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It’s Playtime New York: Childrenswear Trends Fall 2017

By Jackie Mallon

Feb 15, 2017

The three-day childrenswear trade show welcomed designers from the U.S., Spain, Italy, the U.K. among other countries, to present their new apparel, shoes and accessories collections. According to data provided by euromonitor.com, childrenswear accounts for 12 percent of the apparel market but, in the last five years, its growth has outpaced both men’s and womenswear. In 2016 it grew by 6 percent to be worth 31.6 million dollars compared to 4 percent in 2014, and this pattern is predicted to steadily continue until 2020. This can be attributed to a number of factors: rising birth rates, parents in developing markets having more disposable income than ever before, parents choosing to have children later in life, the rise in popularity of junior influencers like Prince George and Blue Ivy, and Instagram sensations such as four-year-old Farouk James.

So the 200 brands exhibiting at Playtime have reason to be optimistic. The athleisure trend in adult apparel wasn’t in great evidence at the fair, despite the qualities of comfort and practicality being prerequisites of kids’ clothing. There was however a noticeable prioritizing of well-crafted timeless basics (like variants of Prince George’s famous navy v-neck sweater) and an almost universal appreciation of organic, fair trade fabrics and practices.

Nami, who now lives in Belgrade, Serbia, and Miriam who lives in Melbourne, Australia, met over twenty years ago while studying at Rhode Island School of Design and, after an international career working in womenswear, launched their childrenswear line, Kin––“There are a lot of Skype sessions!” They make all their pieces in India and are happy to explain why: “Our fabrics are all sustainable wool and cotton; we use block printing which is a craft there that’s unfortunately dying out but which creates no waste, unlike screen printing. The printer carves the wooden block and then uses it as a stamp; perfectly efficient. Our dyes are non-toxic so none of them will end up coloring the rivers which is what happens with the traditional harsh chemical dyeing processes. The Indian factories can do embellishment like no other. Those skills are just undeniable to their culture so there’s a harmony to that.”

“We also work with a Bolivian woman who hand-knits our alpaca pieces as part of a cooperative,” says Miriam. “It’s good to know that women, many of them mothers, can work from home and be independent.” Kin make styles for both mother and child, but the designers don’t identify with the “mini me” idea of dressing one’s children in fussy adult styles. “We are selective. Our shapes are geometric and we avoid standardization of pattern making,” says Nami. “But at the end of the day, we design for people, and some of them just happen to be small.” Meanwhile Miriam proudly lifts the hem of a dress to display the care label printed with the words Be kind to your kin.

Kindness in kidswear seems to be the overriding trend. New label Viverano, showing at Playtime for the first time, partners with CHETNA, an organization which establishes infrastructure and ensures ethical standards in some of India’s most impoverished areas where a mere decade ago families had been left starving and the environment decimated after aggressive GMO cotton farming killed the soil and contaminated the water. Now the organization has created a robust community of smallholder organic cotton farmers. Fledgeling knitwear label Mouse In The House has similar motivations and describe their wares as “ethical heirlooms,” boasting “All sales are reinvested in makers’ communities.”

This promise of essential at-oneness with the various levels of the manufacturing chain seems to have organically led to a large-scale rejection of extraneous detailing: the clichéd frills, sparkly embellishments and tutu shapes for girls seem to be on the wane in favor of a cleaner aesthetic exemplified by Amsterdam-based Gray Label, which sells itself as “Organic apparel for the little minimalist.” A rustic homespun feeling pervaded many collections and dominant color palettes were earthy and vegetable-hued, with classic notes of navy and bottle green.

The back-to-basics approach even extended to children’s toys, specifically the range of paper dolls by NYC-based company Of Unusual Kind, whose Austrian founder Anja Kroencke draws each doll by hand and sells them with a selection of outfits and accessories. They provide what she calls, “a beautiful handcrafted respite from technology.”

Now that’s what I call Playtime.

By contributing guest editor Jackie Mallon, who is on the teaching faculty of several NYC fashion programmes and is the author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Title image from MITH.com; Farouk James from his Facebook; all other photographs by Jackie Mallon for FashionUnited