May 26, 2016
Kid City: The Ins and Outs of Children’s Footwear for Spring ’17
The old formula for selling children’s footwear—pink, flowers and sneakers—doesn’t cut it anymore. Parents are equipped with multiple devices to shop from any point in the world 24-hours a day and kids are as style-savvy as ever.
We spoke to leading children’s brands about the changing children’s footwear landscape and what retailers need to know before embarking on the Spring ’17 buying season.
Core solid colors of silver, mocha and navy are the main drivers in Birkenstock USA’s children’s collection for Spring ’17. “We certainly have prints and patterns created specifically for girls and boys, but in many ways our children’s collection is a smaller reflection of what we have for adults,” said Matt Hundley, the brand’s director of marketing and communications.
Comfort is as big a story in children’s footwear as it is in the men’s and women’s category. This fall, Step & Stride, a division of Vida Kids, featured removable OrthoLite insoles to accommodate medium and wide widths. The brand is following up with a new innovative buckle system on sandals that offers the same benefits for Spring ’17. “We are staying true to the three main values of comfort, wellness and fit on which Step & Stride is built, while also improving the fashionable styles to be fresh and current for the Spring ’17 season,” said Luis Gonzalez Palacio, director of design for Vida Kids Division.
Legend Footwear, maker of the trendy young women’s label Wild Diva Lounge, hopes to apply its winning formula—opening price point, styling and speed to market—to children’s with the launch of Little Diva, a sized-down selection of girls’ footwear sizes 10-4. “Younger girls want to dress like their sisters,” said Charles Dweck, account manager for the line. For its debut, Little Diva is betting on ghillie-style flats for girls with almond, round and pointed toes for the first half of the season, along with navy as the key neutral. Toward the later part of the season, Dweck said the brand will play up athleisure silhouettes with an espadrille feel.
Mommy-and-me looks are still important, but Washington Shoe Company CEO Karl Moehring says sister-sister designs are gaining momentum in Western Chief’s business. For Spring ’17, the brand is focusing on the youth category, sizes 11-4, with fresh designs that tap into the athletic trend. Highlights include rubber boots inspired by sneakers with non-functional laces.
Replenish, replenish, replenish
Does the children’s footwear category have a hall pass from the woes its adult counterparts are encountering in the market? Kids’ brands are slow to give a firm yes, but they do see unique opportunities to focus more on design and less on homogenized transitional and seasonless footwear. Dweck says his company’s know-how in identifying trends early on will be essential to growing its kids’ business. Unlike the women’s market which is in a “buy now, wear now” cycle, Dweck said the kids’ category is still partly aligned with the school calendar. New and updated styles are needed each quarter to tempt mid-season, impulse buys.
Parents need to replenish and kids get bored with their footwear, confirmed Ryan Ringholz, founder and chief designer of Plae. While the brand considers Back-to-School a major buying season, Ringholz says the period is stretching out on both sides. Demand for new product is also being sped up by the “touch screen culture” in which children today are growing up. Ringholz said brands need to adjust to designing for an “on demand lifestyle” instead of collaring people into a timeframe.
Plae chooses to stagger collections and deliveries through the year so retailers have a constant flow of new product. “We look at each collection as though we’re telling a story as opposed to having a big seasonal drop all at once,” Ringholz explained.
In addition to its core product, the brand is examining balance—or ying and yang—through the lens of children for spring. The “Fuzzy and Smooth” features long pile suede which Ringholz likened to a Muppet juxtaposed with a chalky, smooth leather. The “Fancy and Fun” incorporates metallic lame on canvas with perforated leather. “In the kids market you have two consumers you have to appeal to… it makes it more challenging,” he added.
Show and tell
Plae’s soft launch was online, however Ringholz said selling in retail was always the company’s mindset. Online was a platform for the company to explain its unique point of view as a technology brand developing children’s footwear and to teach consumers about its shoes’ interchangeable straps. “Retailers are worried about showrooming, but the opposite is very much a trend,” Ringholz said. “Consumers see it online and want to buy it in the store.”
Shopping for children’s footwear is still a hands-on experience. Brands say parents feel better about their purchases when it is sold by a knowledgable and attentive sales person. “Customers still prefer to touch the product, but they also need motivation to come to the store. Time is a valuable commodity, which is why the in-store shopping experience has to be executed with excellence. Today’s consumer is an omni-shopper so using social networks, social media and mommy bloggers is very important. Parents value the opinions and reviews of other parents, probably as much as any other source of information,” said John Licata, Vida Kids Division director of sales.
Hundley agreed, adding, “Children’s specialty stores do what no other channel can–fit children’s feet and help parents understand the importance of correct footwear.” As a brand with orthopedic benefits, Hundley says Birkenstock understands and values the service and attention that only a children’s specialty retailer can provide. “This can’t be replicated online or in big box stores. As long as children’s specialty stores continue providing this invaluable service, it will be at least one measure of how they are, in fact, the competition to other channels,” he explained.
All brands featured in this article are showing at FFANY June 7-9. To view all exhibiting brands, locations and contact information, visit the Showplanner.
Thank you VAMP and Angela Velasquez, Editorial Director for this special content.
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