No Time to Snooze

Parents will always need pajamas for their little ones, and with sleepwear sales on the rise, now may be the perfect time to freshen up your shut-eye assortment. By Cambrey Noelle Thomas You wouldn’t fall asleep on a million dollar industry, would you? Scores of children tuck into bed every night, bundled in their favorite […]

Parents will always need pajamas for their little ones, and with sleepwear sales on the rise, now may be the perfect time to freshen up your shut-eye assortment.

By Cambrey Noelle Thomas

You wouldn’t fall asleep on a million dollar industry, would you?

Scores of children tuck into bed every night, bundled in their favorite pajamas. For many children’s retailers, stocking plenty of pairs is a no-brainer. But even retailers who bowed out of the category in recent years may want to reconsider: The NPD Group reports the sleepwear industry grew 7.7 percent from 2012 to 2013, to more than $1.7 million, in just 12 months. With the trend pointing upward on an already perennial favorite, now may be the perfect time to reevaluate and revamp your store’s sleepwear and sleep accessories.

Unlike seasonal items like toasty winter coats or summertime swimsuits, sleep is a nightly activity. “Kids will always need pajamas,” says Suzy O’Brien, owner and founder of Red Wagon, a children’s store in Boston, MA. She’s right, and with the National Sleep Foundation recommending that kids ages 1 through 12 get between 10 and 14 hours of sleep, that means a lot of pajama time—and likely more on weekends as kids snuggle in for Saturday morning cartoons and lazy Sundays.

What’s more, parents are hungry for variety in pajamas, especially as kids grow past smaller sizes—a lesson learned first hand by Roxana Castillo, founder and owner of babywear line Kissy Kissy, which is introducing its first sleepwear collection for kids ages 1 to 6 beginning this fall. “We’ve received constant requests from our retail partners who’ve gotten similar requests from their customers,” Castillo says. “They tell us there are fewer options for soft, safe sleepwear.”


Toddler sleepwear has always been a go-to staple in the specialty market, but both retailers and manufacturers report an increased demand for big kid styles, too. In fact, Erin Cloke, designer and founder of Kickee Pants, an eco-friendly infant and toddler apparel line, decided to leap into larger sizes to keep up with customer requests. The new Catch a Tiger collection will expand Kickee Pants’ sleepwear collection up to age 10. “There’s not a lot of selection out there in those sizes,” she says. “People have been asking for pajamas specifically in bigger sizes, not just on the wholesale side, but on the retail side as well,” she says.

Cloke attributes the push to older brothers and sisters who want to match their younger siblings, and kids who want to sleep in Kickee Pants even as they grow. “When a parent finds something they like and that the kid likes, they want it to carry through,” she says. “Those same parents are expecting that same quality in the larger sizes.”

As for newborn babies and infants, most parents are perfectly happy to let a soft one-piece serve as sleepwear. But surprisingly, more moms are looking specifically for pajamas once their little ones hit the 12-month mark, says Maggie Jetter, owner and founder of Tweed Baby Outfitters in Nashville, TN. “I think more and more parents want to put their kids in actual pajamas,” Jetter notes. Her customers often come in looking for footed pajamas that are age appropriate for larger babies, especially boys. “It’s tricky finding that,” she admits. It’s even trickier because she advises her customers to go up one size since pajamas are washed frequently and tend to shrink. That’s why she makes sure to stock larger sizes when they’re available, even for infants, like Hatley’s one-piece coveralls.

But when buying for a big age range, keep in mind that different prints appeal to kids of different ages. Andie Zacher, founder of Little Monsters in Milwaukee, WI, sticks to playful prints for infants and toddlers—for example, Skylar Luna’s vintage car prints for boys or tiny glitter heart-like polka dots for girls. For older boys she goes with the classics, like simple stripes, and for older girls, Zacher aims for a little sophistication, like this past season when she picked up an ombré rainbow pajama set by Skylar Luna.


While pajamas are worn year round, they take on new significance for kids and families during the holiday season. Whether for photo ops, gift giving, or just to have a nice pair for family gatherings, pajamas effortlessly embody the holiday spirit. Sentimentalism aside, holidays drive sleepwear sales in a way no other season can match—even months before Christmas day. “Holiday merchandise is usually put on the selling floor in October,” says Mike Diablo, president & COO of SGI Apparel Group, a division of the SG Companies.

“We have always sold more sleepwear going into the holiday season. A lot of people want the matching sibling outfits,” says Tweed Baby’s Jetter. O’Brien also gets lots of requests for matching sets at Red Wagon, so she stocks up on Sara’s Prints, which come adorned with snowmen, candy canes, or Christmas trees in long-sleeved styles for boys and girls.

“That’s the biggest time of the year for pajamas, and I think a lot of people tend to buy them for Christmas day,” confirms Cloke. In fact, Kickee Pants is working on its own designs with snowflakes, presents and lights for Fall ’14. The collection, a first for Cloke, is purposefully subtle. “We went with things that families across the board might share during the holiday,” she says.

But don’t be afraid to indulge in the traditional symbols of the season—customers seem to like a little holiday excess, something Zacher quickly noticed after opening Little Monsters four years ago. “The funny thing about it is that as a buyer I tend to shy away from things that are really holiday oriented,” she says. “For instance, I don’t buy T-shirts that say things like ‘Happy Fourth of July,’ but with pajamas it’s directly the opposite. During the holidays, if I can find pajamas with little Christmas trees on them, those fly out of here—even though I would say my store is definitely more modern and the lines are a little cleaner.” Zacher even buys double, and sometimes triple, of her normal size orders because her holiday stock moves so quickly.

The holidays are also a great time to try out pricier, more niche sleepwear brands. While pajamas are usually priced in the $20 through $40 range at Little Monsters, Zacher brought in British-based Darcy Brown pieces, which retail for about $75 a set. It worked for her because the brand’s sleepwear, a specialty, splurge-worthy item, arrived in her store just as shoppers were looking for gifts and willing to spend more. “People, mainly grandparents, love to buy pajamas for Christmas gifts,” she points out.


While holidays will always be a hit for pajamas, Karen Clarke, owner of Fiona’s Childrenswear in Sarasota, FL, believes the bedtime staple lends itself naturally to gifting all year round. “Children are going to wear pajamas everyday, and it’s just a great gift—it’s a functional gift. And I think that’s why people gravitate towards them,” she says. That’s why she started stocking Books To Bed, a pre-assembled pajama and book set that comes wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon.

The sets have flown off the shelves: Clarke has had to reorder five times in a two-month period. She attributes the products’ success to parents and grandparents who gravitate toward its combination of what she describes as joyful and traditional. “Some of these are New York Times bestsellers,” she says. “But they are packaged so well and the price point is very nice—they’re roughly about $42.”

While books are a natural accompaniment, there are countless other ways to set the mood when merchandising your sleepwear section. Jetter bundles hers with soft swaddle blankets and sleep sacks for her littlest customers. In Milwaukee, Zacher folds her organic Skylar Luna sleep sets on the same table as skin care products from Mustela to create a mini bed and bath section. Cloke agrees: “I think it is really effective to create that type of section with those things together to sell the lifestyle of it.” Currently she recommends dotting sleepwear sections with blankets, Cloud B’s soothing Twilight Turtles, child-friendly clocks and alarms, color-changing light timers to help with waking up and other items that would naturally fit in a bedroom scene at home.


Your store’s location should translate into your merchandise as well, especially if your area is well known for something special. For Nashville-based Tweed Baby Outfitters, sleepwear by Magnolia Baby and Hatley with music themes and western prints are a sure-buy for many shoppers, Jetter says. “We couldn’t get enough of the cowboy theme, especially for the boys and even for the little girls,” she adds. “A lot of people come in wanting something that’s for the music industry or really Nashville.”

Clarke first opened Fiona’s Childrenswear in Philadelphia and saw customers clamor year-round for lobster and crab print pajamas from New Jammies, but surprisingly she’s noticed the same since moving to her new Florida location. “It went well in Philadelphia because we were near the Jersey Shore, but here in Sarasota we’re on the Gulf Coast,” she says. “They’re just such a bright colorful print and people love them.” In Boston, O’Brien found a market for gender-neutral sleepwear sets with anchors and lobsters from Thingamajiggies 4 Kids. “Being in New England we sell nautical themed sleepwear best,” she says. To highlight the store’s bestselling sleepwear, she’s included them in a section devoted to all things crustacean, including themed books and plush toy lobsters.

Even in areas that don’t immediately relate to sleepwear themes, parents and kids alike connect well to the whimsical. “Patterns that spark the imagination are best for sleepwear,” says Kissy Kissy’s Castillo. “You’re sending them off to dreamland, so the themes should be fun and sweet.”


Outside of the ever-popular stars, solid colors and abstract patterns, kids love to wear their favorite characters from TV, books and movies. “Licensed character or entertainment sleepwear represents approximately 30 percent of all children’s sleepwear sold,” says SGI Apparel’s Diablo. Retailers can take advantage of those figures by offering a selection of licensed sleepwear, but Diablo advises specialty stores to stick with literary characters, and not the ones kids know from television shows and movies, to avoid direct competition with big box stores. “Specialty stores should carry more of the evergreen or classic licenses because the opportunistic or trend licenses are sold at reduced prices at the mass level,” he points out.

Heather Jaffe, president and creative director at Jaxxwear Inc., agrees. She manufactures some of her pima cotton rompers, footies, and playsuits with art from The Very Hungry Caterpillar and several other Eric Carle books. While not technically sleepwear, the infants in Jaffe’s clothes tend to nap day and night in the soft designs. “It has been hugely successful [among retailers] because parents remember it from their own youth, so it has got a bit of retro appeal,” she says. Jaffe manufactures pieces under other licenses as well, but she found that Carle’s work translates especially well into the specialty space, linking well-known characters with that rare, parental approval, since the book is such a trans-generational icon. “There are 125 million of them sold worldwide, so one is sold every 30 seconds—taking his art work and translating it into apparel was a no-brainer.”


The Consumer Product Safety Commission has strict rules children’s sleepwear manufacturers have to meet before their wares even arrive in store, but all retailers should be fully aware of the safety measures required of what they’re buying. According to the CPSC, children’s sleepwear must be either tightly fitted and close to the body or flame resistant, as in fully or partially composed of an inflammable material or sprayed with a chemical flame retardant. Cloke chose the first method, a tight fit, for Kickee Pants. “I think that people are keenly aware of the fire retardant situation at this point,” she says, pointing to a few recent articles that link flame retardants to possible disruptions in normal growth and functions, something she thinks is terrifying, especially as a parent. “Parents who are concerned with those kinds of things are looking to ensure what they are buying doesn’t have a fire retardant on it.” Boutique owners Zacher, Jetter, and Clarke agree, and take care to buy close-fitting, long john styles for sizes 9 months and up.

The CPSC also has a protocol just for retailers, to ensure that children’s sleepwear is labeled and sold correctly. First, all items merchandised as sleepwear must actually be sleepwear—meaning it meets either of the two requirements listed above and is manufactured specifically for the purpose of sleeping. Secondly, sleepwear needs to be placed separately and clearly away from other types of garments. There also needs to be clear language, either on a sign in the department, on the website or in the catalogue, explaining why these pieces are sleepwear and others are not. (Think of it as a simple disclaimer letting parents know why the sleepwear you’ve chosen is safe.) Finally, avoid promoting items not covered by sleepwear standards as sleepwear—say, for example, loungewear and T-shirts.

After checking for safety, retailers can get back to the fun of curating the perfect sleepwear section. If you still need a few ideas on where to start, Kissy Kissy’s Castillo has a tip: “A good pajama is one you can’t wait to get into and don’t want to take off. For us, that means cute and comfortable. Who knows, maybe kids will actually want to go to bed now!”


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