ADVERTISEMENT

Tracey Dixon-Neverson, right, and Mackenzie Neverson, 4, shop at Pink Chicken, a children's clothing store, in New York. As children's clothing becomes more fashionable, parents are pressing those designers to cater to them, too.

Robert Wright, New York Times

Moms often continue using stylish diaper bags as purses long after the kids are out of diapers.

Handout, New York Times

In an undated handout photo, models wear clothing from Pink Chicken, whose clothing for children is so popular that it has inspired a line for adults.

Handout, New York Times

Children's clothing companies now designing for grown-ups

  • Article by: ELISSA GOOTMAN
  • New York Times
  • January 6, 2013 - 6:09 PM

Traditional rules of retailing hold that popular adult brands, like the Gap and J. Crew, will inevitably create a children's line (Gap Kids, Crewcuts). Even designer labels like Fendi and Marc Jacobs have joined in, with coral tulle baby dresses and $150 bootees for those who cannot yet walk.

Now some companies are seeking a profitable path in the opposite direction, as parents press the retailers that make their favorite kids' and baby products to cater to them, too.

"We'd have our customers e-mail us and say, 'Oh, I want the Josie pant for me, can you make that next year?' Or, 'The Ava top is so great; you have to make this in women's. I would buy five of them!'" said Stacey Fraser, founder of Pink Chicken, a girls' clothing line.

Her first full women's collection will be in boutiques and the brand's Madison Avenue and Amagansett, N.Y., stores this month.

Pink Chicken, known for its bohemian-chic patterned dresses and separates, is in good company.

Tea Collection, a San Francisco brand whose internationally inspired designs are popular among boys as well as girls, introduced a women's line two years ago. Aden + Anais, a New York company whose muslin swaddling blankets quickly shot to the top of the newborn accessory hot list, has created a blanket for adults, with a full bedding line in the works. Petunia Pickle Bottom, known for its array of ornate diaper bags, is planning to roll out a line of purses under the label Petunia this spring.

"When we realized the gravity of some of the decisionmaking that goes into selecting their diaper bag, we really realized the opportunity to stay with that customer," said Korie Conant, an owner of Petunia Pickle Bottom, in Ventura, Calif. "We've received letters from our customers saying, 'I was so sad when I didn't get to use my diaper bag anymore.' We are just answering that call."

It is not the first time that such calls have come in, or that companies have answered. Hanna Andersson, a children's clothing company in Portland, Ore., famous for its striped cotton long johns and girls' dresses, has sold adult clothing for years. Rachel Riley, a designer of upscale children's clothing who splits her time between London and France, introduced a women's line in 1997.

According to Riley's company website, "Rachel's customers would tell her, 'My children are better dressed than me!' Of course she wanted to help."

Branding experts offer a spate of reasons behind the phenomenon. Among them: parents' own desire for a little coddling in this rough economy; an influx of successful "mompreneurs" who are keenly attuned to what their customers want for themselves as well as for their progeny; a children's market that has exploded in recent years, leading to the creation of pieces so appealing that they transcend age and life stage.

"The cart is leading the horse," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with the NPD Group, a market research company. "We've gone over the top and around the other side."

As parenthood gains a certain fashion cachet "it's almost like an elitist club," Cohen said, in which "all new moms or all moms that really get the concept are going to carry this bag or wear that sweater."

Plus, today's parents have an almost insatiable desire to connect with their children.

"What used to be a generation gap is now a generation bond," Cohen said.

Because customers become acquainted with these products around the same time they first encounter their children, the brands can tap into a well of emotions, hopes and dreams, said Jane Buckingham, president of Trendera, a trend forecasting and consulting company.

"That is a moment when all possibilities exist, all things are good, all things are pure," she said. "What better time to grab a mother's brand loyalty?"

Maria T. Bailey, whose books include "Power Moms: The New Rules for Engaging Mom Influencers Who Drive Brand Choice," said that millennial mothers, who are in their early 30s and under, generally have positive associations with their own childhood, so they may want to recapture those emotions. They also "savor celebrations," she said, going on "babymoons" while pregnant and holding "gender-reveal parties" at which the unborn child's gender is disclosed, in grandiose fashion.

"If they associate a brand with a moment in time that felt good and that they could celebrate, they're likely to stay loyal to that brand and utilize it again and again," Bailey said.

Raegan Moya-Jones, a founder and chief executive of Aden + Anais, was ecstatic when the company's muslin swaddling blankets caught on among new parents. Then she started seeing women wearing the blankets as scarves and hearing from parents eager to drape their own beds and couches in Aden + Anais.

So she took the fluffy Dream Blanket and supersized it for adults. Scarves, beach cover-ups and a full adult bedding line are in the works.

"We have just been harassed by mothers, saying, 'Why do you just stop at the baby?'" Moya-Jones said. " 'I want this blanket, and I want this for me, and I want that for me.'"

Julie Panebianco, 36, an English teacher in San Francisco, discovered the blankets while shopping for baby gifts for friends. By the time she gave birth to her daughter in August, she began craving a muslin blanket of her own.

"I literally contemplated sewing some squares together to make one for me," she said. "Maybe it's that I have such a lack of sleep right now. Eight hours of sleep with those blankets would make my life."

© 2014 Star Tribune