Young Fashion

It’s a late April morning on a sleepy cul-de-sac in Carlsbad, California, and Kristi Schmidt is handing her two-year-old son Avery a crayon while showing her new line of Inphant Elefant toddler-sized skateboard apparel.

That’s right-skate apparel for babies.

“We take our generation of surf and skate images and take that into a baby style,” says Schmidt, who launched the Inphant Elefant brand in May 2002. “In the first years parents are so proud of their kids, you want to show them off. You want them to have your image, like a mini-me-you want to dress your kids how you dress.”

Sound weird? It’s not really. Children’s clothing is a growing market these days, which Schmidt quickly learned when Avery was born in Spring 2001, but Schmidt isn’t the only one. Tony Hawk and his brother Steve, both parents of young children, realized this in the late 90s when they couldn’t find clothes they liked for their kids-leading to the birth of Hawk clothing in 1998. “It was basically a collaboration between my brother (Steve) and I,” explains Tony Hawk. “We all had kids by that time, and it was really hard for us to find clothes that we thought were cool. So we thought we’d make clothes for kids that were street and skate wear.”

However, the brand was quick to outgrow the hands of the Hawk brothers. After a year of running the company from offices in the San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente areas of Orange County, California, the company had grown to a point where it needed some sort of backing. Hawk explains: “It was getting too big for us to manage on our own.”

Hawk clothing went under the Quiksilver apparel umbrella in 2000 and has grown into a large brand in both the United States and Europe. It features a solid skateboard team, including fifteen-year-old Flip and Vans teamrider Danny Cerezini from Brazil and fourteen-year-old powerhouse Knox Godoy.

Rodney Johnson is the team manger at Hawk clothing, and he says response to the brand has been good because there’s a size available for every kid.

Asked how the company-targeting the four-to-fourteen year-old market with both its clothing line and development of a young team-decides whether someone has outgrown representing the brand, Johnson is optimistic. “Fortunately, we haven’t run into that yet,” he says. “And hopefully by taking care of these guys on the team right now, we won’t run into that soon.

“The kids want to be like the boys who are ripping. So it’s a matter of keeping up with who the kids are looking up to,” adds Johnson. Prior to joining Hawk clothing in the summer of 2002, Johnson served as the team manager for World Industries.

Johnson is adamant about making sure that the clothing line is cool and that it “pops”-or stands out in the streets to the kids. “Those are the guys who are actually gonna be seen out there,” he says. “If you don’t have the guys out there with the gear and being seen, then who cares if the clothes are good?”

Schmidt agrees that with so many skateboarders and surfers having children it’s important to make the apparel appeal to them. “Our generation (people in their late twenties) is now having children,” she says. “It’s almost like a baby boom, and I want them to be able to have fun with it-to dress kids like mommy and daddy, for your kids to go into a skate shop and buy gear with daddy.”

Inphant Elefant is in an earlier phase of development than the larger children’s apparel brands, with a handful of shops in San Diego County currently carrying the line. Schmidt is now seeking national and international distributors for the brand. Asked if she feels there’s a huge demand for their product right now, she responds: “Absolutely. I would love to see kids buying gear with dad in skate shops all over the country.”

Johnson is also clear that children’s apparel has evolved over the past five or ten years: “I’d say there’s definitely more of a focus on kids’ apparel now, because the kids are the ones who are changing skateboardg, and they’re good.Johnson says the response to Hawk over the past three years has been positive: “The line offers a bit of everything for each area, whether you’re with the times or not.”

Retailers have mixed views about the children’s apparel market. Hansen’s Boardroom is a skate and surf store in Encinitas, California. The shop has carried children’s apparel since they first opened in 1961, explains Shop Manager Christian Hansen, adding that the selection 30 years ago was very limited.Today, however, things are very different. Not only is there a growing number of companies offering children’s apparel, there’s also a growing market for it. “Kids’ stuff-we can never get enough,” Hansen says. “It’s a pretty stable market, people are always having kids. They outgrow their clothes faster.”

Ken Lewis is the owner and manager of Hangar 18 skate shop in San Diego, California. His shop has carried children’s apparel on and off for about three years. “It doesn’t move well,” says Lewis. “I don’t really see the market changing. They sell kids’ stuff that’s super affordable at Nordstrom. Parents tend to be frugal.”

Tim Bruns, manager of Hot Rod skate shop in Los Angeles, shares similar views with Lewis on children’s apparel at his store. Although they used to carry a significant amount of youth-sized T-shirts, Hot Rod doesn’t carry much in the realm of children’s clothing anymore-limiting their children’s selection mainly to youth-sized skate shoes. “No one is really looking for it anymore,” says Bruns. “It seems like the younger kids aren’t skating as much, or that there hasn’t been a new breed. Either that, or the kids have just gotten bigger.”

Bruns isn’t sure why the market has changed. He suggests that the post-September 11 economy may have something to do with it: “I think everyone got scared after that. It’s Y2K part two.” Bruns adds that ‘core shops might not be the most common place to find children’s apparel. “I honestly think that little kids-their moms are going to take them straight to the mall. That’s where you’re going to find it. And if you’re a big company and want the big bucks, you’re going to sell to the mall.”

Kent Uyehara is the owner of San Francisco’s FTC skate shop. They also don’t carry children’s apparel, and he shares Bruns’ sentiment. “Everyone tells me that part of the market is growing,” says Uyehara. “But it’s more chain stores that get that kind of crowd. Our youngest customers are twelve or thirteen.”

Hawk is well aware of the market they’re focusing on, and although they dabbled in adult-sized clothing in their early days, Hawk clothing is mainly focused on the younger market now. “The line is mostly geared toward kids, and there are some teen sizes,” says Hawk. “It’s a weird line to watch because if you’re too young, then teens aren’t into it at all. Our base line has always been about the four-to-fourteen age group.

“In Europe it’s considered more of an all-age line. It’s been there since Quiksilver took over,” adds Hawk.

The teamriders for Hawk clothing are quite involved in developing the clothing, offering a lot of input on things such as colors of T-shirts and styles. “They want to wear what they like,” says Johnson. “They’re only worried about wearing gear that makes them feel good and skateboarding.”

Charlie Thomas is the skate team manager at Hurley International. Although Hurley offers skate apparel for kids, the clothes are based on the same design as the adult line and aren’t marketed separately. Their catalog, explains Thomas, lists the apparel as simply men’s and women’s, and it does well: “I don’t think they advertise it differently. I think it’s marketed the same.”

While Hurley doesn’t have a separate kids’ team, the company does sponsor several younger skaters through shops and reps. Thomas feels the children’s market is steadily growing. “It’s planed off a little bit, but that has more to do with the economy than with skating less,” he says. “It’s always going to keep changing, but I don’t see it changing drastically.”

Thomas’ sentiments are for the most part shared by Richard Woolcott, president, CEO, and founder of Volcom clothing. Like Hurley, Volcom doesn’t do children’s clothing, but offers boys clothing for what Woolcott describes as being for the “medium age”: “About ten to twelve years, right before becoming a teenager.”

Also like Hurley, Volcom doesn’t market the boys’ clothing separately from the adult line. They started producing the boys-sized apparel between three and four years ago. “Most of the market right now is the teenage market,” says Woolcott. “There was a call for sizes smaller than our men’s small and smaller than a 28 waist. A lot of our retailers asked for smaller sizes for boys. And when we could handle it with our team here, we started the process.

However, he elaborates, stressing the retailer’s role in determining the success of boys’ apparel, which is influenced by the retailers’ market and clientele. “It comes down to whether the retailers have set aside a part of their business to support boys,” Woolcott says. “It’s really up to the retailer, as we don’t want to force it on them. If they’re comfortable building a boys’ section, then we’ll give them the option.”

Dave Patri is the marketing director at Orange County, California-based Split Inc., which has been manufacturing skate apparel for boys in the twelve-to-fourteen age group-in addition to a full men’s line of clothing-for four years now. The boys line is marketed with the men’s line at Split-both of which are more popular based on sales on the West Coast in the U.S.-although the company does sponsor twelve-year-old Huntington Beach, California skateboarder Collin Provost. With Provost being the youngest rider on the skate team, Split’s marketing strategy is standard in that it promotes him alongside the other teamriders. “We run ads occasionally of our riders,” says Patri.

When Split first started manufacturing boy-sized clothing, they gave ‘core shops the first opportunity to sell the apparel, but soon after realized that in order to justify manufacturing such large quantities of apparel, they couldn’t provide the line exclusively to skate shops. “We started with specialty stores to give them first crack,” says Patri. “Now we have opened the boys’ line up to chain stores and some departments stores. It’s the only way to justify producing the volume.

“Kids aspire to the current up-and-coming stars, as opposed to the established skate icons. They look at these guys and think, ‘These aren’t that different from me, I can learn how to skate like that.’ With that comes a shift in what they wear, ride, and listen to.

“Boys’ clothing for skating is becoming much more specific,” adds Patri, also stating that young consumers are developing finer taste in clothing: “Boys will become more and more savvy about what brands and styles they buy. Target, Mervyn’s and Kohl’s just doesn’t cut it.”

Woolcott says the children’s clothing market has changed over the past few years in that younger kids are looking up to their older brothers and sisters more than ever. “The younger kids are more savvy in the way they want to dress,” he says, adding that he doesn’t anticipate the children’s apparel market will be changing much. “I think the U.S. economy is moving very slow, and the retailer is being very conservative in terms of what they’re buying. I don’t see a lot of risk taking from a retailer’s point of view.”

Johnson feels Hawk clothing is headed in a great direction. “The mainstream support is already there because of the name affiliation,” he says with satisfaction, “and the ‘core support is growing because of the solid team and the marketing campaign.”

Tony Hawk’s involvement with the Hawk clothing brand, beyond simply being its namesake, is active. He’s involved with the design process and gives the final go-ahead on new products. “I have approval before it all gets finalled and a to keep changing, but I don’t see it changing drastically.”

Thomas’ sentiments are for the most part shared by Richard Woolcott, president, CEO, and founder of Volcom clothing. Like Hurley, Volcom doesn’t do children’s clothing, but offers boys clothing for what Woolcott describes as being for the “medium age”: “About ten to twelve years, right before becoming a teenager.”

Also like Hurley, Volcom doesn’t market the boys’ clothing separately from the adult line. They started producing the boys-sized apparel between three and four years ago. “Most of the market right now is the teenage market,” says Woolcott. “There was a call for sizes smaller than our men’s small and smaller than a 28 waist. A lot of our retailers asked for smaller sizes for boys. And when we could handle it with our team here, we started the process.

However, he elaborates, stressing the retailer’s role in determining the success of boys’ apparel, which is influenced by the retailers’ market and clientele. “It comes down to whether the retailers have set aside a part of their business to support boys,” Woolcott says. “It’s really up to the retailer, as we don’t want to force it on them. If they’re comfortable building a boys’ section, then we’ll give them the option.”

Dave Patri is the marketing director at Orange County, California-based Split Inc., which has been manufacturing skate apparel for boys in the twelve-to-fourteen age group-in addition to a full men’s line of clothing-for four years now. The boys line is marketed with the men’s line at Split-both of which are more popular based on sales on the West Coast in the U.S.-although the company does sponsor twelve-year-old Huntington Beach, California skateboarder Collin Provost. With Provost being the youngest rider on the skate team, Split’s marketing strategy is standard in that it promotes him alongside the other teamriders. “We run ads occasionally of our riders,” says Patri.

When Split first started manufacturing boy-sized clothing, they gave ‘core shops the first opportunity to sell the apparel, but soon after realized that in order to justify manufacturing such large quantities of apparel, they couldn’t provide the line exclusively to skate shops. “We started with specialty stores to give them first crack,” says Patri. “Now we have opened the boys’ line up to chain stores and some departments stores. It’s the only way to justify producing the volume.

“Kids aspire to the current up-and-coming stars, as opposed to the established skate icons. They look at these guys and think, ‘These aren’t that different from me, I can learn how to skate like that.’ With that comes a shift in what they wear, ride, and listen to.

“Boys’ clothing for skating is becoming much more specific,” adds Patri, also stating that young consumers are developing finer taste in clothing: “Boys will become more and more savvy about what brands and styles they buy. Target, Mervyn’s and Kohl’s just doesn’t cut it.”

Woolcott says the children’s clothing market has changed over the past few years in that younger kids are looking up to their older brothers and sisters more than ever. “The younger kids are more savvy in the way they want to dress,” he says, adding that he doesn’t anticipate the children’s apparel market will be changing much. “I think the U.S. economy is moving very slow, and the retailer is being very conservative in terms of what they’re buying. I don’t see a lot of risk taking from a retailer’s point of view.”

Johnson feels Hawk clothing is headed in a great direction. “The mainstream support is already there because of the name affiliation,” he says with satisfaction, “and the ‘core support is growing because of the solid team and the marketing campaign.”

Tony Hawk’s involvement with the Hawk clothing brand, beyond simply being its namesake, is active. He’s involved with the design process and gives the final go-ahead on new products. “I have approval before it all gets finalled and also with picking team guys and stuff like that. That’s more my concern than anything,” he says. “I’m really concerned about having a really good team. As far as the clothing thing goes-Quiksilver already knows how to do that.”

Hawk is optimistic about the growth of the children’s apparel market over the years. “We knew that there was a void in children’s clothing when we started the brand,” he says, “but we never imagined that it was as big as it was.”

Schmidt agrees that the void was huge-particularly for infant-sized skate apparel. “It was lacking,” she says.

According to Hawk clothing’s research, the current total number of action-sports participants in skateboarding in the U.S. alone is over twelve-million, of which 74 percent are male and close to six-million are between the ages of six and eleven. IASC’s statistics indicate sixteen-million skateboarders in the U.S., of which half are in the state of California alone.

Tony Hawk adds that he’s not sure whether the brand is more popular in certain regions of the U.S. than others. “It’s weird,” he says. “There are certain designs that go better in certain areas, but as far as widespread demographic, I don’t know. It’s pretty even across the U.S. But you do see certain styles do better in certain areas. There’s some stuff that we make in Europe that we wouldn’t even bother to put out here.

“I have less of a hand in the Europe stuff because it’s such a different market, and what I think is cool might not be cool there.”

Companies who have pursued the children’s apparel market appear to be doing well. The market is there, and as more kids start skateboarding, the number of kids who need clothes grows steadily.

Woolcott makes an interesting point about the role of retailers in determining what products companies manufacture. With skateboarding, brand loyalty is what wins a kid’s support for a company, and that brand loyalty tends to stem from what the consumer finds within the overall image of the company to identify with. Skateboard companies have always supported and relied on sponsoring skateboarders-in a mutually beneficial relationship-to legitimize or authenticate their product in the world of skateboard consumption.

At the same time, skate shops cater to their own clientele, customer-base, and overall skate community, and while manufacturers depend on shops to tell them what retailers are demanding, skate shops depend on their customers to gain perspective on what the kids want.

And it’s funny, because the kids look to the pros to determine what they like.As for the pros, who knows where some of them look … nd also with picking team guys and stuff like that. That’s more my concern than anything,” he says. “I’m really concerned about having a really good team. As far as the clothing thing goes-Quiksilver already knows how to do that.”

Hawk is optimistic about the growth of the children’s apparel market over the years. “We knew that there was a void in children’s clothing when we started the brand,” he says, “but we never imagined that it was as big as it was.”

Schmidt agrees that the void was huge-particularly for infant-sized skate apparel. “It was lacking,” she says.

According to Hawk clothing’s research, the current total number of action-sports participants in skateboarding in the U.S. alone is over twelve-million, of which 74 percent are male and close to six-million are between the ages of six and eleven. IASC’s statistics indicate sixteen-million skateboarders in the U.S., of which half are in the state of California alone.

Tony Hawk adds that he’s not sure whether the brand is more popular in certain regions of the U.S. than others. “It’s weird,” he says. “There are certain designs that go better in certain areas, but as far as widespread demographic, I don’t know. It’s pretty even across the U.S. But you do see certain styles do better in certain areas. There’s some stuff that we make in Europe that we wouldn’t even bother to put out here.

“I have less of a hand in the Europe stuff because it’s such a different market, and what I think is cool might not be cool there.”

Companies who have pursued the children’s apparel market appear to be doing well. The market is there, and as more kids start skateboarding, the number of kids who need clothes grows steadily.

Woolcott makes an interesting point about the role of retailers in determining what products companies manufacture. With skateboarding, brand loyalty is what wins a kid’s support for a company, and that brand loyalty tends to stem from what the consumer finds within the overall image of the company to identify with. Skateboard companies have always supported and relied on sponsoring skateboarders-in a mutually beneficial relationship-to legitimize or authenticate their product in the world of skateboard consumption.

At the same time, skate shops cater to their own clientele, customer-base, and overall skate community, and while manufacturers depend on shops to tell them what retailers are demanding, skate shops depend on their customers to gain perspective on what the kids want.

And it’s funny, because the kids look to the pros to determine what they like.As for the pros, who knows where some of them look …