Children’s fashion is one of the most complicated sectors in the fashion world. Children grow quickly and they put a lot of wear and tear on their clothes. Not to mention that children’s clothing brands must address two customers simultaneously: the children who wear the clothes and the parents who buy them.
But with children’s fashion reaching $40 billion in sales in the United States last year, brands like Abercrombie & Fitch are focused on perfecting their approach to the children’s category.
Abercrombie & Fitch’s Abercrombie Kids line for ages 5-14 was, for many years, quite basic compared to the trend-seeking, cutting-edge adult line. But in 2019, Kelly Hall, vice president and general manager of Abercrombie Kids, sat down with Carey Krug, vice president of marketing for Abercrombie & Fitch and Abercrombie Kids, to refresh the children’s line. And over the past two years, Hall has made several significant changes to the children’s collection, which is sold on Abercrombie’s website and in stores.
Most notably, the decision to commit to making it as fashionable as the company’s adult styles. When looser jeans became a bigger trend for adult women, Hall said she made the decision to do the same in the kids’ line.
“It’s become clear that we need to go beyond the basics and focus on trends,” she said.
Especially in the age of Instagram, style-conscious adults want their kids to be fashionably dressed too. And kids in the tween age group are tuned in to trends themselves. In 2019, when the refocusing began, Krug and Hall spoke to hundreds of kids in focus groups to find out what they wanted to wear. According to Krug, the 9- and 10-year-olds she and Hall spoke to when developing the brand’s vision were aware of what was trending, thanks to social media and watching their parents, siblings and older sisters and celebrities.
The brand’s collaborators, like influencer Jen Reed (1.2 million Instagram followers), who designed a collection with the brand in late 2020, are now invited to team up on styles for both adult and kids’ lines. Sometimes that means making exact copies of adult styles to allow for mini-me moments. Other times, it’s about making children’s clothes that follow the same trend.
But Hall said not every trend that works for adults can be easily transposed to kids. Cropped band tees, for example, saw a boom for Abercrombie in mid-2021, but the team didn’t feel comfortable selling cropped tops to 9-year-olds. Instead, the same group logos, prints and colorways have been translated into standard t-shirts for the kids’ line.
Krug said marketing children’s clothing is a complicated business. Instagram remains the dominant channel for reaching parents, but children are more fragmented, in terms of where they spend their time. Many use Instagram, but other channels like gaming platforms are becoming increasingly important. Krug said Abercrombie plans to roll out a Roblox partnership soon to capture the tween market, but details are still under wraps.
“With my kids, the allowance is paid in Robux,” Krug said, referring to the proprietary currency that Roblox uses for in-game purchases. “That’s where a lot of kids hang out. We also worked with Nickelodeon on custom content for their YouTube channel. » Nickelodeon has nearly 10 million YouTube subscribers and Roblox has over 40 million daily active users, 30% of which are between the ages of 9 and 12.
Direct marketing to children is necessary because the parents who buy for them are, for the most part, not Abercrombie customers themselves. Krug said only about 20% of adults who buy Abercrombie Kids also buy from the adult line. Abercrombie relies on brand-targeted Instagram ads in front of parents.
One area of children’s fashion that has evolved significantly in recent years is how brands deal with licensed clothing, that is, clothing featuring popular IPs. In the children’s world, these include Marvel superheroes and “Star Wars” characters.
Licensed clothing for children is often far from revolutionary, from a design point of view. Usually, a plain T-shirt with an image of Spider-Man is enough to interest an average 8-year-old, for example. For parents who want their children to look stylish, a simple, uninspired use of a licensed image is not appealing. But kids, especially boys, want these characters, Krug said.
The solution for Abercrombie Kids is to secure the licenses kids love, but infuse them with a more subtle, cutting-edge design. For example, it currently sells a hoodie featuring the “Star Wars” character Boba Fett, which was recently featured on the Disney+ show “The Book of Boba Fett.” But rather than feature a simple still image of the character, Abercrombie used a vintage 70s illustration of the character associated with the Abercrombie brand in a similar worn font.
“We talk a lot about ‘parent bait’ and ‘kid bait,’ in terms of what gets each audience excited,” Hall said. “Licensing is bait for children. They love Spider-Man. When they see it, they want it. But we’re really trying to differentiate ourselves from the way other brands use these licenses by making them a bit higher.
Abercrombie & Fitch, which also owns Hollister, made a comeback last year. After seeing sales plummet in the mid-2010s, the brand saw global sales growth by the end of the decade. And its sales in 2021 increased by 10% compared to the previous year. This was driven by a 17% increase in sales in its largest market, the United States, and a 12% increase in the segment of the business that includes Abercrombie’s adult and children’s ranges. The company does not break down sales between the two lines in its disclosures.
The tween fashion market is booming. New players like Sugar & Jade and Francesca’s Franki and returning giants like Justice, which relaunched at Walmart last summer, have expanded the field. For its part, Saks Fifth Avenue launched more than 60 brands in its children’s category in 2021, including Off-White, Armani and Moschino.
With such a crowded market and lots of money to be made, standing out is more important than ever.