Hip-hop bounces into toddler fashions

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The future for urban fashion marketers lies, literally, in the crib.

As hip-hop brands reign in the world of adult fashion, so too are they taking over in the growing toddler and kids' departments and, increasingly, in sizes to fit even the newest of newborns.

The urban influx is the latest in a branding trend that started roughly five years back with the entree of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren into smaller-size sections once ruled by such kids-only names as OshKosh B'Gosh and Carter's. As more fashion-savvy brands enter the fray to tap the fastest-growing apparel category, advertising dollars are beginning to follow.

changing needs

"Children's and now even baby clothes have become very high-style and trendy in part because of the emphasis on kids and family life, even among celebrities," said Miriam Arond, editor in chief of Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Child. "The fashion needs of children have changed because they have a whole different social life ... they're out and about at the age of two if not before."

Rapper Russell Simmons' Phat Farm was one of the first on the kids' scene with the introduction of the leading Phat Farm Boys and Baby Phat Girlz by [Simmons' wife] Kimora Lee Simmons back in 1999. Since then the category has exploded with entries reflecting all the major labels, including J. Lo, Ecko Unlimited, Rocawear and Sean John.

More is on the way. Phat Farm is expanding this fall into layette. Rapper 50 Cent is launching his new apparel line, G-Unit, simultaneously for men and kids this spring and Brooklyn label Triple 5 Soul will introduce kidswear for the holiday season.

The increased emphasis on kids helped drive sales for childrenswear up 8.2% in 2003 to $29.4 billion while men's apparel fell 8.6% to $47.5 million and women's apparel fell 6.6% to $89.9 billion, according to marketing information company The NPD Group.

Anthony Sala, president-sales, Puma kids at licensee Parigi Group, (also the licensee for Baby Phat and J.Lo among others) said that the average child under three years old has roughly 14 adults giving them gifts.

To capitalize on the trend, Child began an advertising-driven "Style Guide" for kids' fashions two years ago. The section has grown from two pages to 28 in this month's issue. It features ads from hot urban brands Akademics, Baby Phat Boys and J.Lo, along with a slew of hip adult brands including Puma, which was relaunched this past December for kids 2 and up and in the fall will launch an infants line. "Children's apparel has been ... one of our largest advertising growth categories. Even when we hit the top, we can extend it," said Dave Mevorah, publisher, Child.

marketing boost

"In the initial days of children's brands emerging, there wasn't a lot of marketing going toward it, but the kids world is following suit with adults, and a lot more [marketing] dollars are being spent," said Cameron Zinman, director-brand licensing for Kids Headquarters, which manufacturers kids lines Ecko Unlimited for boys, EckoRed for girls, Rocawear and the new G-Unit among others.

Ecko launched its kids' campaign last fall in publications like Child and sibling Parents, Time Inc.'s Parenting and American Media's Fit Pregnancy, as well as in urban titles Miller Publishing's Vibe and independent The Source. Ecko is also considering advertising in Time Inc.'s In Style for its kids' line in the fall, she said.

Phat Farm has likewise stepped up its marketing with ads that reflect the urban lifestyle similar to that in the adult campaign. Ads, from Center & Cain, New York, play in magazines such as Vibe, Essence and The Hamptons. An effort touting the new layette line will break this fall.

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