Best of Kids’: Brands to Know

Little shoes are big business. From inventive designers to clever product, Footwear News’ comprehensive look at the children’s market takes stock of the best and brightest.

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Independent Spirit
One highlight is a small but standout group of independent labels, including Pazitos, Twig, See Kai Run and Livie & Luca. They set themselves apart with shoes designed expressly for kids and their unique needs. Constructions are engineered for the healthy development of growing feet, while whimsical styling lets kids be kids.

Fit Expert
Stride Rite takes the science behind kids’ shoes seriously. To achieve the perfect fit and performance, the veteran brand’s design and development team puts new products through their paces, with extensive fit and wear tests on real-life, rough-and-tumble kids. The brand also collaborates with experts in the field. Stride Rite’s cornerstone STEP system was shaped by data and insight culled from a groundbreaking gait study conducted with biomechanical engineers, physical therapists and pediatric orthopedists.

Success Story
Pediped is the little company that could — and did. Nine years ago, founder Angela Edgeworth was a mom on a mission to design a better baby shoe. Today, her company is a powerhouse with more than 1,500 wholesale accounts in 40 countries, as well as its own fast-expanding network of branded shops. Better still, Pediped believes in paying its success forward: Through its philanthropic foundation, established in 2010, the firm has donated nearly $2 million to children’s charities.

With its colorful, mismatched shoes, Chooze aims to inspire kids to express their individuality. But the brand also has a grander mission: to empower women in poverty around the world. Through its partnership with Good Returns, Chooze invests its profits in microfinance institutions that provide education, support and loans to help women start their own businesses.

Category Driver
When Japanese brand Tsukihoshi brought its children’s collection to the U.S. in 2005, it sparked a new category: colorful, ultra-lightweight sneakers with kid-driven convenience features such as Velcro closures and machine washability. Since then, a number of children’s players have added similar product, allowing them to capture a small piece of a market long dominated by athletic giants.

Most Creative
Tapping into his background as a toy designer, Zooligans creator Joel Rusnak puts the fun back in children’s footwear. His clever collection of animal-themed looks, launched last year, takes shoes far beyond function. With their 3-D details, paw-printing bottoms and “pet carrier” boxes, Zooligans have that special something that gets youngsters excited to put on their shoes each morning.

Savvy Marketer
For a small brand with a smaller budget, Umi flexes some serious marketing muscle. With the help of ad agency Cricket Design Works, the label has crafted a compelling campaign that targets moms where they live: on parenting blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Sophisticated branding and imagery combined with engaging lifestyle content help spread the message naturally.

Coolest Collaboration
Vans rocked the playground in 2010 when it rolled out a collection of kids’ — and even a few adult — sneakers featuring characters from the popular preschool TV series “Yo Gabba Gabba.” Last month saw the release of the fourth edition of the collaboration, which recently nabbed a Licensing Excellence award from the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association and boasts famous fans including Gwen Stefani and Randy Jackson.

Trend Setter
At a time when the line between the women’s and girls’ markets are getting blurred, Nina Kids has found the right balance. The New York firm stands out among the crowd of adult brands making children’s shoes for its deft filtering of fashion. Overseen by chief creative officer Nina Miner, the line never misses a step on the latest trends but interprets them in an age-appropriate way.

Clever Concepts
Butler’s new line of kids’ overboots (below) debut next month. An updated take on classic galoshes, the lightweight boots stretch to fit over kids’ shoes to keep feet dry. And newcomer Bumbums & Baubles gives girls the power to customize their footwear with interchangeable decorative ornaments. The brand’s colorful, collectible “baubles” come in motifs such as bows, butterflies and flowers.

European Flair
Though the recession dramatically diminished the number of European children’s collections distributed in the States, a small contingent remains, among them Primigi, Kickers, Naturino, Geox and Venettini. Offering sophisticated silhouettes, luxurious materials and impeccable details, these lines boast serious shelf appeal.


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