Tuesday, 2 September, 2014

Published May 17, 2014
Tykes with 'tude
Enterprising homegrown designers are hoping to rake in the big bucks with kickin' kids' fashion to match their parents wardrobes. By May Yip
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Above: Cavalier, founded by husband-and-wife duo Angela Chong and Perry Lam, features looks like the D-Shirt, a hooded T-shirt designed to be worn pulled over the head, just the way kids would anyway. The streetwear-inspired line is priced from $40 to $150.

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FIRST came the Kate effect. Now, everything that the newly crowned trendsetter Prince George wears is flying off shelves. Babies these days got swag, and don't entrepreneurs here know it. "Fashion is no longer exclusively adult's play. Increasingly, we are seeing the advent of pint-sized style icons sporting stylish outfits that are surprisingly grown up," says Mark Lee, chairman for homegrown fashion trade show Blueprint, which has just introduced a childrenswear offshoot. "A new spotlight has been cast upon the wardrobes of celebrity kids such as of Aila Wang, Alonso Mateo, Suri Cruise, and the Beckhams."

Rather than crack the luxury childrenswear market, dominated by miniature lines from grown-up fashion houses, homegrown fashion upstarts are capitalising on trendy looks that would make junior a street style star, without the price tags of grown-up duds.

"Asia has the highest population growth rates yet there are few exceptional Asian childrenswear brands," observes Dylan Ong, who left his investment advisor position in Hong Kong to launch Le Petit Society with his wife Robyn Liang, a former fixed income trader. "We import many well known kids labels from outside of Asia but these are usually expensive and yet produced here in Asia. We wanted to create stylish, comfortable and affordable kids clothing that are designed and produced in Asia."

As much as style-savvy parents covet a shearling jacket priced upwards of $1,000 from Burberry, most "Singaporean shoppers are mindful when it comes to purchasing kids' fashion, with many who let their children wear hand-me-downs as they would outgrow their clothes quickly," says Andrene Chan, whose handmade pieces under the label BabyPixie don't go for more than $50.

Finally, trend-conscious parents can turn to homegrown kiddy clothiers to style their little princes and princesses, even without the bank balance of a royal. One homegrown brand that will be launched next month focuses not just on reasonable price points, but "sartorial streetwear" that hipster mums from Woodlands to Williamsburg would appreciate. Cavalier, founded by husband-and-wife duo Angela Chong and Perry Lam, features looks like the D-Shirt, a hooded T-shirt designed to be worn pulled over the head, just the way kids would anyway. Prices start from $40 for a knotted onesie to $150 for fully-lined formalwear.

"Cavalier is more stylish than cute, more edgy than pretty, and definitely more 'hype beast' than princess," says Ms Chong, who used to run a media production house with Mr Lam. "I'm averse to confining ourselves to a particular aesthetic as I like to have the room to evolve, so it might be easier to tell you that we are not about 'cute' in the conventional sense and you won't find popular cartoon characters on our apparel in the foreseeable future."

To stand out from the plethora of childrenswear available, homegrown designers realise the importance of carving out a brand identity. As much as Cavalier is created for the pint-sized city dweller, another new label Chubby Chubby is based on lightweight resort-inspired linen sun dresses and separates, priced between $30 and $60.

"Comfort is and always will be the big trend in childrenswear," says the brand's founder Nix Deng, who evolved her customisable children's gifts business to include a capsule collection of apparel.

"I aim to create the sublime feeling that parents get when they see their children in clothing that accentuates their delightful naiveté. This feeling far supersedes the practicality of purchasing mere affordable and mass-produced clothing for their young ones."

For Singapore-based Italian designer Isabella Weiss di Valbranca, shopping for stylish childrenswear helps foster junior's sense of personal expression as well as taste. "I love the fact that from as young as two or three, children already have a favourite colour or style," says Ms Weiss di Valbranca, who started her brand Gia Moda with a fellow Italian womenswear designer. "I think that if you inculcate a sense of style, colour matching, and fabric knowledge from a young age, it will help develop your child's personality and self confidence."

And instead of succumbing to the fast fashion model adopted by makers of grown-up clothing, most kids' fashion designers focus on quality and comfort. Be*U, for example, is a bespoke children's shoes brand from Taiwan, recently made available here in Singapore. Not only could tykes choose from over 600 designs and skins like crocodile, ostrich, kangaroo and horse hide, they are supposedly able to pad around in greater ease thanks to the craftsmanship of each shoe. A patented outsole design absorbs shock and promotes flexibility, and over 10 hours are spent creating the shoes to ensure maximum quality.

"We noticed that bespoke services were easily available for parents, for example, at Hermes, but there wasn't any of that for kids," says sole distributer for Be*U, Julia Liao, who prices the shoes from $158. Exotic-skinned designs could cost up to $1,500.

"A pair of shoes is more frequently worn than apparel, like a T-shirt for example. Also, these shoes are tailored to better a child's foot development which will be important in their lifetime."

This demand for bespoke fashion has even prompted Singapore-born, Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Kit Lee to hold workshops for children's shoe-making. Trained in jewellery making at London's Central Saint Martins college, she studied the art of cordwainery from veterans in Hong Kong and the UK, and recently held a workshop at Tyrwhitt General Company here.

"We have participants from all walks of life," says Ms Lee, whose most recent five hour-long class here was fully booked. "For example, pregnant mummies, some even in their last trimester, attend. I was more worried about them than their shoes."

Participants learn to craft infant shoes from cashmere-soft lamb or goat skin from Europe or Brazil, and use organic, non-dyed cotton canvas for support.

"A lot of times, baby shoes by fashion brands are very stiff for display purposes on the racks," explains Ms Lee. "Such shoes cut into baby's delicate skin and are dangerous too, as children's feet should not be clad in shoes that restrict their growth."

While retailers seem to be diving into the baby bracket, creating a lucrative juniors line is anything but child's play. "There are definitely additional points of consideration when designing for kids - from basic factors like diaper allowance to understanding the stages of growth," admits Ms Chong.

"But it was quite natural for us seek out a new challenge and chase a dream. Our debut collection is sparked by the thrill of kids playing dress-up in their parents' closets and the vision to clothe little sartorial people."