On a recent trip to New York, Shradha Mehra Virani, an Instagram influencer and mother of two, picked up, among other things, a pair of Air Jordans for her son. She trusts the comfort of the Nikes, and thought the colour she picked complemented the five-year-old’s whimsical personality. For context: Air Jordans can cost anywhere between Rs. 4,000-9,000 a pair, depending on the model and size. A child will likely outgrow a pair in under a year.
“I am not the kind to blindly spend on my kids,” says Virani, who bought an Armani suit for her child’s first birthday. “I like to dress my kids well and differently (from their peers). I think I only (spend) if I know these will be well-used.”
Virani is one of many millennial parents who are eager to give their children the best—of luxury clothes as well as internationally known skincare and make-up. While she says she indulges mindfully, many in the same demographic want their children to get dressed a certain way—in luxury and couture, with hair and face done—for birthday parties and playdates, as a way to keep up appearances and announce the parents’ ability to afford these products.
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“Kids fashion is a huge industry and the luxury market for kids is growing the fastest,” said Manoj Mahla, director of the Kids India Fashion Week (IKFW), in a press statement earlier this month, during the lead-up to the ninth edition of IKFW in Delhi last weekend. “India is one of the largest contributors to the apparel-retail sector globally and it is becoming a hub for kids’ apparel and fashion retailers as well. Over 375 million individuals are below the age of 15 years in the country. This represents a huge consumer base for the kids’ fashion market,” he said, adding that the IKFW is now also being planned in nine cities in India, as well as Dubai.
Market research, too, is in line with this: The clothing market in India for children was valued at around Rs. 66,904 crore in FY 2017. This grew to around Rs. 1.4 trillion in FY 2021.
Over the decade of its presence, Les Petits, one of the earliest stores in the country to offer luxury and couture for children, has witnessed a maturing of the market, too. “Millennial parents are changing the way kids’ fashion was perceived a few decades ago. They are themselves fashion-sensitive and see an extension of it in their kids,” says Swati Saraf, president, Les Petits. The store has just added two new international brands, Stella McCartney and Leblon Delienne, with the latter being introduced for the first time in India exclusively by the store. When Saraf first started the store, in Delhi, she thought most of her customers would come from metro cities. “(But) greater consciousness around fashion and awareness created through the internet is leading to haute couture for kids becoming more popular in tier II cities as well,” she adds.
Some parents note, though, that while Western couture and clothing from premium brands, including Gucci, Moschino and Michael Kors, has grown, there seem to be only a few Indian designers in the space. They surmise that this is possibly due to the fact that couture, already an indulgence for children who will fast outgrow the expensive item, becomes further limited in its use as Indian-wear like shararas, kurtas and lehnga-cholis will be limited to use during festivals and weddings.
“I don’t think Indian designers are that involved or visible,” agrees Virani. “But there are some homegrown, independent brands doing Indian outfits for between Rs. 5,000-7,000 too.”
Six-year-old Free Sparrow is one such designer-run label. Bharti Sharma, its designer-owner, says they overcome the growth spurt problem by giving adequate margins in their clothes, so that parents may open up stitches and use the same piece for a few years. “We don’t keep inventory. We make to order,” she says, noting that the idea is to help children with varied body types as well as comfort levels in terms of both material and cuts. “Kids are very fussy, especially seven- to eight-year-olds as (they start becoming aware of their bodies),” Sharma notes—“you have to think like a child” when designing for them.
Retailers and parents agree that this is in part due to an increase in parents’ purchasing power and is in stark contrast to their own childhoods . “I have an older sister and whatever she wore eventually ended up coming to me,” Saraf recalls. Clothing was passed around between cousins too. “It’s not the same at all now. Parents now think, ‘why will my (child) wear...someone (else’s)’,” Saraf notes.
Aspiration has coloured the experience of childhood across generations—children have always wanted to try out their parents’ clothing, play house and host pretend parties, aspiring to be just like their adults. This has only magnified with the early exposure children now have to gadgets, cameras and social media.
There’s great global interest in children’s make-up too. Figures from Market Research Future show the global market for children’s cosmetics is projected to be $1,795 million by 2026. Of this, the Asia-Pacific market alone is projected to be $408 million.
Just a week ago, noticing a gap for child-specific make-up and skincare in the Indian market, two Indian mothers, Neha Varghese and Manasvi Shah, brought Puttisu, a known K-beauty brand of children’s skincare and make-up, to the country. They currently only retail the brand’s products, including sheet masks, nail colours, sunscreens and lip colours, online, targeting pre-teens and older girls, in a price range of Rs. 299-2,700. Varghese and Shah say they have already seen demand not just from Mumbai, where they launched, but also from cities such as Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
All this, however, throws up a worrying question: With so much importance given to looks, will children start attaching their self-worth and value to how they dress?
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“How much exposure you want to give (to such things and to social media) and how much you want to control it is very subjective,” says Shah, recounting how the children of some friends keep track of how many likes a photo of them received on their parents’ social media accounts. “I keep telling my daughter not to derive validation from (this),” adds Varghese.
The duo extols an ancillary benefit, though: habit-formation. The ease of Puttisu’s compact-shaped sunscreen, for instance, makes it easy for children to get into a habit most dermatologists now advise.
Similarly, Virani talks about inculcating values through couture: What we need to inculcate...is the idea of ‘don’t dirty your shirt’,” she says. “I have the same reaction to whether they are wearing Gap or Gucci.” She isn’t too worried about her children outgrowing their clothes either. She just puts them up for sale on SoldResold, her community-driven marketplace for “preloved and precared” clothes and accessories for children. “There’s a huge demand…at least 5-10 people ask for kids couture on the site—daily.”