Kid Couture - TheStreet

Kid Couture

The smallest consumers are making a big market for children's apparel.
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As parents spend more and more money to dress up their bundles of joy, children are beginning to look increasingly like stylish, miniature adults.

Sales of children's clothing -- which includes infant, toddler and preschool apparel -- is expected to approach $17 billion by the end of 2007 and could hit $20 billion by 2010, according to Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com.

Companies such as Lacoste,

Adidas

(ADDYY)

and

Ralph Lauren

(RL) - Get Report

have recognized the vast potential in this expanding retail market and have established extensive lines solely for children.

Adidas sports a matching jogging set ($32) for children that is similar to the slick adult version; Ralph Lauren's offerings feature sporty mesh shirts ($40), the iconic long-sleeve polos (around $45) and classic cashmere sweaters ($225).

Designers have even created shoes for infants. Sure, they may not be able to walk -- but they can still dazzle with tiny takes on Van's popular crib slip-on shoes ($20) to Ugg's furry booties ($50). Upscale retailers such as

Barney's and

Nordstom make it easy, with online sections devoted solely to chic selections of young children's shoes and apparel.

As the winter drags on, resort-hopping parents are looking for swimsuits that will make their baby stand out in the crowd.

Lilly Pulitzer has a bathing suit with a beautiful floral print and spaghetti straps that retails for $70 to $72 (machine washable), as well as a perfectly matched terrycloth cover-up ($78-$82).

Saks Fifth Avenue has several adorable mini maillots ($60-$68) to choose from, as well.

Bloomingdale's even features popular designer brand Juicy Couture reconfigured for investment-worthy tots -- high-end soft hoodie sweatshirts and sweatpants ($48-$72) so kids can impress on every playdate.

Children's clothing has made the upscale leap thanks in part to designers such Dolce and Gabbana, the luxury Italian brand that saw the demand and introduced a children's line,

D&G Junior, about seven years ago. Its Web site is even designed to be navigated by children.

And just because it's small doesn't mean it will be inexpensive -- one Dolce and Gabbana cotton tank top retails for $95.

Dressed to Impress

For kids, white is considered the new black.

"I was somewhat surprised white was coming into the children's market, especially considering how hard it is to clean," says LaDonna Felke, owner of

LaBella Flora Children's Boutique, an online store launched in March 2005.

Felke moved her Indiana-based business to the Web in order to reach a larger audience. "By having an online

business, I can offer a lot more variety of brands which I wouldn't be able to offer in a small community," says Felke, who admits she still gets excited by shipments of the latest baby clothing. A mother of three adopted children, Felke shares a percentage of her sales with orphanages around the world.

Felke formerly owned a traditional children's retail store and noted that girls' clothing sold three times over boys'. Therefore, she has catered her site toward the female niche.

With free shipping for orders over $75 -- which is hit very quickly with any of the several designer offerings -- her business has grown rapidly. The shop highlights unique, high-quality brands with quirky names such as Baby Nay, Chicken Noodle and Cozy Toes.

And the most expensive order a customer has made? Over $600, which was spent on several baby gowns and headbands.

Why spend so much money for infants and children? "It's about the compliment. It's really an ego issue

for the parents," Felke explains.

Parents often splurge on spectacular take-me-home outfits for newborns, Felke adds. A lot of friends and relatives may be seeing the baby for the first time, which motivates parents to spend the extra money to make sure their latest addition looks perfect.

And "they want all the matching accessories -- hat, hair bows, matching blanket and booties," says Felke.

One extravagant example is a beautiful silk pink parfait gown designed by Biscotti ($84). The dress is traditional, with intricate floral details.

"You want your baby girl to look precious on her big day, as there are going to be plenty of photos," Felke explains.

These outfits can be more of an investment than a one-time wear.

Professional dry cleaners can have the special ensemble sealed and preserved so parents can have it as a keepsake for years to come -- Felke still has the take-me-home outfits for each of her children.

Of course, buying such extravagant clothing is more for the parents than for the tiny wearers. But few parents can resist the lure of a designer-clad baby.

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