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2015 Earnie Award Winners

Retailers are notriously tough customers, so what does it take for children’s companies to earn top marks?

Just ask this year’s Earnie Award winners, who received an A+ (and thousands of votes at earnieawards.com) for their fresh designs and stellar customer service. Kudos to the following brands for rising to the top in 2015!

Company of the Year: Mud Pie

HT_2002193_500303_019An industry leader for nearly 30 years, Mud Pie is a one-stop resource for apparel and gifts. That grab-and-go selection and affordable style sealed the win for Mud Pie’s Company of the Year Award, the brand’s third. (It was named Best Gifts in 2012 and Best Customer Service in 2011.) But what really sets the company apart is its dedication to its loyal buyers, says CEO Marcia Miller. “Every Mud Pie employee—our design team, sales and marketing division, customer service and international distribution center—is committed to serving the needs of our retail customers,” she explains. And this year, Miller and her team upped the ante by expanding Mud Pie’s offerings for kids and baby across such categories as novelty apparel for boys and girls, layette, blankets and nursery décor. The company also launched a collection of stylish diaper bags for mom.

Look for even more new styles in the coming year, including one-pieces featuring conversational prints (boasting phrases like “Today I eat cake”) and tops sporting embroidered animal appliqués. New gift items include banks, plush toys and frames, plus a first-ever collection of coordinating tunics for “moms and minis.” And, Miller adds, Mud Pie will have plenty of space to show off its wares thanks to its new location at AmericasMart Atlanta on the sixth floor of building two. —Ann Loynd

Best Showroom:Summer Place (Atlanta)

Summer-Place-Ribbon-CuttingWhen Summer Place Showroom celebrates its 10th anniversary in January, President Brittany Harrell will have plenty of reasons to party. Not only were sales up by an astounding 30 percent in 2015, the showroom also snagged its first-ever Earnie Award.

One big reason for the phenomenal year? The showroom’s recent expansion. Harrell first set up shop in Children’s World at AmericasMart a decade ago in a 1,100-square-foot space. When her next-door neighbor announced she was leaving in 2013, Harrell jumped at the opportunity to purchase the space, knocked down the wall and effectively doubled the size of Summer Place. “Certainly, a lot of the growth can be attributed to a couple of lines we were able to add with the expansion that have just performed so well,” she adds, pointing to brands like The Beaufort Bonnet Company and Gretchen Scott. Plus, the added space provides a better showcase for consistent bestsellers, like Swaddle Designs.

It’s just one of many reasons retailers love stopping by—aside from top-notch customer service and the use of custom scanning technology that allows for efficient and accurate ordering. Plus, with 40 lines under one roof, Harrell points out, “One of our biggest differentiators is that we are a ‘one-stop-shop’ and really offer a wide mix of products that fall underneath the Children’s World umbrella, including baby gifts; apparel for babies, children, and teens; accessories and décor; products for pregnant women and new moms and more.” —Audrey Goodson Kingo

Best Swimwear: Snapper Rock

Snapper-Rock-3First-time Earnie winner Snapper Rock has come a long way since its trade show debut at Children’s Club in 2005. “We had to actively tell retailers what U.V. swimwear was, and explain how and where you use it,” recalls CEO Liz Eglinton. Now, her company is the first U.V. swim brand to take home a trophy for Best Swimwear. Beginning with just three styles in 2003, today Snapper Rock’s UV 50+ items include everything from traditional sunsuits and rash guards to bikinis, board shorts, hats and kaftans for children ages newborn to 14 years.

“Retailers wouldn’t have voted for Snapper Rock if we didn’t provide what their customers want year after year, at the right price,” Eglinton says, pointing to the brand’s quality, innovation and on-trend styling. Plus, there’s enough in the line to appeal to everyone. “We develop the product range with different markets in mind,” Eglinton continues. “What customers want in the Hamptons is quite different to what we are selling in Florida.” In 2015, the brand added a large array of fresh styles (Thirty percent of the product range was new.) and expanded its size range up to 14 years.

And 2016 will bring an even bigger assortment (over 90 styles!), including new digital prints and metallic foils, as well as neoprene fabric and additional after-sun options ranging from kaftans to beach pants and joggers. In the midst of such success, Eglinton hasn’t forgotten the health of her little customers, or “Snapper Rockers,” as she calls them. “We are globally helping to prevent Melanoma—and that feels good,” she says. —Laurie Cone

“It” Item of the Year: Chewbeads

150412-Chewbeads_Spring_155Fashion is a fickle business, even in kidswear, so being labeled an “It” item by Earnies voters three years running is no easy task. But Chewbeads Founders Elana Schulman and Lisa Greenwald have mastered the recipe to staying relevant: “We always try and keep things fresh with new necklace styles and continuously expand our line beyond necklaces,” Schulman explains. “I think our retailers appreciate our quality and newness—and that we try and keep the products chic and innovative.”

The duo introduced their line of stylish infant teething jewelry for moms in 2009, and the dishwasher-safe silicone strands quickly became a hit. Even though their brand has now won four Earnies (including Best Accessories), Schulman and Greenwald plan to continue building on its success with more must-have products for mom. In 2015, that included a new Chewbeads Baby collection, offering pacifier clips and stroller toys. And in 2016, Chewbeads will launch two more concept lines: CB Go, a line of travel bath products and other necessities, and CB Eat, a line of silicone bibs.

No matter the new product, one thing will remain the same, Schulman promises: “Not only do we aim to make stylish products for mom and baby, but the quality of our products is super important. We want to make sure our customers are getting the quality they have come to expect from the Chewbeads brand.” —A.G.K.

Best Hosiery:BabyLegs by United Legwear

BabyLegs-for-Earnshaw'sBabyLegs is definitely doing something right. Aside from snagging its fifth straight Earnie in the Best Hosiery category, the company, known for its line of beloved baby leg warmers, continues to grow. After a decade in the industry, this year brought particularly exciting news—the brand launched a wholesale portal now available to all retailers. “It allows our partners to order all of our children’s products at any time, online, without hassle or delay,” explains Isaac Ash, president and CEO of United Legwear & Apparel Co., the parent company of BabyLegs. “Ease and convenience are very important to specialty stores, and we are sensitive to the need to quickly fulfill replenishment orders or open new accounts,” he continues. The 100-percent cotton, latex-free warmers remain popular for their ability to keep baby warm, but also for their convenience—they won’t interfere with changing a diaper because they don’t cover the snaps on a one-piece.

In line with the gender-neutral trend gaining steam in childrenswear, the company will introduce more unisex hues in 2016. “Heathered-gray and oatmeal are doing very well, whereas four years ago, patterns, animal prints and graphics were most popular,” Ash explains. —L.C.

Best Tween Collection: Malibu Sugar

Malibu-SugarFor nearly five years, Malibu Sugar has been outfitting tough-to-please tweens in trendy styles. Offering tees, leggings, skirts and dresses, President and CEO Jil Garcia points to the company’s high-quality, fashion-forward designs as a big reason for its win. Take the brand’s Spring ’15 one-piece sweatsuit. “Girls stormed the stores to get it,” Garcia says.

Besides offering irresistable styles, Malibu Sugar also keeps its retail clients happy with a commitment to excellent customer service. “We strive to develop long-lasting business relationships, and offer personalized service in an ever-changing market,” Garcia notes. And customers and retailers alike love that the brand’s merchandise is made in Los Angeles. “I have access to sources for fabrics, dye treatments and embellishments that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I’m able to oversee the entire process,” Garcia explains, adding, “Manufacturing my line domestically is important, as I feel I am able to offer my customers a quality product that I’m proud of.” L.C.

Best Licensed Apparel & Accessories: Carter’s by Rashti & Rashti

Rashti-&-Rashti-2The length of the partnership between Rashti & Rashti and Carter’s is proof of its success. After 18 years, Rashti continues to produce toys that embody the quality and cuteness Carter’s is known for. But it’s Rashti’s new additions to its Carter’s collection that really resonated with retailers in recent years and helped the company snag its first Earnie, says President Charlotte Rashti. That includes the company’s Sleep Solutions line of stuffed animals that soothe little ones with lullabies, sound, light and vibrations, as well as a range of toddler gifts, like Blanket Pals, a collection of animal- and monster-shaped bags that come with coordinating blankets.

In 2015, Rashti introduced the Soothing Sounds Lamb (which plays four different sounds), the Soothing Vibrations Elephant (which gently vibrates) and the Recordable Monkey Soother (with the option to record a personal message). “We listen to our retail partners and our talented team works very diligently to bring newness in products that also have a purpose,” Rashti says. —L.C.

Best Outerwear: Appaman

L5SPP-RDTLast year it was fierce fur and this year, killer sparkle for girls and stylish camo for boys. When it comes to what kids want to wear, Appaman’s designs hit the mark season after season, says Founder and Designer Lynn Husum. And retailers clearly agree, rewarding the brand with the Best Outerwear trophy for the second year in a row.

Take the past year, for example: Husum reports stellar sales and re-orders of the brand’s eye-catching coats, especially the ones made with fun novelty fabrics, like the aforementioned camo, sparkle and rainbow-hued faux fur. But it’s not just on-trend styling that makes the brand stand out. As Husum points out, “The outerwear is both fashionable and functionable. We use high quality down and make sure the coats have enough to keep these little people warm and cozy.”

“I think as long as you keep the customers happy, they will return to the brand year after year looking for their favorite styles and whatever new ideas the brand has brought to the table,” she continues. So what new ideas are in store for 2016? Husum is staying mum, but provides the following hint: “We have some tricks up our sleeve that we are really excited about.” —A.G.K.

Best Infants’ Collection: Kissy Kissy

Kissy-Kissy-Premier-Wind-SongFor Kissy Kissy Founder and Owner Roxana Castillo, the secret to success is simple: Respect retailers. “Since we only sell through our retail partners, and not direct to consumers, we recognize that our stores are our eyes and ears, so we really listen to their suggestions, and we try to implement as many as possible,” she explains. It’s no surprise retailers return the favor with Earnie wins year after year for the beloved Peruvian pima cotton layette brand. (This is the seventh straight award for Kissy Kissy.)

In 2015, that meant setting sail with an expanded nautical grouping for spring and adding luster to the line with a new silver colorway. But the brand has even bigger news in store for 2016: Kissy Kissy is embarking on its first-ever licensing partnership with a very special friend, Sophie la girafe, by producing a layette line featuring the bestselling character on over 100 products. “Sophie la girafe is beloved and a regular on baby registries everywhere. Moms and babies know her and love her,” Castillo notes. “And with our layette collection, they’ll be able to live the Sophie la girafe lifestyle.” —A.G.K.

Best Sleepwear: KicKee Pants

KicKee-Pants-2Cozy remains key for KicKee Pants—snagging its second straight Earnie in the Sleepwear category. “KicKee Pants was created with the comfort of our littlest customers in mind,” explains CEO, Designer and Co-owner Aerin Nicole. Since launching in 2007, she and Nick Cloke, co-owner and CFO of the brand, have stuck to their initial recipe for success: incredibly soft, flexible fabric, playful designs and punchy colors on pajamas, coveralls and swaddling blankets (launched in 2014). “Our swaddling blankets have become very popular and have brought attention to the brand in a relatively new area for us,” Nicole says. Not to mention, KicKee Pants recently introduced training pants, underwear, headbands, socks, bibs and even women’s sleepwear to help round out its offerings.

While the new additions certainly help retailers rack up sales, it’s the special details, like fleece pads on the inside of footies, that make the brand stand out. “While our designs aim to be fashion forward and pleasing to parents, our customers are the babies and children who wear our clothing, and our dedication is to creating a line that appeals to their need to play and dream,” Nicole notes. —L.C.

Best Dresswear:Biscotti by Biscotti, Inc.

BiscottiThere aren’t many childrenswear companies who have racked up over a dozen Earnies—13 to be exact—in three different categories, no less. But that’s exactly the case for Biscotti, Inc. Last year, the company snagged Best Swimwear for its Kate Mack line, and this year it earned a Best Dresswear nod for its namesake collection. Launched in 1986, the company continues to deliver the “wow factor” consumers have come to rely on, says Bernadette Reiss, design director and owner of Biscotti, Inc. “Biscotti is particularly known for gorgeous, romantic dresses, which are a wonderful mix of delicate embroideries, wispy nettings, charming three-dimensional flower trims and sparkling sequins,” she adds.

But it isn’t all about special occasion dressing for the company: “As the lifestyle of the consumer has changed to be more casual, the Biscotti brand has evolved as well, incorporating comfortable and very versatile knit fabrics into our collections,” Reiss explains. That ability to adapt is a big reason why retailers keep returning to the brand, rewarding it with bigger sales and Earnies trophies year after year. “Some of our bestselling pieces are simpler silhouettes in unique and original prints that can’t be found anywhere else,” notes Reiss. —L.C.

Best Denim: Levi’s

15_H2_04_HADDAD_6Y_G_38_031_CMYKAn industry leader for more than 160 years, it’s no surprise that Levi’s received its ninth Earnie Award this year for Best Denim. But it’s not just good jeans—pun intended—that make the denim giant stand out. Its unwavering attention to detail, comfort and durability has made it an industry leader for decades. And Haddad Brands, children’s licensee for Levi’s, is dedicated to backing the brand’s authenticity with open ears to what retailers and consumers want. “At Haddad, we pride ourselves in excellence in design,” says Principal Sam Haddad. “In Levi’s particularly, we take seriously our commitment to delivering lifestyle solutions that inspire authentic self-expression for our mini-fans.”

That means creating a collection of everything from genuine denim jeans, jackets and overalls to corduroys, joggers and leggings that appeals to kids while conveying the well-made aesthetic grown-up fans have come to trust. —A.L.

Best New Brand: Jak & Peppar

jakandpeppar-8819“After designing Mustard Pie Clothing for five years, I wanted a collection that would appeal to all markets with a more boho/gypsy feel,” says Jak & Peppar founder Shannon Rihm. Mission accomplished: After just two seasons, Jak & Peppar can already be found in approximately 250 boutiques across the U.S. That universal appeal is just one reason the brand nabbed this year’s Earnie Award for Best New Brand.

Geared toward tweens and teens but offering sizing down to 2T, Rihm launched the line after her daughter’s tastes shifted away from the ruffles of Mustard Pie and closer to a more free-spirited style, embodied by Jak & Peppar’s embroidered tops, crochet accessories, lacy tunics, braided headbands and flowy skirts. Plus, the mix-and-match nature of the clothing allows retailers to curate their own collections, Rihm notes, adding that Spring ’16 will offer even more reason for retailers to buy the line, including the brand’s first boys’  and infant collections. —A.L.

Best Baby Gear: Skip Hop

+06_Highline_Black_Backpack_199Living up to the company’s credo, “must-haves made better,” Skip Hop snagged its third Earnie this year—the second time in the Best Baby Gear category. Building upon a roster of award-winning products—including diaper bags; bath-time, playtime and mealtime accessories; and layette and nursery items—several innovations set the brand ahead once again. For example, a new Saddle Bag (which offers additional storage on any stroller) and three-season Footmuff make life easier for families on-the-go, and the brand’s beloved Zoo collection branched into toddler with a line of pajamas and a nightlight, says Skip Hop founder Ellen Diamant. “They’re all must-haves for parents, babies and toddlers, but with a design or functional twist to drive a better overall experience,” she adds.

And the company shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to introducing new designs to the layette line in 2016, the brand is launching a line of über-fashionable diaper bags that live beyond the diaper bag stage. Also in the works? “Our Uplift Bouncer is truly exciting,” Diamant hints. “It adjusts to multiple heights to naturally and safely integrate baby into family moments.” —A.L.

Best International Brand: JoJo Maman Bébé

Boy-Lifestyle---SS16Three cheers for U.K. mother-and-baby brand JoJo Maman Bébé for winning Best International Brand three years in a row. Its quirky designs with a French-nautical twist have been globally renowned for more than 20 years—a résumé that helps the brand stand out with U.S. retailers, explains Founder Laura Tenison. “The U.S. market is flooded with huge brands and peppered with eclectic start-ups,” she points out. “JoJo offers the middle ground: the credentials of being Great Britain’s leading boutique mother-and-baby brand along with fresh designs that are just a little bit different from the rest.” That includes everything from Breton-striped basics to rainwear, swimwear and cozy pajamas for girls and boys up to size six. “Our fun boys’ wear was really well-received this season,” notes Tenison. “We listened to our customers about tailoring some of our styles, and the benefit has really paid off.”

Paid off it has—sales figures doubled with many of JoJo’s reps over the past six months. Additionally, the opening of the company’s new distribution center in New Jersey helped expedite shipping times and reduce price points, bolstering the brand’s U.S. success. “I think our good value, original design and quick, easy ordering is the winning combination in this current climate,” Tenison adds. —A.L.

Best Boys’ Collection: Andy & Evan

Andy-&-Evan-2Andy & Evan continues to shrink men down to size—well, men’s apparel down to pint-size boys’ clothing, that is. Known for its “traditionally whimsical” offerings according to the brand’s co-founder, Evan Hakalir, the company shows no signs of slowing down, especially after earning a third straight Earnie Award in the Best Boys’ Collection category. The brand has been so successful in the boys’ realm, in fact, that it launched a girls’ line for Spring ’15. And, Hakalir adds, “We really expanded our casual assortment this year. We did a lot of great printed tees, fun elbow patches, embroidered and intarsia sweaters, and accessories too.”

It all adds up to a full, fun and refreshing line retailers and customers alike can’t resist.  By popular request, next year Andy & Evan will increase its array of wash-and-wear casual styles—tees, sweaters and hoodies—and expand its sizing for boys and girls beyond newborn to 7 years to include the 8 to 14 set. “I like to say that we design for the moms and not for the margins,” Hakalir laughs. —L.C.

Best Girl’s Collection: Deux par Deux

Deux-par-Deux-4With a milestone birthday in 2016, Deux par Deux plans to party all year long—and winning an eighth Earnie is just one more reason to celebrate. In August, the brand marks 30 years of making timeless yet modern collections spanning snowsuits to dresses, and President and Chief Designer Claude Diwan chalks the longevity up to inspired patterns and refined silhouettes. “We’re acclaimed by the industry for our strong technical and aesthetic qualities, sophisticated cuts, vibrant colors and original patterns, but our collections are, above all, appreciated by the most uncompromising
critics: kids.”

Diwan credits her “powerhouse” design team and amped-up social media efforts as two reasons for this year’s Earnie win. “We also put great effort into producing simple marketing tools for our retailers,” she adds, pointing to holiday visuals and website-ready images the brand shared with retailers. “It is the fragile equilibrium between beauty and quality that make us stand out.” —L.C.

Best Toys: Jellycat

WildThing_ElephantLaunched in London in the late ’90s, Jellycat’s boutique-quality soft toys and books have been gelling with U.S. retailers since 2001. “In my opinion, trust is what put us over the top this year,” says President Danell Gibbins of the brand’s Best Toys Earnie Award. “In an unbelievably competitive retail climate, we stick firmly to our original recipe for success—first, great product design, and then protecting our specialty customers by ensuring MAP pricing and keeping distribution in specialty retail.”

Crafted from ultra-soft polyester, the brand’s line of plushy animals, rattles, soothers and books is not only huggable, but also sits beautifully with apparel, offering retailers a “consumer-recognized gift category that merchandises well with their core business,” explains Gibbins.

Next year Jellycat will launch what Gibbins calls “one of our biggest projects ever”the brand’s first line of books, featuring padded covers based on its bestselling plush characters. “We cannot wait to see and hear the response,” Gibbins says. —A.L.

Best Gifts:Little Giraffe

LOVE-BlankyToysAs put simply by President/CEO Trish Moreno: “Little Giraffe is love.” Earnie voters certainly showed their love, awarding the brand with its fourth award and second-straight Best Gifts win. Known to many as the “shower wower,” Little Giraffe earned the name with its luxuriously soft baby blankets and plush toys that, Moreno says, “luckily, discerning parents and babies find very desirable!”

Cozy introductions sealed that status in 2015, including new plush toys to round out the Friends of Little Giraffe collection, as well as exclusive new blankets in ultra-soft fabrications (like the Luxe Rib Stripe that sports a classic rugby stripe in a soft gray, blue or pink). This coming year, plans for a different kind of blanket are in the works (mum’s the word until January). Available in 2,000 independent boutiques and such larger retailers as Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Barneys, the company plans to continue its push among mid-tier retailers. “Our goal is to make the Little Giraffe brand of comfort accessible to more babies,” muses Moreno. —A.L.

Best Footwear: Pediped

BrittanyRedIn 2005, Pediped co-founders Angela and Brian Edgeworth were looking for soft-soled shoes for their baby girl, but could only find socks and moccasins. The duo designed a few prototypes and took them to a local store, which soon became Pediped’s first customer. Since then, the company has won a staggering 10 Earnie Awards, including this year in the Best Footwear category.

Available in more then 50 countries globally, this past year the brand particularly concentrated on bolstering its specialty segment. “We made sure we had a great Originals [the infant soft sole collection] to offer, updated the Spring and Fall ’15 lines with new styles and focused our sales team on this opportunity,” explains Angela Edgeworth. “In short, we made sure to offer them a strong breadth of great styles for their customers.”

Initiatives slated for 2016 include new technology, new products and expanded sizes. “Now that we’ve had a moment to enjoy our tenth anniversary, all the wheels are rolling,” Edgeworth says. —A.L.

Best Accessories: RuffleButts

Seersucker“RuffleButts is a celebration of childhood with styles designed to shower little ones with compliments,” says company owner Amber Schaub. This year, however, Schaub was the one receiving compliments when she took home the Best Accessories trophy, the brand’s first Earnie nod. With a name like RuffleButts and a product line that puts “cute ruffles on the booties of adorable kiddos,” it’s easy to see why the company stands out. “I believe our brand fills a unique niche for retailers in both accessories and gifts,” Schaub explains. “Our creations are designed to bring joy to others.”

Happy accessories include everything from fedoras and beanies to birthday hats, headbands, bows, tights and the famed ruffled bloomers. This year, the company expanded its Everyday Collection with more leggings and tees priced from $16.50 to $19.50 wholesale. “The mainstays at the heart of RuffleButts include our sun protected swimwear, ruffled footless tights, and of course, our namesake RuffleButt bloomers,” notes Schaub. When asked if the company has big plans in the works for 2016, Schaub answers coyly, “Oh, do we ever!” —A.L.

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