Childrens height and waist sizes are a better indicator of ‘fit’ than age

Children's height and waist sizes are a better indicator of ‘fit’ than age

Height and waist sizes are a better indicator of ‘fit’ than age; children's wear sales are being boosted by grandparents and fathers; and cross-shopping retail strategies are paying off as consumers prefer to shop under one roof in supermarkets, discount and department stores.

These were just some of the findings presented by an eminent line-up of speakers at the latest ASBCI seminar entitled 'The Childrenswear Challenge - responding to a growing market.'

Based on research derived from 15,000 consumers Kantar WorldpanelFashion has identified that while shoppers are currently buying fewer children's wear items they are spending an average of 3% more on their purchases.

According to Kantar's strategic insight director Ian Mitchell, the weak pound may continue to push up average prices into 2011 but it is still too early to say how this will impact consumer spend.

He explained that in the last five years the 55+ year grandparent consumer group is increasingly "helping out" the recession hit 25 to 34 year old sector by "gifting" children's clothes - in 2010, 25% of all kids' wear is being bought as a gift.

While women still account for the majority of children's wear sales, men now account for a quarter of the market spend, a rise of 8% since 2006, with 56% preferring to shop in multiples, sports shops and supermarkets. Only 5% of men and women buy their kids' wear in children's independents.

Indeed, the multiples and discounters dominate sales in the children's wear market as 52% of kids' wear shoppers say they like to shop for everything under one roof.

And with 75% of all shoppers buying across departments, this is good news for the likes of Next, Asda, Tesco, Primark and Matalan who have developed good "cross shopping" retail concepts that encourage consumers to browse, stay and shop.

Kantar predicts that dedicated children's and other specialist retailers, as exemplified in the demise of Adams, will continue to struggle especially as children after the 13 years "tipping point" reject "mini-me" children's wear in preference for adult fashion.

Health statistics don't relate to clothing sizes
Indeed, "children are not children for long," confirmed sizing, shape and fit guru, Ed Gribbin, president of Alvainsight, a division of Alvanon Inc.

He has identified a dramatic change in the buying behaviour of the "tween" segment as children as young as eight, nine, ten and 11 have adopted the sophisticated buying preferences of their 12 and 13 year-old predecessors.

Using statistical evidence from recent sizing surveys he went on to explain: "Children are getting bigger at a much slower rate in Western countries than they are in China - US and UK obesity rates grew at a much faster rate in the 80s and 90s than they are growing today."

He added: "In Great Britain specifically, there are statistics that indicate that the percentage of kids who are overweight or obese has actually levelled off and may be declining, slightly."

In his opinion the clothing industry has overreacted to health statistics, highlighted by unfavourable media coverage, which may not in fact always correlate to clothing sizes. In part this overreaction is the result of larger children not wanting to wear children's clothing, therefore, offering children's clothes in larger sizes, except school uniforms, may not be helpful.

However he stressed: "Offering plus sizes at younger ages six to ten years is absolutely a good strategy and too few retailers do this. My advice to retailers is to look beyond the top-level health numbers for an interpretation of trends that are relevant to their particular business."

Ed Gribbin went on to explain that after five years of age, as children grow taller at different rates, the height to girth ratios in developing countries remain similar but are independent of age. Therefore, he stressed: "Sizing kids clothing by age is the least reliable way of sizing children's wear."

Rather he urged UK brands and retailers to use the preferred 'European' method of sizing clothes by height and waist measurements.

Finally he concluded, crucial to the success of any sizing strategy is consistency: "It is far better to be consistently wrong than inconsistently right."

"Mini-me" children's wear designs
Putting all this to the test is Marks & Spencer's Sarah Anderson, product development technologist/safety officer for kids' wear.

Using the feedback from its consumer focus groups, M&S has found that by the age of eight, girls are being influenced less by their parents and more by celebrity fashion trends, Twitter/Facebook, size zero and celebrity endorsements. "Girls between the ages of eight and 12 are more likely to go to Topshop where they won't bump in to granny or their teacher," Anderson explained.

Although boys buy fewer clothes, their purchases are influenced by such celebrities as David Beckham, Matt Smith and Daniel Craig.

It is crucial therefore that M&S children's wear designers translate adult fashion into "mini-me" designs appropriate for children.

In addition to making sure designs are age appropriate, this limits the risk of exposure to hazards by routinely looking for design and manufacturing defects (which would both result in a total product recall); lapsed manufacturing standards (metal contamination systems and processes not working properly or infestations of the production environment); and by assessing what the garment will be "forseeably" and "unforeseeably" used for.

Recognising hazards
M&S is quite right to take its risk assessment so seriously explained Alan Ross, consultant technologist with High Street Textile Testing Services.

Indeed he believes that recognising hazards is one of the biggest challenges facing clothing suppliers, especially as the advent of the European REACH regulation has made the awareness and management of chemicals within products a key issue.

In an ideal world he said: "We would remove the hazard but that is often impossible so we must reduce it to an acceptable level."

If a case is brought against a supplier then the onus is on them to prove they took the necessary steps to assess the risk properly. Documenting this process is crucial and many suppliers have lost lose their cases because they failed to produce the necessary risk assessment documentation.

M&S keeps such documents for 21 years as children have until they are 21 to make a claim.

Standards in new overseas markets
Jonty Wilson, UK softlines manager/global key accounts at SGS United Kingdom helped delegates understand the challenges of taking products into new overseas markets where different standards and risk assessment carry different requirements.

Specifically he considered China, the US, Russia and Europe. He urged delegates to always investigate the "local quirks" of overseas retail markets and distinguish between local standards and legal requirements for a specific product type.

In addition to the product, each country will have its own labelling, packaging and import/export requirements. There may also be cost implications due to additional certification for new markets. For example, Japan legally requires JIS formaldehyde tests while Korea demands specific testing.

He concluded: "Religious and cultural requirements should also be considered, all of which will take time. So plan and leave enough time so that entry is as least traumatic as possible."

A global standard in sizing?
David Bell, managing director of Assyst Bullmer's Human Solutions, showed how children's wear suppliers can move towards a global standard in sizing with its new innovation 'iSize', an on-line sizing information database.

The iSize database comprises data derived from international 3-D body scanning surveys, creating a global geography of morphology. Companies can use iSize to generate their own size charts for their target consumers and countries. This sizing information can then be linked directly to their CAD grading software.

"Use social networking sites to tap into what young people are talking about," advised Chris Middleton, managing director of marketing and social networking media specialist, Eskimosoup as he explained the pivotal consumer role now played by such on-line sites as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Most children are "digital natives," having been brought up in an online age. He explained: "Social media is not just about selling product. It's about creating a communication environment between you and the consumer."

He demonstrated how such internet savvy brands as Asos.com use social networking sites to reward loyal customers with loyalty discounts and listen to what its customers are talking about. He urged companies to follow the Asos example, open a dialogue with their customers and develop "digital personalities" that 'people' want to deal with.