Eye On Apparel: The Power Of Youth


Chloe, age 5, accompanies her mom to a charity event to benefit the local humane society. Chloe walks by a colorful rack of children’s branded t-shirts, featuring adorable graphics of kittens playing with yarn and puppies fetching frisbees. The t-shirts, along with other branded products, are being sold by the humane society to raise money for the organization. Chloe tugs and tugs are the waistline of her mother’s shirt, asking if she can have a pink tee with a calico cat design—and mom gives in.

Although young kids don’t typically make purchases without the help of mom, dad or a guardian, their influence on purchasing decisions makes them a key target market.

Mom And Dad Call The Shots—Or Do They?
Kids’ purchasing power comes from their ability to influence adults’ buying behaviors. Anyone who has spent time around children can likely recall the recurring question, “Can I have this?” when coming into contact with kid-friendly merchandise. And with design, marketing and advertising growing more attention-grabbing and intricate, can you blame them?

Children’s influential abilities are one of the reasons why companies providing experiences, such as Medieval Times—a family dinner theater held inside a castle-like building with medieval-style staged games, sword-fighting and jousting—also feature an abundance of promotional products catered to children. Prior to entering the theater at any Medieval Times location, the “castle” walls are lined with branded products, from kids’ costumes and jewelry to collectibles and toys—and there’s certainly more products catered to younger attendees than for mom and dad.

Getting On Their Level
Brands marketing to kids know how to strategically design apparel with eye-catching, fun-loving caricatures, themes or messages that kids can relate to, and that captivate their interest. One of the most recognizable designs for this group include characters, whether cartoons, animals or mystical creatures, like fairies, dragons and unicorns, and recently, llamas and sloths.

According to the U.S. Kids’ License Tracker report published by the NPD Group, an international research company, 25 percent of all sales targeting American children, age 14 and under, feature a licensed character, personality or sports league logo. The most popular goodies? Clothing proved a top seller, followed by toys, games and puzzles; party supplies and costumes; and books. Products with characters from Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol—a TV series for preschool-age kids, featuring a group of six talking dogs with “careers”—earned a spot as the top license sold to kids across all industries, followed by products inspired by Disney’s Frozen, the blockbuster computer-animated movie released in 2013, with characters including royalty and talking animals with magical powers, fitting the mystical theme. To capture kids’ interest, brands should research and remain up to date with childhood trends, from popular toys, movies, books and TV shows, to extracurricular activities.

As for what captures kids’ attention in apparel, Kevin Miles, senior manager of sales operations for Alternative Apparel, a Hanesbrand company, says, “Look for cool, classic, fun interpretations of patterns, like stars and stripes, and camo. We’re seeing bold primary colors, as well as earthy greens and grays.” Eco-friendly options have also become a sought-after choice. “Sustainably-made apparel is important in this market—traditionally driven by moms. In addition, today’s kids are smart, savvy shoppers, and they want to make a difference,” he says. “Buying eco-friendly apparel is an opportunity for parents to instill good habits in their kids.”

The ‘Mini-Me’ Takeover
An adorable apparel trend for retail, promotional products and high fashion are “mommy and me” matching ensembles. The concept originated in the 1960s, though not for fashion purposes. To save money, women who sewed their own clothing used leftover materials to make clothes for their children. Nowadays, mini-me fashion is worn by suburban moms and celebrities alike, from singer-songwriter Beyonce and her daughter Blue Ivy to fashion designer Victoria Beckham and her daughter Harper. But moms and daughters aren’t the only duos to match, with “twinning” moments photographed between actor Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi, and family-friendly ensembles worn by singer Pink (Alecia Beth Moore), her husband Cary Hart and their daughter Willow.

“In order to service larger programs, it’s important to have styles that go from kids to adult 3XL,” says Miles. “What do kids want? Kids want the same super-soft fabrics and retro styles that their parents are wearing. And it goes both ways—parents want kids in the same styles as they are wearing. Look for baseball tees and ringer tees, as well as plush joggers and hoodies.”

Little(r) Sizing For Little Ones
When it comes to designing for kids, brands need to consider the ages they’re targeting. Is it a campaign to promote an organic formula for infants? Is it a promotion to advertise an educational toy company catered to toddlers? Or are t-shirts being distributed during the grand opening of a children’s play gym? Once this has been determined, brands can offer sizes based on ballpark weight ranges for the relevant age group(s). Refer to the following guide as a general example.

  • Extra-small (XS), 30-36 pounds, average age: 3-4 years
  • Small (S), 36-46 pounds, average age: 3-6 years
  • Medium (M), 47-60 pounds, average age: 6-8 years
  • Large (L), 61-74 pounds, average age: 8-10 years
  • Extra-large (XL), 75-96 pounds, average age: 10-12 years

Average age and weight information from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

Kids can pump up team spirit by wearing their colors loud and proud with Custom Dri-Dye Performance Apparel. Offering full customization, the base garment, dye colors and design can all be customized to perfectly match a team’s colors. The tee is made from 100 percent polyester with moisture-wicking properties, keeping your tot dry while on the move. Available in youth XS-XL, as well as adult sizes.

Kerr’s Cotton Creations, Inc.   /   PPAI 313486  /    www.kerrscotton.com

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Available in this radiant, sunshine shade, the Youth TEC Tee provides carefree wear for on-the-go tikes. The AirStretch short sleeve, crewneck t-shirt offers maximum comfort and freedom of movement, while bodyfreshé technology prevents the growth of odor-causing bacteria for all-day freshness. Made in the USA, the 100 percent, microfiber polyester oXymesh tee is also water repellent with moisture-wicking properties and carries a tearaway label. Available in youth S-XL in 15 colors.

Expert Brand   /   PPAI 267226   /   www.expertbrand.com

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Designed for a day of playing ball, or a lazy Saturday playing video games, Youth Training Shorts are a go-to for kids. Featuring a seven-inch inseam with a full athletic cut and a wider, covered elastic waistband with a continuous draw cord, the 100 percent microfiber, polyester oXymesh shorts are made in the USA with optimal comfort and movement in mind. Available in youth S-XL in 11 colors, shown in blue.

Expert Brand   /   PPAI 267226  /   www.expertbrand.com

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Oh, snap! Aside from being delightfully cute, the 4400 Rabbit Skins Infant Baby Rib Bodysuit is made with snap tape technology, which incorporates a three-snap closure per bodysuit for a smooth, soft finish. Details include double-needle ribbed binding on the lap shoulder neck, sleeves and leg openings, side-seam construction, a tear-away label and a CPSIA-compliant tracking label in the side seam. Available in an infant unisex size in 76 colors, shown, from left, in black-and-white stripe, granite heather and white/titanium.

LAT Apparel   /   PPAI 254347   /   www.latapparel.com

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A sleek design fit for a fun-packed day at the beach or lake, parents can’t go wrong with the Kids Copa Flip-Flop. Made with EVA sole vinyl straps, brands can imprint their logo or message on the insole for all-day exposure during fun-in-the-sun adventures. Available in youth sizes S-L in grey, navy and black, pictured here. 

Neet Feet, Inc.    /   PPAI 112755   /    www.neetfeet.com

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Following the slider trend that’s been prevalent in high-fashion, the Kids Hydro Slider boasts a recessed heel and non-slip bottom. Assembled and decorated in the USA with imported parts, the slider also includes an eco-friendly EVA sole with full toe lift and arch support. Customize the strap with a logo and brand message and opt for a sole footprint—which leaves imprints of the logo in the sand—for a longer-lasting message. Available in youth S-L in black.

Neet Feet, Inc.   /   PPAI 112755     /   www.neetfeet.com

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If your kid doesn’t have a trucker hat in his or her closet, are they really ready for summer? The classic trucker cap gets an update with the Richardson Printed Trucker in a fun, tropical print, shown here. Made from a selection of polyester, cotton/polyester or cotton/nylon, depending on the cap, each includes a pre-curved visor and a solid under-visor, along with an adjustable, plastic snapback closure. Available in one-size-fits-all in 47 patterns, shown in pink island print/white.

Kati Sportcap & Bag   /   PPAI 113758   /   www.katisportcap.com

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“Dad hats” aren’t just for dad anymore. The Valucap Bio-washed features a clean slate for brands to advertise their message, and full sun coverage for kids with an unstructured, low-profile, six-panel construction and pre-curved visor. Available in one-size-fits-all, the hat includes a tri-glide buckle closure for custom fit. Available in 44 colors, shown in red.

Kati Sportcap & Bag   /   PPAI 113758   /   www.katisportcap.com

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Ultra-soft and comfy cozy, the Youth EPIC SHERPA ¼ Zip  is an attractive closet staple, fit for keeping your little one warm on cooler days. Made from 100 percent high-loft polyester Sherpa fabric, the jacket offers a soft hand with quarter zip placket, self-fabric collar, set-in sleeves and side seam waist vents. Available in youth S-XL in black heather and oatmeal heather, shown.

J. America / PPAI 351699  /   www.jamericablanks.com

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Go team! The Youth Beefy-T T-Shirt is durable yet soft, making it a top choice for decorated tees made for school teams or to show school spirit. Made from 100 percent ring-spun cotton and described as the “gold standard of ring-spun comfort,” added details include a tag-free neck label, a lay-flat collar and shoulder-to-shoulder tape. Available in kids’ XS-XL in 26 colors, shown in lime.

Hanes/Champion  /   PPAI 191138   /   www.hanes.com

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With a fit that’s on-trend with both Gen Z and Millennials, the Youth Hanes nano-T T-shirt offers a clean, lightweight palette for printing and a soft, vintage feel for kids. Make it a family affair, with adult sizes also offered. Available in kids’ XS-XL in 14 colors, shown in yellow and deep royal.

Hanes/Champion  /   PPAI 191138   /   www.hanes.com

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There’s one apparel item that both kids and adults go through like no other—and those are socks. The Full Color Unisex 13-inch Tube Promo Socks are on trend with the above-ankle sock fad, and on point with brand exposure, offering a full-color imprint on both sides. To add variation, the sock can include different designs on each side at no additional cost. A heel-less ankle tube design is used to ensure a one-size-fits most style.

A youth hockey association was seeking a fundraising item to sell at its annual tournament. Having selected the Full Color Unisex 13-inch Tube Promo Socks, the association designed the sock to feature fun, colorful artwork. The socks proved to be a popular souvenir for tournament participants and attendees alike, while also providing added revenue for the association. The socks were so well received that the association plans to continue selling them at their annual tournaments.

Beacon Promotions, Inc.   /   PPAI 113702   /   www.beaconpromotions.com

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Fun Idioms To Use When Marketing To Kids (And Their Parents)
Incorporate these sayings to add a kid-friendly spin—that's mom- and dad-approved—to your next campaign. 

All Kid(ding) Aside
Babe In The Woods
Brainchild
Bun In The Oven
Child's Play
Going Bananas
Like A Child In A Sweetshop
Kith and Kin
Kid-Vid
Run In The Family
Second Childhood
Sleep Like A Baby
Whiz Kid

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Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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Comments (1)
Jae M. Rang, MAS
June 5, 2019
I'm convinced this is what built McDonald's success with the McHappy Meal - marketing to kids first - as we love to see our kids happy! I love the idea of doing "eco friendly" to instill great habits but trending is definitely the Mommy'n'me outfits. Thanks for the insights and trend report!
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