Designer Children's Wear

...the worst form of fast fashion?

by Hardeep Chohan
The appetite for luxury and designer brands remain unabated and children's wear is no exception. With the latest boom in celebrity mothers too, the possibilities of spending money on the wardrobe of a child seem endless and terribly au courant. But at what price, one must ask, and is it sustainable?

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, so spoke Dickens of Victorian England but what an apt dictum for the world of luxury fashion today. We have so much, however do we have too much? The incessant thirst for all things designer continues unheeded and has slinked its way into all manners of our day-to-day existence. The latest area to receive the five star treatment is the rather innocent world of children’s wear. Forget rough and tumble with most major luxury brands now offering clothes for les petites enfants, these offerings are not for the faint hearted. Versace, Lanvin, Roger Vivier, Zadig & Voltaire, the list goes on, and surprisingly, where this would be the closet of a dedicated fashionista, these are the brands that could easily be in the wardrobe of any toddler.

Of course it makes sense – if the parent buys from these brands then why not the child? Also, the latest celebrity births, such as of Beyoncé, Miranda Kerr and Victoria Beckham have normalised this trend. Even the grand dames of fashion are mixing with the high street to create capsule collections for children – on March 28th Diane von Furstenberg released a line of clothing in collaboration with GAP for which parents queued outside the flagship on an early morning, in an orderly queue.

Commenting on the project, Diane von Furstenberg said, "This collection is about celebrating life and colour…the minute a little girl is born, she is already the woman she will be. So to empower a little girl is to empower the woman she will become." It is a powerful statement, however have we lost some perspective in the children’s wear sector, when we start talking about a ‘collection’? The DvF pieces start from £20 which is competitive with high street brands such as H&M or M&S, however for the mainstream luxury brands you can expect to pay anything from £80 for a simple blouse to £120 for a skirt. Apart from the expense, the true nub of the issue really comes down to its sustainability.

Children's clothing is naturally part of a short term cycle - growth is quick making most clothes of a limited shelf life. To spend £80 for only a few months and then see the piece of clothing discarded is ironically the same pattern we find in fast fashion, where the comparative spend is even less. Even beyond the question of expense is the harm that is being done to the environment. The constant production of clothes, the shipping, the packaging…the list goes on, this all adds up to a proposition that seems a little less glamorous and special. Of course one can argue that if the clothing is passed from one sibling to the other, an element of recyclable fashion does come into play. However, one of the worrying patterns seen in designer children’s wear as borrowed from adult fashion is the same penchant for trends and seeing what is next, what is new. Bringing out old ‘season’ clothes seems a little dépassé, and if you have children of different sexes, what then?

The other side to this is then to nurture brands that design for children not as mini clothes horses but instead as ones who climb trees, make mud pies and generally wear and tear their clothes. Luxury offerings of course have their allure – Princess Marie Chantal’s range of clothes for example, ‘are made in finest, hand-picked fabrics including Scottish wools, cashmere, Peruvian pima cottons and silks’ For adults, luxurious designer wear which changes several times a season is esteemed and seen as a valuable 'investment' but for children this really is self-defeating. The longevity is not there. Brands such as Oshkosh B'gosh, Mayoral and quaint Pumpkin Patch create clothes as part of a longer life cycle, made for everyday wear, without encouraging the same relentless seasonality and waste one already sees in the world of fast fashion encouraged by high street chains.

Even more, is this a good place to think of other options to make children's wear work harder? Eco fashion perhaps? It is understood that pieces cannot really been worn again so why not encourage clothing that takes an eco-friendly approach, with longer wear and overall less detriment to the environment. Take for example Piccalilly which creates organic cotton fair trade clothes and accessories for babies and children or Welsh brand Pili Pala, which specializes in casual wear for young babies and children using organic cotton, recycled and bamboo fabric, all manufactured in Wales. For those wishing for a little Gallic flair with a conscience, try French brand Ekyog which creates organic cotton clothes for both women and babies and can be found on the fashionable King’s Road.

With options such as these, it seems that encouraging children’s wear to take the route of sustainable development is a wise idea. Luxury brands may create sweet campaigns for their younger audience and count on unofficial celebrity ambassadors, but the power lies in parents discerning what matters most – should the label on the inside of a baby's onesie outweigh considerations of sustainability and genuine value for money and use per wear?