Trickle Up Theory

With takedowns already an established success, children’s brands are introducing adult sizes to capitalize on the crossover appeal.

The co-owners of Lennon & Wolfe and their sons.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and experts say it’s not a locomotive screaming toward the childrenswear industry. While the industry weathers massive retail disruption, the global market for childrenswear is rumored to experience healthy growth in the coming decade driven by improving economies in Asia and the Middle East, the increased exposure of children to media (and the ensuing interest in material goods), the greater role of children in purchasing decisions and the widening range of luxury clothing brands available for purchase.

Speaking of which, couture labels such as Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Marc Jacobs are helping drive the takedown trend, considered by many industry experts to be one of the most promising children’s categories. Partly an attempt to create lifelong customers, designers are appealing to the inherent desire of parents and their children to want to dress (at least somewhat) alike. Just look at the Instagram hashtag #mommyandme, showcasing nearly 2 million posts of families wearing coordinating outfits.

Dolce & Gabbana sees the potential. The fashion house  gained plenty of buzz this year with its coordinating adult and children’s apparel collection. Its Autumn/Winter 2017 runway show even kicked off with designer-model couple Jason and Amanda Harvey holding their twins Noah and Rose, all dressed in matching graphic feline prints. Two more recent buzz-worthy couture mini-me moments: Beyonce and 5-year-old daughter Blue Ivy sporting matching Gucci accessories at this year’s premiere of Beauty and the Beast and Kim Kardashian matching her daughter (North) in a miniature version of her Vetements sequin dress to see Kanye perform in 2016.

Unlike fads, experts say the takedown trend isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. For starters, it emphasizes the relationship between parent and child, and there aren’t many boundaries, even as it evolves to include micro trends within the category. “It’s a thriving business because little girls will always want to be like their mommy,” says Jenah Rommel, owner of Mayah Kay Fashion Boutique in Corona, CA. Rommel opened her boutique nearly four years ago with the premise to stock coordinating adult and children’s lines yet markets them separately so her younger clientele doesn’t need a parent to feel comfortable shopping. “We have a lot of customers all over the world that will just purchase the adult clothing, or just the girls’,” she says.   

Indeed, takedowns is now a big business. So why not “takeups”? In addition to tapping into the same matching outfits appeal, grownups are increasingly seeking more whimsy and color in their wardrobe. Emojis, glitter and bright pop-art have become acceptable fashions. The relaxation of dress codes coupled with the desire of consumers wanting to not feel or look old is only growing stronger. The potential for takeups exists, and several boutique children’s brands have recently done just that: upsized their children’s designs. Some call it a “trickle up” approach. And what started for most as a friendly compliment at trade shows has become a meaningful brand extension.

Cindy Virani, co-owner and designer of gender-neutral brand Lennon & Wolfe, says the company made the leap into adult sizes this year following several seasons of buyers repeatedly asking if its comfortably chic styles came in their size. “It was time to make the move,” she says, noting that the brand’s adult styles have frequently sold out. (Lennon & Wolfe will be increasing production by 50 percent for 2018.) Virani adds that one of the best aspects of introducing an adult collection is that it practically markets itself. “So much of our business is generated through Instagram posts,” she says. “A lot of people get their new clothes and immediately put it up and tag us in it.”

Adding a mature line also encourages younger customers to stay with their favorite labels longer. Bonnie Matthews, designer of Blu Pony Vintage, has not only heard rave reviews from her new women’s offerings, but specifically from young teens stuck between children’s and women’s sizes. “I had a demographic of girls who were around 13 but had grown out of girls’ sizing, so the new line fills that void,” she says, noting that she sizes the line from XS to XXL to fit a variety of bodies. “When I started eight years ago, 4 to 6 were the best-selling sizes and now it’s 8 to 14 because there is such a need for clothing for girls that aren’t older but wear larger sizes,” she adds.

The trick to keeping adult size collections appealing understanding today’s kids are looking for sophistication. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. When the takedown trend first became popular, offerings were mostly miniaturized replications of an adult style but featured prints more appropriate for child than parent. The result was a kitschy collection that didn’t seem to fit the aesthetic of either demographic. “When some people think ‘mommy and me,’ they think cheesy,” Virani says. “But why can’t it be cool?” Lennon & Wolfe’s coordinating children’s and adult lines feature dresses, sweats and tees in muted colors and super-soft fabrics, capitalizing on the trends of minimalistic sophistication and athleisure. “So many people were attracted to our line because kids also like clothing that isn’t cutesy,” Lennon says. “We developed a collection around kids wearing what we’re wearing as adults, which allows for a smooth transition into our adult extension.”

Keeping the pieces from looking too “matchy-matchy” is another factor to consider when making collections sized for children and adults. Themes and fabrics typically complement each other while silhouettes change. Rommel began leaning away from selling matching outfits at her boutique in favor of coordinating looks instead. “Sometimes Mom just wants to coordinate with her daughter and not look exactly the same, especially if the girl is a bit older,” she says.

“A lot of moms like to dress in matching outfits with their daughters, but this can look off if it’s not done correctly,” says Aleksandra Matthews, brand director of Raspberry Plum, adding, “I try to pick styles that suit both generations.” When the director had women buying the largest size of a quirky dress or pop-art shirt for themselves, she knew it was time to launch a women’s line. Raspberry Plum’s Spring ’18 adult line takes inspiration from jazz art in the mid-20th century. The brand’s trademark graphic style is added to abstract prints and musical illustrations à la Pablo Picasso in soft colors and black and white, giving the collection of frocks and skirts a modern edge. The women’s line has already been picked up by 10 boutiques.

Keep in mind that different markets present potential challenges with selling coordinating children’s and adult collections. For instance, buyers in New York tend to be edgier than those in Los Angeles, who are more laid back than traditional buyers in the South. So offering a tight and versatile collection is best. Blu Pony Vintage, for example, introduced a women’s line for spring with just two dresses complimenting the brand’s Japanese-inspired girls’ collection. “A look can go hipster or super country, depending on the accessories you use like black boots or cowboy boots,” Bonnie Matthews says. “It will be interesting to see how mommy-and-me plays out within these three markets.”

Similarly, Virani reports Lennon & Wolfe’s relaxed, coastal vibe took time to filter into the Southern market—the brand just picked up its first account in Texas this year. It’s been a hard sell convincing those retailers of the potential of monochromatic coordinating adult and kids’ collections. “They would tell us they loved it personally, but that their consumer wouldn’t get it because ‘boys wear blue and girls wear pink,’” she says. Like with anything new, it takes time. While some trends circumvent the globe in what seems like seconds, others ooze into the collective conscience of consumers. Virani remains confidant their coordinated children’s and adult styles will catch on nationwide.

Along those lines, Matthews of Blu Pony Vintage advises fellow childrenswear makers to think long term when it comes to introducing coordinating adult styles. It’s also a relatively low risk venture, she adds. By adding a vertical to an existing line, she says brands are spared the risk of launching a line with no customer base. “You already have that connection, so you don’t have to start from ground zero,” she says, noting that it‘s best to start out small to test the waters. Matthews adds that the takeup market potential shouldn’t be overlooked. The convenience to be a one-stop shopping resource is too good to pass up, especially when retailers demand ease, she says. It’s a natural upsell: come in for one, leave with two. “I have a list of moms reguarly posting on Instagram who can’t wait to buy the new line,” Matthews says. •

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