Drapers chatted with buyers and brands at the autumn 18 edition of biannual kidswear trade show Bubble London, held at the Business Design Centre in Islington on 28-29 January, for their views on the fair and current trading conditions.
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Lindsay Hoyes, event director for Bubble London
“In general, kidswear is seen as a healthy industry, but there are more brands than ever, so it’s much more competitive. There’s more choice out there, so fewer kidswear independents are getting a slice of the market, and they continue to be squeezed with [business] rates. While the big department stores have seen growth, the independents are still finding it tough.
“High-end designer brands are doing incredibly well, and that does permeate down, but generally parents are looking to [buy] without spending a fortune. Brands are also selling directly to consumers more, which means they are selling less to retailers as part of a wholesale model.
“At this show, crafted, ornate occasionwear brands do incredibly well. It offers retailers something completely different from the high street and you can see the value. For an independent, it’s something they know they can sell. There are also gender-neutral and more casual collections here, but those are harder to sell – it’s very competitive, [so] retailers are a lot more cautious about taking them on as new brands.”
Linda Gill, sales agent for babywear brand Kissy Kissy
“As a brand that caters for ages up to two years, the tough trading environment has not seemed to hit us as much – babies are always being born, and people will always want to buy [our types of product] as gifts. But beyond that, independents dealing with larger sizes will be finding it tougher as kids are becoming more preoccupied with how they look and social media at [increasingly] younger ages, so the shift to designer or big-name brands is happening earlier.
“We’ve noticed a lot of independent kidswear retailers are suffering quite badly. In the past few months there have been a couple of cold spells, but it hasn’t really been a cold winter. Landlords are also whacking up rents and disrupting the high street, and [business] rates continue to be the biggest challenge for them.”
Rachel Riley, designer at the eponymous premium brand
“It’s been really busy – we’ve had a steady stream of people. We’ve had a new Chinese distributor come in to place [its] orders, as well as buyers based in the UK and south-east Asia.
“Trading is tight at the moment – everyone is cautious – so it’s important to be adaptable and [nimble], and to keep customers excited about the business. In line with this, our heritage hand-embroidered collections have been great for us, but there has [been demand] for lower price points. We’re launching an everyday line, which is machine-embroidered, for autumn 18, as well as a homeware range.”
Helay Vi, buyer and company director at UK sleepwear etailer Little Pea Kids
“We’re here looking for stock for our new website (launching this week], and keeping an eye out particularly for organic brands. The show has been really good for networking, and we’ve found loads of interesting new brands.
“Kidswear is a tough market at the moment, so it’s daunting to launch as an ecommerce business with smaller brands when more big retailers and supermarkets are selling cheaper product in bulk – the market is getting very competitive. We will have a better quality, organic offering, but that comes with the relevant price tag. [That said,] we think there’s room in the market for businesses like ours.”
Badiya Al-Ghunaim, buyer and owner of Kuwait-based independent Baby B
“I’m here to look for gifting, accessories and diaper bags, as well as anything that’s new or different for both spring and autumn 18 – I’ve already done my [clothing] orders for the season. I come here because there’s a lot of organic brands here – I visit the trade shows in the US, such as New York fair Children’s Club, but they don’t focus on that as much.”
Kathryn Shuttleworth, managing director at outerwear brand Grass & Air
“We’re a new brand, launching for spring 18 and showing for the first time. There are a lot of really great-quality retailers that come here to place orders – a lot of these are international as well. We’ve seen visitors come in from Turkey and Portugal.
“I think finding and developing a strong network of independent retailers is our first big challenge this year, as a new brand. There’s a great opportunity to do that here but, in general, market conditions have been really tough for independent kidswear retailers in the UK on the high street, so it [might be] quite challenging.”
Marcia Pacheco, brand manager at Portuguese label Wedoble
“The UK is our second market regionally (after Portugal), so it’s very important to us to stay close to our customers here. But I am a bit worried about the market. We sell [premium-priced] products, so Brexit might affect our customers’ ability to buy our product. [Kidswear] buyers have become more cautious, and currency rates, especially, are a worry.”
David Pinto, designer at Portuguese brand Barn of Monkeys
“The show has been good, if a bit quiet – we’ve had a lot of interest in our collection. There have been buyers from the US as well as from England, Wales and Scotland – mostly independents and online retailers.
“We exhibit here because of [the show’s] reach with northern European buyers, and because we want to expand in the UK market. But one challenge has been that Bubble is traditionally very focused on babywear, so it’s been difficult as we design for kids aged two to 16, and the buyers like to see smaller sizes.”
Bubble London: Views from the autumn 18 show