Childrens Boutiques On The Rise In NWA

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 227 views 

Designer clothing stores seem unlikely to be success stories in a country sluggishly recovering from a fiscal crisis.

Couture apparel is a luxury, and brand-name children’s duds, in particular, are reserved for an elite market.

Youth clothing made up only 17 percent of sales in the $200 billion apparel industry in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With children quickly outgrowing pieces, many parents opt for cheaper product lines when shopping for them.

There are still, however, those who are willing to drop $135 on a pair of Little Marc Jacobs pajamas or $200 on a Stella McCartney sweatshirt — and the recession does not seem to have hindered them. 

In fact, business is booming for many kid’s couture merchants. 3 Monkeys Children’s Boutique owner Mandy Hunt said the recession had no negative effect on her company and profits have gone up each year since she bought the store in 2005.

In 2013, the boutique’s second year at its current location on Front Street in Fayetteville, its projected gross sales estimate tops $1 million, and Hunt said there’s no doubt this goal will be reached.

Paige Thompson, owner of Bella Jack’s Children’s Boutique, said this year has been the busiest yet so far for her store, and other small, family-owned local boutiques report strong sales.

The share of upscale designer brands in the children’s clothing market is growing quickly, according to the Encyclopedia of American Industries.

Hunt’s explanation for the prosperity in the high-end children’s apparel industry? “Babies are always being born. Kids have to have clothing.”

Of course, she concedes these children don’t have to be clothed in Juicy Couture.


Value vs. Cost

Quality plays a key role in the children’s upscale clothing market. Whether for health or environmental reasons, some parents pay top dollar to dress their children in nothing but organically made items and most of the brands that offer this promise are on the high end of the cost spectrum.

There is also the conception that clothing put out by pricier brands is better-made and therefore lasts longer. 

“If you have a piece that holds up really well for more than one or two seasons, it is worth the investment,” Thompson said. And since the resale of children’s clothing has gained popularity, it’s one with potential returns. 

3 Monkeys sees customers who buy their child’s entire everyday wardrobe in the store and those who are just there to purchase a gift or a special outfit for an upcoming event.

For some customers, brand-name clothing is a status symbol. Other
parents want to see their children dressed in unique outfits that are on-trend.

In the mid-2000s, children’s fashion began to mimic adult designs. Dressing children in “mini-me” versions of brand-name styles became the norm.

“It’s fun to see your kids in that sort of thing,” Thompson said. Little girls can wear UGG boots or designer jeans and little boys can wear fedoras and TOMS Shoes.

But, about seven years ago Thompson felt boutiques selling children’s wear catered much more to girls than to her toddler son.

In response, she put her degree in apparel studies from the University of Arkansas and years of retail experience to work and opened Bella Jack’s.

Typically, half of her stock of kids’ clothes size newborn to 10 is devoted to boys’ fashion, she said. Her girls’ clothes go up to size 14.


Exclusivity is Essential

In her store, Thompson carries brands like True Religion, The Pink Chicken, Appaman, Fore!! Axel & Hudson, Ella Moss, Moxie and Mabel and KicKee Pants.

Since its opening, Bella Jack’s has carried Persnickety, a sought-after girls’ clothing brand that is made in the United States and donates a dress to an underprivileged girl every time one is bought. The brand was starting out at the same time as Bella Jack’s. “We’ve grown our business with them,” Thompson said.

Now, people call from all over the country to purchase Persnickety. The holiday collection is already sold out.

In addition to high-end items, Bella Jack’s offers more affordable brands. The most popular is Zutano, which offers mix-and-match pieces priced between $11 and $28.

As one of several children’s boutiques in the area — Bella Jack’s is located less than a half-mile from 3 Monkeys — Thompson and the other owners strive to set themselves apart by carrying a variety of items.

Exclusivity is key for Hunt. She often doesn’t buy a brand unless the supplier agrees to sell it exclusively to 3 Monkeys and not to any other store in the area.

“I’ve dropped labels before because other stores picked them up,” Hunt said.

She goes to the retail markets in New York City at least four times a year and seeks out fresh, sometimes obscure, European designers in order to offer unique merchandise.

However, the more recognizable brands sold at 3 Monkeys include UGG, TOMS, Seven Jeans, Juicy Couture, Lemon Loves Lime, Stella McCartney, and Little Marc Jacobs. 

3 Monkeys is one of two boutiques in Arkansas to offer Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bags.

Hunt said she has customers from throughout the world and has sold gifts for celebrities.

“We’ve had people from New York who come in the store and are so impressed. They say they wish they had a boutique like this,” she said.


Room for Everyone

With each store owner striving to offer unique items, customers have more choices, and competitive attitudes between the stores are at a minimum.

In fact, the owners often recommend other local boutiques when a customer cannot find an item.

“There’s room for everyone,” Thompson said. “I’d rather be able to tell people where to go and have them shop local,” rather than at a national chain. In spite of gains, children’s boutiques still make up only a small portion of the apparel market, with a few huge retail stores dominating sales.

Local boutique owners seem undaunted by this, however. Their stores are more focused on serving a select consumer than peddling large quantities of merchandise to the masses.

More than anything, Thompson considers her competition to be online designer outlet stores. However, she says Bella Jack’s can offer the type of personal service these online establishments never could.

Although she is often preoccupied with the paperwork involved in ownership, “if I could help customers all day long, I would. I have a passion for it,” Thompson said.

In particular, she enjoys styling family members for family photos.

Eighty percent of Bella Jack’s patrons are repeat customers. In many cases, they have become close friends.

There are customers at 3 Monkeys who shopped for their children who are now adults under the previous owner, and now they shop there for their grandchildren.

“We are thankful for our loyal clientele,” Hunt said. “We wouldn’t be in our eighth year if it wasn’t for them and their support.”