Kids’ clothes children actually want to wear
Fashion: The big business of catering for small people
Gingham dress, €40.50, at thelittlewoodenpeg.com
When Leigh Tucker, mother of three young girls, started designing a childrenswear range for Dunnes Stores six years ago, the whole collection consisted of 30 pieces. It has grown so fast that she now provides 30 outfits every month. “I started with preconceptions of what I thought kids would want to wear, but now it’s what they want to wear rather than what I think they want [that guides me] – and my own kids are very critical,” she says, adding that “social media means you get instant feedback”.
This season, for instance for girls, there are playsuits, jumpsuits and shorts as well as dresses. “My kids are upside down most of the time and so these clothes are more popular though they still love dressing up and Mini-Me [matching mother-daughter dressing]. What they don’t want are words on T-shirts. ‘We don’t want our T-shirts to tell us things,’ they say.” As for boys, “it’s always stripes”, she says. A blue velour playsuit, which Tucker describes as both modern and retro, is a winner online.
Childrenswear designers have mushroomed in Ireland in recent years, many started by new or stay-at-home mothers. Mother-of-two Amanda Keirens, founder of the Rain and Conkers brand, started a collective of 10 independent Irish childrenswear brands (they had all met on Instagram) now located at Kid, upstairs in the Powerscourt Centre.
The shop, where she is now the sole owner, continues to be the biggest stockist of Irish-made clothing for children supplemented with other ranges. Some 50 per cent of the sales are gifts, according to Keirens – people looking for special items for newborns, baby showers or birthdays. It also has accessories like shoes and bibs as well as some handmade toys and framed illustrations.
Irish brands include Slugs and Snails, boys and girls’ tights that have won numerous awards for their fun motifs and bright colours based in Sligo; Frank and Nora, organic clothing for kids; Lollipops and Daydreams based in Carlow making simple classic shapes in bright patterns; Cotton Hill Lane based in Sligo, handmade rompers with animal motifs; LinzyO in Bray with a range of handmade dresses, tops and accessories; and Under the Willow – “paper goods for little and loved ones” founded in 2017 and based in north Co Dublin.
Elsewhere although it is a British brand, The White Company carries quality children’s knitwear designed by Dubliner Louise Knatchbull, former head of childrenswear at Burberry, a mother of two herself.
Head of childrenswear at River Island is another Dubliner, Anne Marie Rigney, who won the annual NCAD/River Island bursary in 2007 and controls one of the biggest ranges on the high street where profits jumped 70 per cent after its introduction. Elsewhere there are small Irish-based online companies like Soq.ie, petit.ie and thelittlewoodenpeg.com that offer something different internationally.
Like their customers, the childrenswear market grows apace. In the UK alone Minitel expects it to hit £7.8 billion sterling this year (about €9 billion), expansion fuelled by older mothers, baby boomer grandparents with disposable incomes and an increasing birth rate.
At the designer end of the spectrum the big brands caught on a long time ago – Baby Dior was launched in 1967 and then others like Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Gucci followed suit with social media accelerating business. Small people these days are big business.