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Big Things Come in Small Sizes

The childrenswear category continues to grow, while teen fashion keeps pace with adult styles.

By Jennifer Morrell, Contributing Writer

June 14, 2018

The childrenswear market has grown substantially in the past few years, leading to the creation of a fashion category that holds its own. The apparel therein mirrors larger, adult styles, with collections that are fun and exciting to tot-sized wearers.

“Within the past six years, our childrenswear has grown so substantially that they could equally compete in the industry for a market of their own,” says Ivy Mai, marketing associate, Kavio! “That’s why we’ll offer a wide variety of matching styles from adults to children’s sizes. Our childrenswear is always made to reflect a mini version of adult divisions, and we see those styles continuing to be popular for the upcoming years.”

Even the basic tee is not so basic anymore, and includes stylish details — such as ruffled or pleated sleeves, a backswing or color combinations, says Amit Gupta, CEO, MONAG Apparel. Fabrics are soft, but durable, and consumers are willing to pay for that quality.

We also live in a world influenced by increasing exposure to new ideas.

“Today’s youth have grown up with social media and a broad exposure to art, fashion and music,” says Marcus Davis, product development manager, HanesBrands. “With that exposure, access and voice, individually and collectively they drive many relevant trends. They also have greater purchasing power than earlier generations.”

What may be new in 2018 is an uptick in the trendy athletic styles that are fashionable, yet comfortable. Kristen Vincent, manager of merchandising, Fruit of the Loom and JERZEES Activewear, says the printwear channel offers a market for club and school events, and today’s kids aren’t shy with their opinions on style, color and comfort. She says athleisure has greatly impacted the childrenswear and tween/teen categories.

“Kids are acclimated to technology at a very young age and parents, more than ever, want to keep their kids active,” Vincent says. “Apparel has a gym-to-leisure appeal. Various fabrics contain rayon, such as tri-blends and cotton/modal (a super-soft fabric made from beech trees) blends in both casual looks and activewear because of its benefits: a soft hand, high absorbency, stretch and durability.”

Athleisure combines popular sports styles and classic fashion, creating a fusion that is comfortable and stylish. “Raglan shirts are a great example of an athletic style that has been designed for comfort wear and is popular with kids and teens,” Gupta says. “In addition, with the popularity of [blended] and polyester fabrics in childrenswear, the athleisure styles are not only influencing the apparel industry [at large], they [also] are gaining popularity in childrenswear.”

Fabric blends like 60% cotton/40% polyester — and even non-blends such as 100% polyester — gained popularity like never before in 2017, Gupta says. Now, manufacturers are encouraged to offer styles and designs in those fabrications that will allow apparel decorators to grow their offerings.
Mai agrees. “Traditional childrenswear has always been the heavyweight cotton, unisex cuts,” she says. “But now that our industry is changing, fabrications have become lighter in different types of cotton blends with a more fun approach to the basics. This year, we’re seeing slub jersey and French terry fabrics available in the children’s divisions.”

The sustainability movement — major among even the youngest consumers — means manufacturers also are incorporating organic cotton, safe dyes and recycled polyester into their childrenswear. Davis says the environment and brand authenticity also matter to today’s youth; in turn, these consumers support the brands they trust.

“ComfortWash, a new line of garment-dyed tees and fleece, is made with 100% American- grown cotton from U.S. farms, which ties to another key factor for this generation,” he says. “They want products and brands that are eco-friendly.”

Vincent says the gap between the retail and the wholesale markets continues to close, and trends in the former continue to influence the latter as more retail-inspired fabrics and styles have become available.

“As the market for childrenswear continues to grow, so will the demand for smaller sizes,” Mai says. “Childrenswear is always taking after our adult collections. That’s why all of our best sellers today will not be only available for adults, but we’ll make them for youth, toddler and infant sizes.”

Vibrant colors, raglan sleeves, flowy styles, and soft, comfy fabrics are dictating childrenswear and teen/tween styles. Sound familiar? It should, as the same developments are prevalent in the adult styles offered in multiple apparel categories.

Advances in sublimation printing, and enhancements in polyester fabrics and designs, have encouraged decorators to offer more designs and embellishments today for young wearers than in the past.

“For 2018, fun, fringy and sporty baseball looks continue to capture the spotlight,” Mai says. “The children of today are more savvy and interested in what their older siblings and parents are wearing.”

Jogger pants for all ages have taken over the sweat-pants market during the past five years,Vincent says, adding these pants are more of a staple item than a true trend. Another current key trend is apparel with large logos.

“Garment-dyed apparel is very popular [with young consumers], with the lived-in look and super-soft feel that everyone wants,” Davis says. “It has the coveted look of their parents’ college sweat shirt or tee, but with their message, their school and their brand.”

Apparel color choices are limitless — from the unique to the bright, vibrant and lively. “Vintage colors continue to dominate for printers and decorators,” Gupta says. “Pastel colors that had lost customer interest are gaining traction this year. The light shades with calm looks are trending now for childrenswear.”

Mai says neons are being phased out, while earth tones — from natural oatmeal to vintage olive green hues — are gaining popularity. This year, we’ll also see garment dyes with distressed looks and soft palettes, as well as heathers.

Gupta says childrenswear will continue to follow the spirit and imagination of those who wear the apparel. Retailers and decorators should explore the opportunity to add a variety of new styles, colors and fabrics now being offered in childrenswear to stay competitive and attract customers.

Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. To comment on this article, email Jennifer at