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Earnie Award Winners 2016

The A-List – We’d like to congratulate this year’s honorees for their standout performance, and we encourage you to read on for the key to their success.

It’s no secret retailers are tough customers. That’s why we surveyed thousands across the children’s industry to reveal who the “cool kids” are in 2016.

Company of the Year: Mud Pie

g2_1032341_070103_084An ever-expanding resource for apparel and gifts in a challenging year earned Mud Pie its fourth Earnie Award. The firm, based in Stone Mountain, Ga., won Company of the Year in 2015 as well as Best Gifts in 2012 and Best Customer Service in 2011. Fred Pannek, president, spoke on behalf of the company and Founder and Chief Executive Officer Marcia Miller, who grew the company from a small housewares company in 2000 to a childrenswear company, including layettes, gifts, crawlers, hats and bibs in sizes newborn to 6 years. He says the company has enjoyed a growth spurt since 2007 with double-digit increases notched every year thanks to 62 salespeople on the road.

This year, it was the six-member design team that helped push business over the finish line with oversized appliqué icons in themes like flamingo, mermaid or safari. “It was the boldness and size of the icons that set us apart,” Pannek says. The company has also added separates like girls’ tunics, sleeveless or 3/4-inch sleeves (perfect for monogramming), as well as embellished T-shirts with collar bands and fun appliqués for boys. Another change that occurred in 2016 was the addition of more themes and fewer pieces per theme to appeal to a greater range of retailers such as gift shops and general stores. Finally, keeping price points moderate—most items are tagged $35 to $40 at retail—helped keep customers loyal. “As we’ve grown, our ability to negotiate better with factories has kept us competitive,” he says. “Price is the driving force, especially in children’s clothing and our items come from India and Bangladesh to stabilize price points.”

As ever, customer service plays a significant role in Mud Pie’s relationships with retailers. The company’s sales force provides hands-on consultations, the company stands by its product 100 percent and will always work with customers. “We’re very supportive,” says Pannek. “We have a loyalty program. We will issue credits. We tend to believe the customer is always right.” –Kristin Young

Best Denim: Hudson Kids

hudson-hires-color-9139In 2013, 5-Star Apparel expanded its diverse portfolio by  signing a licensing agreement with Hudson Jeans for children’s apparel. Following the DNA of its parent brand, Hudson Kids provides a contemporary, edgy aesthetic while never sacrificing comfort. Vice President of Sales Barbara Varnhagen joined the Hudson Kids team this year, excited to embrace the brand’s potential. She says that kids’ will be expanding to a full collection for Spring ’17, noting that Hudson Kids is already ranking as a top denim brand in Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.  The new spring collection offers fun styles from trendy cold-shoulder tops and cropped jeans to studded vests and patchwork shorts. The most popular style themes include Boho destruction and motto glam.

Furthermore, Varnhagen opines that the introduction of Hudson’s indigo knit material was one of the company’s smartest decisions. “We are very cognizant of fabric,” she says. “All of a sudden you’re wearing a jean, but it feels like a sweatpant.” The soft fabric received a tremendous response causing the brand to use it in other kids’ garments, and even the Hudson adult line. In favor of the new material, one children’s store manager commented: “I don’t care if Justin Bieber brings it to a kid’s house and asks her to wear it. If it’s not comfortable, she’s not going to wear it.”

Varnhagen attributes the brand’s growth to word of mouth, magazines, bloggers and retailers. Further increasing outreach, Hudson Kids will be expanding to 46 Lord & Taylor stores in  2017. Hudson’s replenishment system that allows a store to stock core pieces of the kids’ jean business and replenish it on a weekly basis by size has also  been successful. “A basic jean in a few different washes really allows a store to maximize the sales and minimize the floor space,” Varnhagen explains. “This is a great way to generate more happy customers.” –Emily Beckman

Best Licensed Collection: Carter’s by Rashti & Rashti

blanketpals-bearThis is the second year in a row Carter’s by Rashti & Rashti has snagged the Best Licensed Collection, a testament to the response the latest collections have garnered from retailers and consumers alike. Rashti & Rashti is the brainchild of Harry J. Rashti and his son John Rashti and is now run by John’s children, Charlotte and Michael Rashti. A 70-year-old company, Rashti & Rashti specializes in high-quality products under its own brands and licensed brands. Licensing first became important to the company 20 years ago when its collaboration with Carter’s began. Rashti had the know-how in gifts while Carter’s had the name retailers and customers recognized. Although the brands’ partnership is well-established, it has evolved. In recent years, Rashti & Rashti added technology, functionality and the expansion of sleep well products to the latest collection of Carter’s plush/toy category. Sleep products come in the form of animals that offer lullabies, sound, light and vibrations to sooth light sleepers while plush toys feature ultra-soft blankets. Licensing continues to be an important part of the Rashti & Rashti business, says the company’s marketing director, Danielle Signorelli, noting the company’s portfolio now includes Boppy, Taggies, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Fisher Price, Sesame Street and Elf on a Shelf. And, while she could not elaborate further, she said the company will be adding new licenses in the sleepwear category in the future. “This is a product category the company plans to grow,” she explains. “We are interested in developing a long-standing relationship with our licensing partners.” –K.Y.

Best Footwear: Skechers

91536l_gumt_largeIn today’s world where tablets and cellphones are toys for tots, Skechers understands the importance of incorporating tech-driven innovations in its designs. “This generation essentially has the world at their fingertips,” says Marc Rosko, Skechers vice president of kids’ product development. “It certainly keeps the design team on its toes!” The footwear company calls upon the team to consistently research what is trending in the lives of the consumer and integrate findings into the coming season’s styles. This year, the Skechers Game Kicks were a consumer favorite with its new remote control feature. To the delight of tech-savvy kids, the sneaker also incorporates an electronic game in the upper of the shoe.

Rosko affirms that the Skechers Kids division stays focused on the details incorporated in the majority of the brand’s offerings. For instance, popular styles like Twinkle Toes feature embellishments not only in the toe bed, but also on the shoe upper. “Our design team continues to study the newest textiles, leathers and synthetics to elevate styles within Skechers Kids Sport with the newest and freshest upper materials,” Rosko offers. “Not to mention all styles include additional comfort with Skechers Memory Foam insoles—appreciated by both parents and kids alike.”

Whether it is the Skechers Memory Foam insoles, the glitz and glam of Twinkle Toes or the light-up soles on S Lights, Skechers values every detail during the design process for a consistently quality product: “We continue to design our lines delivering trend-relevant, quality pieces at reasonable prices—all while integrating our signature secrets and tricks,” Rosko says. “With styles available from infants to adults, we’re proud to be a brand that serves the entire family.” –E.B.   

Staying true to the Kissy Kissy brand, commitment to customer service and expanding the line’s color palette were some reasons Founder and Owner Roxana Castillo offered when asked what snagged her the Earnie Award for Best Sleepwear. “Our customers love our pajamas and moms appreciate that they can keep their children in Kissy Kissy’s super-soft Peruvian Pima cotton beyond their baby and toddler years,” she says, noting sizes go up to 6 years. This spring, Kissy Kissy signed a two-year deal with the parent company of iconic baby gift character Sophie la Girafe which gives the brand the exclusive rights in the U.S. The character, which dropped in stores in June, adorned everything from pajamas to accessories up to size 2. “Retailers love that they can pair our pieces with Sophie teethers and toys to create themed vignettes in their stores and help gift-givers find new ways to help baby, ” Castillo says, noting she always tries to find ways to offer fresh designs and hit the all-important “ahh” factor. One example is the line’s reverse prints featuring a colorful background rather than a typical white ground as well as mélange of fabrics that creates a heathered effect. For both spring and fall, customers gravitated to dainty mini patterns, delicate embroideries, pastels as well as 3-D tulle roses for girls while animals and sports-themed items were a must for boys. Nauticals also made a splash and Castillo says the company “excels at holiday themes.” This year for the first time, Kissy Kissy offered a Thanksgiving-specific pattern featuring colorful turkeys ready to feast. In a challenging year, Kissy Kissy stayed focused on fostering relationships with its retail partners, she says: “That goes a long way even amid market fluctuations.” –K.Y.

Best Sleepwear: Kissy Kissy

sophie-la-girafe-by-kissy-kissy-1Staying true to the Kissy Kissy brand, commitment to customer service and expanding the line’s color palette were some reasons Founder and Owner Roxana Castillo offered when asked what snagged her the Earnie Award for Best Sleepwear. “Our customers love our pajamas and moms appreciate that they can keep their children in Kissy Kissy’s super-soft Peruvian Pima cotton beyond their baby and toddler years,” she says, noting sizes go up to 6 years. This spring, Kissy Kissy signed a two-year deal with the parent company of iconic baby gift character Sophie la Girafe which gives the brand the exclusive rights in the U.S. The character, which dropped in stores in June, adorned everything from pajamas to accessories up to size 2. “Retailers love that they can pair our pieces with Sophie teethers and toys to create themed vignettes in their stores and help gift-givers find new ways to help baby, ” Castillo says, noting she always tries to find ways to offer fresh designs and hit the all-important “ahh” factor. One example is the line’s reverse prints featuring a colorful background rather than a typical white ground as well as mélange of fabrics that creates a heathered effect. For both spring and fall, customers gravitated to dainty mini patterns, delicate embroideries, pastels as well as 3-D tulle roses for girls while animals and sports-themed items were a must for boys. Nauticals also made a splash and Castillo says the company “excels at holiday themes.” This year for the first time, Kissy Kissy offered a Thanksgiving-specific pattern featuring colorful turkeys ready to feast. In a challenging year, Kissy Kissy stayed focused on fostering relationships with its retail partners, she says: “That goes a long way even amid market fluctuations.” –K.Y.

Best Girls’ Collection: MaeLi Rose

maelirosefw17-25Sisters Carrie and Alison Chien grew up around production and fashion. Their mother, Lydia Chien, was in the importing business and would often take the little girls to buy trim and samples. The two would later go on to major in different subjects in college—intentionally—as if they were laying the foundation for childrenswear label MaeLi Rose they founded with their mom in 2012. Four years later, and the label has earned its first Earnie Award for Best Girls’ Collection. “I feel like the recognition really gives us confidence and reassures us that we’re headed in the right direction,” says Carrie. As Millennials, the sisters made a real push on social media this year. “From the very beginning of the production of a collection, we have more connection in our own community and that has been a really cool tool for us,” Carrie says. The designs this year were simple with a minimal color palette set off by trim, embellishment, a swatch of lace or a crochet patch. The collection is also meant to be built upon. “Boutique buyers display various pieces at different price points that allows for mixing and matching for multiple occasions,” Carrie explains. “It’s really about simple basics and elevating and embellishing them to make them stand out.” The approach has tapped into the way parents are shopping and what little girls are wearing. “It’s not realistic to have a new outfit everyday,” Carrie emphasizes. It’s a strategy that has put the line in 300 to 400 retailers. The future certainly looks bright for MaeLi Rose. The line surged ahead 35 percent this year. –K.Y.

Best Infantwear: KicKee Pants

rnie-award-winners-2016-slideFor KicKee Pants, putting comfort first has always been non-negotiable. Snagging its third straight Earnie Award, the cozy lifestyle brand is celebrating 10 years of booming business in the children’s industry: “It seems like just a minute ago we were in our garage with all these clothes hanging from the ceiling,” exclaims CEO, Designer and Co-Owner Aerin Nicole, describing the brand’s beginning.

Celebrating a decade of achievement, the brand launched an anniversary collection for Fall ’16, elected by its loyal fan base. On the brand’s website, customers perused 10 years of fall prints and voted in April for their favorites which were reproduced for the season (the same applied to the Spring ’17 collection). “We typically never re-release prints,” offers Nicole. “So for our anniversary, this is a very special opportunity.”

This exclusivity of prints was a shrewd business decision by the brand as it generated a cult following, particularly for the brand’s infant swaddle blankets. “This year, we literally cannot keep them in stock,” Nicole exclaims. “We had one of our styles sellout in 19 minutes—they are becoming a collectible item.”    

Of course, comfort-driven pajamas continue to thrive for KicKee Pants, but there has also been a positive response to new outfit sets: “I think moms are in a hurry with kids at their feet, and this is an easy way to give them something complete without having to piece together tops and bottoms,” Nicole explains. Going forward, she intends for the brand to expand its offerings  further to include a wider range of apparel and accessories:“We are really looking to ultimately be recognized as more of a lifestyle brand.” –E.B.

With more than 100 new styles added to the collection for 2016, Snapper Rock Founder Liz Eglinton is confident her brand offers something for everyone. “Sun protection is our focus so planning a collection where the customer can mix and match their bikini or one-piece with a short- or long-sleeved UV 50+ rash top is always key,” she explains. “Also, what sells in Florida may not sell in Los Angeles so variety is important.” This year, the brand’s gold flamingo collection turned out to be the top seller internationally.

The two-time Earnie winner for Best Swimwear experimented in 2016 with digital printing to achieve new design effects. “Our feathers collection was one example,” Eglinton notes. “We couldn’t have achieved the gradation of this print without the digital printing process.” The brand hires graphic designers from both New Zealand and the U.S. to vary its perspective and create more unique hand-drawn print designs to stand out in the market.

Mixing a wider beachwear range was also a highlight for Snapper Rock. “Kaftans, jumpsuits and beach pants that tie into the swimwear line means our customers can go from the beach or pool to a party,” Eglinton remarks.

Snapper Rock has also introduced Neoprene to the collection:  “Following the Neoprene trends we saw in women’s, we were able to mix and match some cute wetsuit tops and vests into the range,” she says. Neoprene is particularly expected to resonate in areas with cooler water temperatures.

Most of all, Eglinton is thrilled to see the global demand of sun protection continue to increase: “We are delighted that a UV 50+ swimwear company has won an Earnie as retailers recognize the importance of sun protection in swimwear.” –E.B. 

Best Dresswear: Isobella & Chloe

9480tlBest Dresswear Earnie Award winner Isobella & Chloe has delivered mom- and dad-approved whimsical and stylish dresses for little girls for the better part of a decade. Founded by President and CEO Emily Fong in Los Angeles, the line is manufactured in Vietnam under the watchful eyes of her parents who strive to foster a safe and supportive workplace for their community. “The positive impact we have made toward their sustainable community reminds me how important, symbiotic and far-reaching human connection is,” says Fong. There is a story that goes with every garment, from sketches in L.A. to its creation by seamstresses in Vietnam to the little girl who wears them. This year was admittedly tough but Isobella & Chloe did a few things to effectively combat sluggish sales and increased competition, says Fong. The company implemented a reordering system, ranging from inventory to product images available at customers’ fingertips, maintained a strong presence on social media and maintained its loyal customer base.  –K.Y.

Best Swimwear: Snapper Rock

watermelon1With more than 100 new styles added to the collection for 2016, Snapper Rock Founder Liz Eglinton is confident her brand offers something for everyone. “Sun protection is our focus so planning a collection where the customer can mix and match their bikini or one-piece with a short- or long-sleeved UV 50+ rash top is always key,” she explains. “Also, what sells in Florida may not sell in Los Angeles so variety is important.” This year, the brand’s gold flamingo collection turned out to be the top seller internationally.

The two-time Earnie winner for Best Swimwear experimented in 2016 with digital printing to achieve new design effects. “Our feathers collection was one example,” Eglinton notes. “We couldn’t have achieved the gradation of this print without the digital printing process.” The brand hires graphic designers from both New Zealand and the U.S. to vary its perspective and create more unique hand-drawn print designs to stand out in the market.

Mixing a wider beachwear range was also a highlight for Snapper Rock. “Kaftans, jumpsuits and beach pants that tie into the swimwear line means our customers can go from the beach or pool to a party,” Eglinton remarks.

Snapper Rock has also introduced Neoprene to the collection:  “Following the Neoprene trends we saw in women’s, we were able to mix and match some cute wetsuit tops and vests into the range,” she says. Neoprene is particularly expected to resonate in areas with cooler water temperatures.

Most of all, Eglinton is thrilled to see the global demand of sun protection continue to increase: “We are delighted that a UV 50+ swimwear company has won an Earnie as retailers recognize the importance of sun protection in swimwear.” –E.B. 

Best Accessories: Chewbeads

earnie-image-2-01-01Founders Elana Schulman and Lisa Greenwald continue to lead the accessory market when it comes to the teething jewelry trend, even despite the growing competition. Raking in its fourth consecutive Earnie Award, Greenwald  quips, “We want to be the Kleenex of tissues.”

This year, the brand offered two more concept lines: CB Go, a line of travel bath products and other necessities, and CB Eat, a line of silicone bibs. Chewbeads also expanded its jewelry collection to better target young boys. The brand previously offered a dog tag design for boys but now includes more fun options like robot and spaceman designs.

According to Greenwald, the best decision the duo made this year was expanding its price point with new styles:  “I think  adding new necklaces, one at the higher price point and the other at entry level, will round out our product offering for retailers and customers alike.” –E.B.

Best Boys’ Collection: Appaman

ftcolorWhen the children of celebrity moms like Naomi Watts, Hilary Duff, Jessica Alba and Fergie strut Appaman up and down the streets and on the red carpet, it’s no wonder retailers flock to the brand’s fashion-forward yet functional styles. Winner of an Earnie Award three years in a row, Appaman continues to draw inspiration from all over the world while staying true to its strong brand recognition. “We always try to achieve high-end style combined with the comfort and playfulness that parents want from kids’ clothes,” explains Founder and Designer Harald Husum, reflecting on the season’s best performing styles like the faux leather biker jacket and down-filled coats, along with signature offerings of boys’ denim, twill and bottoms. “We usually draw inspiration from our childhood memories, combined with what we see everyday living in New York,” Husum says. Each season, the company scouts high-end fabrics for on-trend designs that will maintain the quality they strive to achieve in each collection.

While boys’ has been praised with an Earnie Award by retailers, Husum notes the brand’s development extends beyond boys’, recently acquiring a new designer to boost up the girls’ collection. Husum affirms that the brand is already seeing encouraging  results in girls’ sales-wise. “We’re doing very well in our strong categories, and our customers are willing to try new categories with us,” he says. “They trust our attention to detail, so this year has been good, and we’re hoping for even better in 2017!” –E.B.

Best Tween Collection: Limeapple

luna-dnm-multi-media-ruffle-hoodieLimeapple Founder and Design Director Debbie Naren started the Calgary, Canada-based company in 2002 when her now college-age girls were tiny. “I had always wanted to do something that helped women and make a difference in their lives,” she says. “I work with a program to educate girls all over the world. If a girl is educated, her family’s life is better and her children tend to become educated. When a woman is educated, the effects are great.” As serious an endeavor as that is, it’s her company’s fun pieces bursting with colorful prints that make those philanthropic efforts possible. And it is those same pieces that have earned Limeapple its first Earnie Award for Best Tween Collection. “Our collection is always fun, sporty and feminine,” Naren says, noting one of her customers commented that the items look like pieces of art. “It’s meant to be bright, bold and colorful and we work very hard to make it affordable and give great value to the customer.” This year, customers responded to active jackets with ruffles, funky leggings, washable faux fur jackets and blankets. The company has surpassed its projected sales numbers thanks to a top-notch sales team and loyal retailers comprised of 800 stores in Canada and the U.S. This was also the year Naren started the program to implement her long-held dream to educate girls. “We all enjoy what we do,” she says of her team. “It doesn’t feel like work.” –K.Y.

Most Charitable: Rockin’ Baby

rockin-baby-day-2_101916270Rockin’ Baby Founder and Chief Executive Officer Kathryn Wiley admits she was inspired by Toms Shoes Founder Blake Mycoskie. The one-for-one business model led Wiley to create Rockin’ Baby in 2011 with a mission that for every piece sold, another would be donated to charity. “The charitable work is what drives my passion,” says Wiley. “It’s not just a marketing position. Giving back is what drives Rockin’ Baby. If it’s not what drives us, then we’re lying to our customers.” To date, Wiley has worked with ChildFund International in Africa to donate products to children orphaned by the victims of Ebola and in the future plans to donate school uniforms to the children of Uganda. She’s even worked with ChildFund to sponsor a program working with three tailors in Uganda to create the Byella (“wrap me” in the Acholi language) Cooperative. Rockin’ Baby taught these tailors how to make the wraps and includes  them in safe birth kits for moms, incentivizing them to get the crucial medical supervision they need. The culture to babywear is in Africa, but contrary to what you  might expect, the textiles to make that custom a reality is lacking. “I never thought that they don’t have those beautiful textiles, but they don’t,” says Wiley. “We don’t want to just be giving how we think we should be giving. Rockin’ Baby wants to be ever tuned into how the world needs us to give.”

As a child, Wiley knew she wanted to do something related to non-profit groups: “That’s how my heart is, but I have a business mind. The idea of combining the two? It’s the most beautiful thing for me to wake up and know that the more I sell, the more I can give.” –K.Y.

Best Novelty Items: Little Giraffe

lg_turkishtowel_2Trish Moreno was in womenswear for 20 years when the recession hit in 2008, putting her business at risk. Along came Little Giraffe and its need for a president and CEO and Moreno jumped at the chance. “It had all the markings of a fit for me,” she says. Joining the company in 2009, Moreno says she set the brand on course, rededicated resources, established new distribution channels, expanded product offerings and “really listened to the team and the customers.” Fast-forward to 2016 and Little Giraffe has scored its second Earnie win, this time for Best Novelty Items. This year, Little Giraffe introduced products geared toward the lifestyle of the Millennial family. “We introduced a lot of grab-and-go products that are multifunctional,” says Moreno. “Our luxuriously soft fringed Turkish towel works seamlessly as a car seat blanket, nursing cover, stroller shade, scarf, sarong and towel. You can bunch it up in your diaper bag, and it won’t wrinkle and will get even softer with every wash. We also introduced our Bliss collection of cozy oversized plush blankets including our first-ever round blanket in modern geometric prints for picnic, park, play, cuddle and tummy time. Our new products multi-task like we do.” The brand is also investing in increasing the brand equity so that Little Giraffe resonates at both brick-and-mortar and online channels. Moreno points to Little Giraffe’s consistent retail following and, despite market shifts, the line’s key accounts have grown stronger and the audience is constantly renewing itself. “Thankfully,” says Moreno, “because new babies are born every day!” –K.Y.

Best International Brand: Mayoral

010-cuevas2036_retStanding by its slogan “making friends,” Mayoral builds its offerings around “the complete look” (from apparel and footwear to accessories and novelty items) in order to please a wide audience. Spanning sizes newborn to 16 years, the Spanish brand participates in more than 60 international trade fairs worldwide to promote two annual collections: Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer. “All of our products offer an excellent combination of value, quality and European trendy style,” says Adam Herman, director of operations for Mayoral’s U.S. division. This year, the brand implemented new equipment that will double the current production capacity, processing up to 40 million garments per year, or 1,600 orders per day. For its girls Spring ’ 17 lineup, Mayoral launched “Pop Sugar,” a daring trend where aqua green blends with natural white. Distressed jeans and trend-right tops covered in brushstroke effects were other highlights of the new offerings. Then, for boys, the new collection called “Reflection” includes a similar aqua green color palette, but mixed with a very masculine neutral hue dubbed “gypsum.” The collection includes lots of photographic treatments across fleeces, T-shirts, pullovers, polos and shorts—some of them reversible for twice the fun. –E.B. 

Best Outerwear: Mack & Co.

mackandcopic2Mack & Co.’s line of fleece and microfiber coats get plenty of feedback from the little ones, according to Founder and Creative Director Gerri Mack. “We have to sell to two people,” she explains. “We tell the store, ‘Hey, you can sell this,’ that sells to the mom who ultimately sells it to the daughter. So it’s almost like you have to have success three times. ” Mack founded Mack & Co. along with partner Penny Crivelli in 2006 to bring colorful and design-driven outerwear to the market. Mack, who operates out of Minneapolis, Minn., saw a dearth of technologically-driven washable outerwear with contemporary design details. Mack & Co.’s outerwear cuts are sophisticated, the fabric is high-end and  often sourced from Italy. The design details are pure catnip for fashionable tots. The line did well this year, according to Mack,  because it sticks to its original designs. Secondly, the line is less adversely affected by the warmer weather than its competition. Sales this year were up, says Mack, and the company continues to grow, including expansion into private label. –K.Y.

Best Hosiery: BabyLegs by United Legwear & Apparel Co.

gemma-jovieThis is the sixth time BabyLegs, known for its beloved baby leg warmers, has won the Earnie for Best Hosiery and it’s safe to say the collection has hit its stride. According to Isaac E. Ash, president of the collection’s parent company United Legwear & Apparel Co., who’s been making legwear for all ages since he started the company in 1998, the line’s success can partly be attributed to increasing the offering to retailers by employing online ordering through its wholesale portal. “Buys can be placed from the cash wrap or the couch if it’s hard to find time to visit our showrooms,” he says. At the consumer level, parents’ appetite for top-quality basics has been driving sales. To that end, BabyLegs neutrals like gray and oatmeal have been outperforming stylized, graphic-driven designs. The company also produced an adorable line of floral and polka dot tights. It’s clear the 100-percent latex-free legwarmers are a mainstay in keeping babies warm. –K.Y

Best Showrooms

mapWe are celebrating the showrooms and reps across the country who, with their mighty pens, help make the magic happen at retail. Retailers and manufacturers voted for the following showrooms in five different regions across the country as deserving an Earnie award for their tireless efforts: Ali’s Market in New York, Summer Place in Atlanta, Tree-House of Fashion in Chicago, Cultivated Kids in Dallas and InPlay in Los Angeles. Allison Moroze, owner of Ali’s Market, notes that retailers seem to appreciate  her sense of fair play—she will never court a line from another showroom, for instance—and retail expertise. “We’re not just order-takers,” she says, noting she often steers buyers toward and away from merchandise based on her knowledge of the market. Lisa Tompkins, owner of traveling showroom Tree-House of Fashion, says what sets her firm apart is ease: “If you can’t make it to a show, our online tools are the next best thing offering, accessibility, convenience and visual aids.” Summer Place owner Brittany Harrell implemented Brandwise two years ago so all ordering is done on iPads and Bluetooth scanners. “Not only is it quicker, but it is more accurate,” she says. “The other thing customers and manufacturers constantly tell me is that we are very very responsive.” Jill Griffith, owner of Cultivated Kids, says its important to be patient and work with stores and

understand what they are going through. (That, and good old fashioned people skills.) “I think we are friendly,” she says. “We try to welcome everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a big store or a small store; you’re always welcome in the showroom.” Sandra Martinez, cofounder of InPlay, says buyers turn to her for the product: “We  try to work with lines that we feel have long-term success in the marketplace, lines with a reachable price point that can succeed in multiple markets.” –E.B., K.Y.

Best Baby Gear: Ju-Ju-Be

be-classy-creative-package12Launched in 2005 with the tagline “smart bags for smart people,” Co-Founders Kristin Hunziker and Joe Croft  launched a line of cool, tech-driven diaper bags disguised in fashion-forward designs. “Kristin, in particular, is a fashion maven,” Croft remarks. “She’s got a stack of fashion magazines about six feet high!” This year, the company’s new Onyx collection— diaper bags with a sleek appearance and trendy patterns—sold well. A new fabrication called Chrome was also introduced to bags to capitalize on today’s popular unisex “street” look. The brand also took note of the market’s baby-wearing trend, and introduced more backpack style designs compatible with carriers.

Hunziker and Croft agree they owe their success to a supportive community that started 10 years ago with an online group: “We connect with the customers and allow them to connect with us,” Croft says. Fans discuss Ju-Ju-Be’s new products, but also topics ranging from moms trying to conceive to balancing work and motherhood. Hunziker affirms: “We have a massive social following, and we really credit it to the strength of the company.” –E.B. 

Editors’ Pick: Blu & Blue

blublue_3Classic denim looks just got a facelift thanks to the new brand Blu & Blue. Providing a fresh take on traditional American clothing, the brand uses  “butter soft” denims, made with special softeners. A heritage brand born from a family with 35 years of fashion industry experience, Blu & Blue has a world-class team behind its designs. Debuted in Spring ’16, Blu & Blue uses tasteful details like peter-pan collars, bows, pin tucks, chambray and pleats with premium tencel. To ensure the best quality, all fabrics are hand-selected from the best mills in Italy, Turkey, Japan and China.

For Spring ’17, the brand used eyelet embroideries and embellishments on sky blue chambrays and soft tencel fabrics for an elegant, versatile collection. Within nine months of launching, Blu & Blue expanded to more than 45 stores across the globe, including the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Kuwait and China. Founder Aaina Jain is thrilled with the brand’s progress: “I would say it’s been a pretty great start!” –E.B. 

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