Is Childrenswear Leading the Way for a Subscription Economy?

With resale and rental offering a more sustainable solution to fashion’s waste problem, Elizabeth Bennett investigates how the childrenswear market is adapting to become more circular.

The sustainable childrenswear market is ripe with opportunity. 71% of parents claim they became more concerned about sustainability after having a child yet becoming a parent makes your household 25% less environmentally friendly. To state the obvious: growing children demand new clothes at a rapid speed. There are approximately eight to ten sizes that children go through from birth until age three. It’s arguably the fastest area of the fashion market. While parents have always passed down through families and friends or shopped at second-hand stores or via local events, until relatively recently, alternative slower and more mindful shopping options have been limited.

That’s all set to change as a breed of new platforms aims to take a chunk out of the booming secondhand market. This $24bn market is set to double in five years according to a 2019 by GlobalData and ThredUp report. Interest in secondhand childrenswear is on the up as consumer awareness of the environment increases. eBay, the original second-hand marketplace, reported a 76% increase in second-hand childrenswear in 2020.

These new platforms are looking to change the face of the childrenswear resell market and make it easier for parents to buy and sell kidswear. Dotte, the UK’s first fully circular online peer-to-peer marketplace for children’s clothing, offers a space to buy and sell clothes as well as recycle or donate items that aren’t sellable. “We wanted to create a space where people could easily lengthen the lifespan of their children’s clothing but also a space to discover new styles, and brands,” co-founder Samantha Valentine told us. Considering reselling can save up to 75% of the carbon footprint associated with producing an item of clothing, this appeals to green-minded parents. Creating community has been key in Dotte’s success. “It’s not just about buying and selling clothes for us, it’s about shifting habits and behaviors, and celebrating the community doing that. Watching our community share tips and tricks with each other is so exciting,” Valentine said.

Image: dotte with permission from Bobo Choses
Image: The Little Loop

Kids O’clock, a platform founded by Laura Vidrequin, an ex-buyer for Net-A-Porter and Moda Operandi, focuses solely on buying and selling second-hand childrenswear. “I truly believe there are enough items on the planet in wardrobes to be able to provide for other families,” Vidrequin said. Alongside offering a space for buying and selling – “It’s not just for parents but grandparents, family and friends too,” Vidrequin points out – Kids O’clock partner with brands to improve their responsible credentials. They facilitate both bricks and mortar and digital schemes where people can return items they no longer need in exchange for vouchers or discounts. “It’s important to champion design and partnership within sustainability,” she added

Towards the luxury end of the space, there’s development too. In early 2020, Kidswear Collective, a site specialising in selling preloved designer fashion, partnered with Selfridges to curate a concession in its London flagship. “There is a definite change of mindset around the idea of resale, and desire from our customers to experience different ways to shop and monetise unwanted items in a way that feels good,” Sebastian Manes, Selfridges’s Executive Buying Director told The Financial Times.

Much like the trend for resell, renting is another trend borrowed from women’s fashion that’s booming. The global online clothing rental market is expected to reach a value of US$ 2.08 Billion by 2025. Unlike adult clothing rental, which is normally aimed at event wear for occasions or work (two things which have taken a backseat during the pandemic), renting childrenswear makes sense for the everyday considering how quickly pieces become redundant.

In September 2020, My Wardrobe, one of the UK’s leading fashion rental platforms, launched childrenswear on their site. Like the adult offering, the focus is on premium brands like Molo, The Middle Daughter and Caramel. “Luxury childrenswear is a fast-growing market sector, with many mums more likely to prioritise spending on their children. We listened to our customers who wanted their choices when shopping for their kids to be made as sustainably as when shopping for themselves,” My Wardrobe HQ’s founder, Sacha Newell, commented.

Image: Kidswear Collective
Image: Kids O'Clock

Bundlee, a clothing rental subscription service for babies up to age two, saw sales up 250% in 2020. The brand offers two options: an affordable basics bundle containing pieces made in-house by Bundlee or a personalised subscription with items from sustainable premium brands like Mini Rodini and Hatley. Clothes are swapped approximately every three months with one piece serving five families. “It’s all about extending the lifespan of clothes and stopping overproduction,” founder Eve Kekeh explained. Working with Greenstory, Bundlee calculated that renting one bundle parents save 21kg of carbon and the equivalent 3500 litres of water. Finding brands that meet their standards can be hard. “Traditionally baby clothing isn’t made to last as manufacturers know it will only be worn for a short period,” Kekeh said.

The biggest challenge however for Kekeh has been changing customer mindset. “Each parent joining now is probably first in their friendship group,” she said. They’ve also noticed that word of mouth marketing has been harder during the pandemic. “Once parents find out about renting they love to talk about it,” she said.

Charlotte Morley, founder of The Little Loop, a platform offering a similar service but for older children has come across the same issue.  “It’s a big mental shift to move away from ownership,” she explained. The Little Loop’s business model sees the platform partner with ethically-minded brands who hold the stock and take a percentage of the rental revenue. It’s a win-win for both the brand and the platform. “It enables brands to be more responsible as well as garnering data from us on the emotional and physical durability of their product,” she explained.

The other barrier to entry for parents when it comes to renting clothes is inevitable damage. Platforms in this space take out insurance and don’t charge parents for stains and tears but it still takes education with new consumers. “Fear of damaging clothes is common. It’s the question we get asked most,” Morley said. She has tackled this issue by offering a grading system where clothes are priced based on their quality. “We can keep them in cycle longer as we can list them as well-loved and people pay less to rent them,” she added.

While shopping circular when it comes to childrenswear isn’t entirely mainstream quite yet, it is only set to grow. As many of the founders I spoke to pointed out, Gen Z (born 1997-2015) who populate Depop will be the next generation of parents soon. “The first option for younger generations is not to look at traditional retailers. They are so much more open to new concepts,” Kekeh highlighted.