Gender norms have become pervasive across consumer categories, especially those having to do with children. Today, however, a shift away from gender stereotypes is driving more and more Americans to seek out gender neutral products and it seems parents are beginning to embrace this trend. New research from Mintel reveals that one in five (20 percent) US parents with children under age 12 who have purchased kids’ clothing in the last year* support the trend toward gender neutral clothing for kids. Not surprising, support for gender neutral children’s clothing is especially high among Younger Millennial parents aged 23-30 (24 percent) and urban parents (25 percent).

While the children’s clothing market is expected to rise a modest 1.7 percent to reach $46.1 billion in 2017, it is infant/toddler clothing that is predicted to see impressive growth over the next five years. Although the infant/toddler segment is the smallest sector with less than $10 billion, or 20 percent of total category sales, it is slated to grow at a pace equivalent to that for girls’ clothing – 1.5 percent on average annually from 2017-21.

Girls’ clothing makes up the highest percentage (48 percent) of the total children’s clothing sector, with sales expected to rise 1.8 percent in 2017 to reach $21.9 billion. Boys’ clothing sales account for nearly one third (32 percent) of the market’s total and are predicted to remain steady this year with a slight uptick of 1.9 percent to reach $14.9 billion.

Looking forward, Mintel predicts that year-over-year category growth will be moderate yet steady at an annual average rate of 1.5 percent through 2021.

“One of the most popular trends in children’s clothing right now is gender neutrality and kid’s clothing brands need to be cognizant of the new gender-neutral standard. By creating products that are for boys and girls, brands can reach more consumers and have more opportunity to increase their profits,” said Diana Smith, Associate Director, Retail & Apparel at Mintel. “The children’s clothing market will always be challenged by the reality that children quickly outgrow their clothes, and as such, parents are weary about spending more than necessary on new apparel. Our research reveals the areas of greatest opportunity for brands exists with kids under age six given that this segment should experience growth as birth rates begin to stabilize.”

Sleepwear is the second most commonly purchased item for children ages five and under

Basic wardrobe staples such as T-shirts (73 percent), jeans (68 percent) and underwear (67 percent) make up the majority of clothing items purchased for both boys and girls. It seems it’s always a good time for a pajama party as nearly two thirds (62 percent) of parents buy sleepwear for their children. What’s more, sleepwear is the second most commonly purchased item for children ages five and under (72 percent). Character clothing continues to be popular, with more than one quarter (28 percent) of parents claiming to ‘buy a lot’ of these items.

American kids certainly seem to carry influence when it comes to what they wear and where they shop. In fact, nearly three in 10 (28 percent) parents let their children choose their own clothing items and one in five (19 percent) shop at stores their children ask them to go to. Further pointing to the influence kids have over their parents, nearly one quarter (23 percent) of parents agree they buy clothes their children’s friends are wearing so their kids feel like they fit in.

“As society’s ‘rules’ regarding how to dress have relaxed significantly in the past decade, casual and comfortable clothing items, such as sleepwear and athletic wear, are often prioritized over others, and we don’t anticipate this trend fading away anytime soon. Popular characters also can be very influential on children, who in turn can influence parents to buy clothing and other merchandise containing their favorite movie characters or superheroes,” continued Smith.

While most children’s clothing is purchased new (95 percent), it seems alternate methods may be on the rise, with nearly half of parents saying they’ve acquired used clothing (45 percent) and have received clothing as a gift or hand-me-down (45 percent). This could present cost saving solutions for some parents as more than one third (34 percent) say it’s not worth spending a lot of money on clothes because their kids outgrow them so fast.

19% of parents say they’d be interested in subscription clothing services for their children

Despite not wanting to spend much on clothing for their growing children, over two-fifths (42 percent) of parents say they want their children’s clothing to be stylish and trendy. Clothing subscription services are growing in popularity in the US as a way to try out the latest trends, and Mintel research indicates that they could have a place in the children’s clothing market. Nearly one in five (19 percent) parents say they’d be interested in subscription clothing services for their children.

“In today’s on-demand world, subscription services are continuing to rise in popularity and while there are many players already in the apparel industry at large, the runway is still lengthy for child-based clothing subscription services. As many parents want their children’s clothing to be on-trend, these services can fit that desire since personal stylists assemble recommended items. Lower income families may rule out subscription services because they think they are too expensive, but the reality is that these bespoke services can offer a smart and convenient way to shop for parents who anticipate buying a lot of clothing for their children anyway,” concluded Smith.

*leading up to October 2016

Press copies of Mintel’s Children’s Clothing US 2017 report and interviews with Diana Smith, Associate Director, Retail & Apparel, are available on request from the press office.

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