It is a well-known fact that the rising confidence of the Indian consumer has influenced a number of sectors, with the greater consumption of products and services spurring manufacturers and suppliers to accelerate, and innovate, in a bid to stake a definitive claim in the market. This phenomenon is observed as much in the apparel space as elsewhere, with leading brands and players forever seeking to tempt consumers in ever-varying ways. Thus, while the menswear and womenswear markets continue to offer opportunities for scaling up and expanding portfolios, it is kidswear that has of late caught the attention of apparel brands.
This trend is as much a reflection of consumers’ tastes as of adventurism on the part of apparel retailers. In particular, children today are directly influenced by a number of media, and especially by the various targeted television programmes and advertisements. They are also more attuned to their peers’ preferences, and consequently desire to emulate such tastes. Equally, parents today are more open to – and capable of – expending higher amounts on their children’s clothing and related accessories. They are also observing, through direct travel as well as other means, the trends in kidswear across different geographies and trying to find similar outfits for their own young ones.
Organised vis-à-vis Unorganised
This demand-supply rebalancing has seen kidswear transform from a largely unbranded or unorganised segment into one that has its own distinct niches, requiring careful understanding separate from menswear and womenswear. While brands like Lilliput and Benetton have enjoyed some success in the metros and mini metros, the space remains largely untapped. Even with extant retailers, while kidswear may be present as a category, the products offered are lacking in range and depth. A consequence of this is the popularity of online retailing since children’s clothing, while tending to be age- and size-specific, has fewer fit-related restrictions. Distinct price bands can also be discerned within this segment. While MBOs in malls might stock high-end, designer and international brands priced above `2500, the mid-price segment, with product prices ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 1,000, is currently registering the fastest growth.
Retailers also have plenty of opportunities in terms of various apparel types. For instance, denim fabrics are much in demand in both the boyswear and girlswear segments, partly due to their higher fashion quotient and due to being widely wearable. Also promising is the school uniforms category, which traditionally accounts for the largest market share. This category thus tends to mirror the overall trend within boyswear and girlswear as well in terms of growth, which, by current estimates, is higher for girls (11 per cent) compared to boys (10 per cent). However, boyswear, accounting for 52 per cent of the market, is at present the larger sub-segment.
A recent development in this space also has much to do with the type of fabric, albeit on the characteristics of the fabric and the additional benefits offered. Parents today are more aware of the impact different fabrics can have on their children’s skin; this is particularly true of parents with newborns and young children. As a result, there is, for instance, a preference for organic cotton, which is hypoallergenic and offers heightened safety. Brands seeking new horizons thus also have a credible prospect in meeting such nuanced consumer demands, which can potentially evolve into niche product categories.
Accessories are also emerging as a competitive front within the kidswear segment, and particularly for girlswear, thanks to the desire of parents to see their children decked up flawlessly. This has gone beyond just school accessories like bags and shoes, with girls beginning to imitate the use of fashion products from a much younger age and thus wanting such products as head-bands, trinkets, and even handbags.
An interesting offshoot of children’s exposure to varied media is the demand for themed clothing, which is connected with, say, a television show. Children have always been particularly fond of cartoons, and fascinate the superhero genre. It is therefore no surprise that brands offer entire product ranges revolving around a particular show or character to catch the fancy of today’s kids. This trend is most prominent in the T-shirts and accessories space, and finds itself well ensconced within the MBO format. Brands have even tied up with media agencies and corporations to offer specially licensed products that are replicas of actual props and costumes used in specific cartoons and shows. There is, however, a dearth of innovation, in terms of design, within the kidswear category. Most Indian players churn out similar designs year in and year out, in stark contrast to international players who bring out new collections every season. Also requiring attention is the ‘tweens’ sub-segment, which is yet largely unexplored. This age group is most susceptible to peer pressure and therefore most likely to desire brands owned by their friends and co-students. Players seeking to make an impact in this segment thus have uncharted territories to make their own, provided they have the tenacity.
It is not easy to dismiss the growth of kidswear as merely a specific consequence of the retail boom in India. Apparel retailing has become more corporatised, and this is nowhere more true than in the kidswear space. This has whetted the appetites of both domestic and international brands, but has also required them to counter several challenges unique to this space. Kidswear may seem to be immune to the usual trouble-spots of size and fit, which haunt apparel makers, but the age-specific nature of this segment translates into a need for a greater variety of products. Again, the pricing of kidswear products follows its own logic and therefore needs independent strategising. Brands that steer past these obstacles stand to cash in majorly on the plethora of opportunities offered by this segment.