Sleepwear manufacturers get intimate with tween girls

With licensed apparel lines such as Wal-Mart's Mary-Kate and Ashley brand, Limited Too's Lizzie McGuire range and Hot Topic's character tee assortment generating retail market heat, it's not surprising that manufacturers are beginning to explore other tween apparel options. And if the floor buzz from last month's Magic show in Las Vegas is any indication, licenses for sleepwear and intimate apparel should soon begin to pop up in many manufacturer portfolios.
October 1, 2002

With licensed apparel lines such as Wal-Mart’s Mary-Kate and Ashley brand, Limited Too’s Lizzie McGuire range and Hot Topic’s character tee assortment generating retail market heat, it’s not surprising that manufacturers are beginning to explore other tween apparel options. And if the floor buzz from last month’s Magic show in Las Vegas is any indication, licenses for sleepwear and intimate apparel should soon begin to pop up in many manufacturer portfolios.

‘Fashion brands such as Mudd and Bongo have sized up into the older end of the tween demo, and many character properties are trying to tap into that market,’ says Josh Wormser, executive VP at Northbrook, Illinois-based apparel company Wormser. ‘It seems like that was the most talked-about thing at Magic.’ In the absence of any tween-targeted licenses, Wormser has responded to tween sleepwear demand by developing larger sizes in its kid-skewing Powerpuff Girls and Scooby-Doo lines.

The company has recently been presented with several tween brand opportunities and may make the tween market leap ‘when the right property comes along.’ As to what Wormser is looking for, it’s got to be girls. ‘The girl market is bigger and moves much faster than the boy market,’ explains Wormser. ‘Properties and trends recycle more often.’

So why has tween interest in licensed sleepwear and intimate apparel spiked? ‘Over the past couple of years, intimate apparel has really been highlighted in fashion magazines from an advertising perspective, so the natural progression has been to further that fashion statement by decorating it with your favorite licensed character,’ says Betts Fitzgerald, senior VP of licensing at the Jim Henson Company, which recently released a tween sleepwear line with licensee Sugar D. ‘It adds flare, fun and individuality.’

The nostalgia trend that’s currently misting in tween merch circles is another factor – one that convinced Henson to move the Muppets into tween sleepwear and innerwear, a first for the company. Currently at market, Sugar D’s Muppets range includes days-of-the-week underwear and cami/brief sets, with Kermit-branded brief-style undies for girls racking up the highest sales. Sugar D will expand the range this quarter with nightwear and loungewear. Fitzgerald says the next Henson property to slide between tween sheets will likely be Fraggle Rock, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2003.

According to Karen Leopold, president of New York’s Dream Apparel, tweens have long represented a largely untapped market for licensing. ‘Everybody went after the young girls on the licensed side, and there is a need for tween product, which you’re beginning to see,’ she says, adding that trend retailers such as Hot Topic – with its stable of character merch – have allowed licensed apparel to break the tween cool barrier. Though Dream hasn’t been active in the tween segment, Leopold was negotiating several contracts for tween girl properties at press time and expects to finalize a few by the end of this year.

While many licensees are glomming onto character sleepwear and innerwear for tweens, Zack Salino, VP of marketing at New Jersey-based Delta US, says the true tween market growth is in the brand and private-label segment. ‘The character portion of the business tends to be a little more compressed into the younger age demos,’ Salino claims. That said, Delta US does produce a tween sleepwear range for Looney Tunes in addition to its private-label Maidenform and Danskin bra and underwear lines. Always open to building strategically, Salino says he would consider further character licenses for tweens.

Wormser concurs with Salino, saying that the sleepwear business skews young and tends to be very character- and media-driven, but he offers a glimmer of hope to licensors looking to move their tween properties into sleepwear: ‘Even though girls want to go out dressed in the cool tween brands, the bedroom is the one place where they can still be little girls.’ The real question, says Wormser, is whether some of the hot sportswear brands can successfully translate to sleepwear.

As for character and entertainment licenses, Wormser claims that overly edgy and urban concepts usually don’t translate well. ‘The property has to have a sweetness to it because girls sleepwear is a cuddly, touchy-feely, cute type of business.’

Trends fresh from Magic

Though her business is preschool, HIT senior VP of consumer products Holly Stein did some market trendspotting at Magic and noted some tween market developments. ‘What you’re seeing is much more fashion-oriented than the cookie-cutter sleepwear of years past. Fashion trends are being applied to sleepwear almost as they would be to sportswear, and manufacturers are getting more creative with embellishments,’ Stein observes.

Dream Apparel’s Leopold echoes Stein’s observations: ‘Kids are very fashion-forward and will no longer wear something just because Mom went out and bought it – even in sleepwear.’ Whereas many licensees used to be able to take a nightgown and plop a screen on it – effectively selling the license over the product’s style – retailers and consumers want a bit more fashion now, says Leopold.

Tween fashionistas can expect a few main sleepwear looks for spring 2003 – sweet, feminine styles dominated by pastels with sharper colors as accents; the denim-based western bohemian look that’s currently hot on the apparel scene for fall; and a sportswear look incorporating cornflower blue and fuschia hues and glitter.

All three will dominate Delta US’s spring line, with director of merchandising Dianne Casey noting that ‘girls are looking for a sleepwear/loungewear combo. They want to be able to get up in the morning and hang out in their pajamas, so that category tends to be more important than nightgowns.’ Delta’s focus group testing and market research reveal the sleepwear dreams of the nine- to 12-year-old girl: ‘She doesn’t want pink. She’s very individualistic and wants more of a tomboy look.’ And if you’re targeting the 13-plus crowd, the look has to be clean, says Casey.

Even boy-skewing properties are enjoying tween girl innerwear applications. Pro Nights Fashions, which has the rights to Marvel’s roster of upcoming films The Hulk, X-Men 2 and Fantastic Four, explored that option this summer with Spider-Man. While it might not seem an obvious fit for tween girls at first glance, Pro Nights Fashions president and CEO Bruce Brown says that it’s all about placement and color. ‘It needs to be very stylishly done – perhaps placing a small spider on a strap and using bold colors.’ Pro Nights’ line of Spider-Man tween tanks and matching undies were offered in black and white, with the option to mix and match.

And not to be outdone, tween boys are also trying licensed sleepwear and innerwear on for size. Dream Apparel produces tween boy boxers and lounge pants for classic Marvel characters, and according to Leopold, the brighter the better. ‘It’s got to pop, so the look is very graphic – prints combining a few of the characters on lounge pants, and individual characters on boxers.’

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