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For American parents looking to discover luxurious childrenswear labels from across Europe, Rebecca Butman is here to help—no plane ticket required.
For American parents looking to discover luxurious childrenswear labels from across Europe, Rebeca Butman is here to help—no plane ticket required. Nearly 13 years ago, the Estonia native opened a two-story, 2,000-square-foot boutique on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Citing the bustling locale as great for forming new relationships, Butman stocks a wide selection of play clothes to party dresses in sizes newborn to 16, from high-end labels like Stella McCartney, Petit Bateau, Jean Bourget, Little Marc Jacobs and IKKS, to name a few.
“My customer base contains lots of grandmothers who want beautiful unique gifts for their grandchildren, as well as hip, young Upper West Side moms who buy mostly generic brands but come to me for special items to mix in,” Butman says, noting the difference between American and European parents’ shopping behavior. “Europeans go to the store and buy 10 things their kids will wear for the whole season,” she says. “In the U.S., shoppers buy lots of lower priced clothing in lieu of budgeting for more high-end pieces.”
Le Petit Kids’ unique selection of quality, refreshing styling and friendly customer service is its formula for success, according to Butman. “It’s nice to offer something different,” she says, adding that European designers are known for being experimental, never shy to try new colors, prints, appliqués and trimmings. “But it’s important as a buyer to remember that not all European styles translate well to the American consumer,” Butman adds, giving the color fuchsia in a boys’ print as an example.
Butman’s practiced understanding of international trends keeps the business thriving season after season. So much so Le Petit Kids’ breakdown is evenly split between boys’ and girls’. “A lot of retailers do a 70/30 split because it’s risky to invest in boys’ clothes,” she says. Butman credits her ability to educate customers over the seasons on the value and craftsmanship of upscale boyswear. “It’s a challenge to capture the American audience with what I have to offer,” she says. “But sometimes it’s worth breaking away from your familiar shorts and sweatpants.”
How’s business? It’s great! I find it very important for us to stock a range of price points. We have gifts and clothing around $30, but we also have beautiful formal dresses up to $200. Customers initially think our clothing must all be expensive because of how beautiful it is, so I tell my staff to point out that we carry more affordable items, too. Another note of advice is to stock comparable items because parents will be more likely to buy a dress if it’s lovely but less expensive than another in the store.
What are your best-selling labels? Molo, from Denmark, is a very cool, trendy brand. Catimini is another very bright and colorful choice. Tartine et Chocolat is wonderful for traditional French clothing—hasn’t changed a bit but is somehow still current. Paul Smith Junior is always a hit with boys, pulling inspiration from the adult collection. Jean Bouget’s conservative, French-chic appeal also performs exceptionally well.
Any new brands added to the mix this past year? Leo & Zachary, which is now our only U.S. brand. We needed good quality dress shirts and suits for summer when locals go to the Hamptons or country clubs. The European brands couldn’t provide enough colors for what customers were asking for.
What are some of your popular accessories? Bari Lynn hair accessories sell well because of the wonderful variety. The beautiful crystals and fur always appeal to little girls. For boys, ties and bowties from Paul Smith and Leo & Zachary are popular because of all the bright colors. Customers also buy hats from Molo quite often.
What’s the smartest business move you’ve made of late? Partnering with Kidiliz Group, a French firm of ready-to-wear brands, which allows us to go deeper with those labels. We used to stock lots of brands, but that can become very stagnant and repetitive. It’s hard to expand that way, so this new approach should be helpful going forward.
Where do you envision Le Petit Kids in five years? We hope to continue to educate our customer about our brands and their values. I do a lot of price research to make sure we stay competitive. I’ve even gone to the Gap and see my European items priced similarly—but of course mine have more detail and much higher quality. I hope more consumers begin to realize that.