantis Sweat T, designed especially for older girls

AS an alternative to direct-to-garment printing, Global Print Solutions (GPS) recommends DST, its transfer system, when printing on children’s clothes. The company explains that the water-based transfer creates an image with a “very soft feel, stretch and high durability” that meets retailers’ requirements. GPS adds that DST gives screen printers the ability to produce professional photographic transfers in-house. It comments: “The DST system was developed to cope with current industry demands. Combining digital printing with screen printing, it is the answer to these challenges, producing the high quality images that today’s discerning baby and childrenswear clients insist upon.”