Nine West Strengthens Kids’ Line

Nine West is putting new energy behind its kids’ business.

Looking to pump up the category, parent firm The Jones Group Inc. in 2010 licensed out the brand’s kids’ line to Edison, N.J.-based LJP International. “With the size, scale and complexity of our branded footwear business, we felt the kids’ [footwear would be] better served with a dedicated focus,” said Rick Paterno, Jones’ group president of global footwear wholesale. The deal also included the Sam & Libby and Mootsies Tootsies children’s collections.

The Nine West kids’ line, priced from $40 to $60, is already showing strong gains at retail. Mary Belle, Nine West’s president of licensing, said the growth is in part a result of a bigger push to more closely align the kids’ collection with the women’s range in terms of design and merchandising.

That effort includes greater oversight by Nine West creative director Fred Allard and his design team. In addition, key women’s trend stories — from silhouettes and materials to color palettes — are being integrated into the children’s line in a more visible way. Direct takedowns from women’s also are becoming more important.

“We want to make sure we successfully translate the DNA of the brand,” Belle said. “Customers are very aware of Nine West — they know what our look is and what we stand for — so there is an expectation [when it comes to brand extensions such as kids’ shoes].”

Larry Paparo, president and CEO of LJP, said the closer association with the women’s line is important in capturing Nine West’s aspirational younger consumers. “Girls today are very savvy. They know what’s going on in fashion and they want the trends as they happen,” Paparo said. “We’re really trying to follow the women’s line and get as close to the season as possible.”

For retailers, that connection is a big selling point. “It’s a huge advantage to have the same trends and looks as the Nine West women’s line,” said Danny Yazdan, owner of Angels Shoes, a children’s retailer with six stores in the New York metro area. “We’ve been doing very well with the kids’ line since [Nine West has] been bringing down more of the women’s styles.”

Connie Cohen, children’s shoe buyer for Lester’s, a New York-based independent with six locations, said the collection fills a significant void in the tween market, in particular. “One of our strongest categories is the tween category, and these girls are very fashion aware and want to look more mature,” she said. “When they can’t fit into the Nine West women’s shoes, it’s great to be able to offer takedown versions of those same looks.”

To keep pace with the women’s market, Nine West has begun offering more frequent deliveries of new kids’ styles. Instead of just showing two big collections a year, the brand is introducing new product six times a year. “The children’s business generally turns much slower than the women’s business,” Paparo said, “but we want to make sure we’re hitting the trends at the right time.”

Nine West also is working to broaden its kids’ offering to address more wardrobe needs. While it has become a go-to resource in the kids’ market for certain key categories, among them dress shoes and driving mocs, the label is aggressively building other sectors such as boots and toddler shoes. “We’ve really examined the collection under a microscope,” Belle said. “We’ve looked at those existing classifications that are performing well and how we can expand and evolve them. And we’ve also identified new opportunities.”

The sneaker business is another major target. This spring, under a licensing deal with Philip Simon Brands Group Inc., Nine West will take its first step into the category with the launch of Nine West Originals for adults. LJP has created a companion kids’ line that will roll out this fall. The offering features fashion-driven vulcanized looks, including wedges and ballerinas. “It’s another extension of our casual offering,” Paparo said.

The expanded kids’ collection and more frequent product flow are helping Nine West capture broader retail distribution. Independents, in particular, are a growing segment of the brand’s account base, said Paparo.

Lester’s Cohen said she was convinced to buy the line when she saw the changes. “[Paparo has] been in the kids’ business a long time and understands our customer well,” she said. “He’s really stepped up the quality and taken the styling in a more fashion-forward direction. The line fills some key needs for us, especially in the dress category.”

The positive feedback from its retail accounts is good news for Nine West, as it looks to build children’s footwear into a bigger piece of its business. “We regard our kids’ line as an important brand-enhancing opportunity,” Belle said. “It’s a part of our business in which we believe strongly and see a real growth opportunity for the future.”

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