In an increasingly challenging climate, the best children’s retailers are rising to the top. With compelling shopping experiences, uniquely curated assortments and an unmistakable cool factor, these stores — whether brick-and-mortar or online — are winning over today’s tough-to-please parents. Here, we highlight some of the world’s hottest shops, from New York to Tokyo.
Delivering the ultimate luxury shopping experience for families, this flashy, 10,000-square-foot emporium, which opened in April 2016 in Dubai’s City Walk mall, features a spa and salon, photo studio, birthday-party space, play area, concierge, in-house personal stylist and two restaurants. The store also hosts daily workshops and other special events.
The store spans three levels, and customers can shop more than 250 of the market’s trendiest brands, among them Dolce & Gabbana, Giuseppe Zanotti, Stella McCartney and Stuart Weitzman. Shoes are displayed in a sleek, safari-inspired space, outfitted with towering animal and tree sculptures.
“Our goal at Level Kids is to provide a holistic, multisensory retail journey, making you feel as if you’ve entered a world of wonders. We fully cater to kids [with an environment in which] they can discover, play and engage,” said GM Miral Youssef, noting that the store had a strong first year in business. “The return-visit rate has been phenomenal. Customers love the personalized experience, the unprecedented level of service and the convenience of everything being under one roof.”
Building on the store’s success, Level Kids plans to launch an e-commerce platform later this year. “We’re in a region with a very high Internet penetration, and Arab millennials are extremely digitally savvy. They want to access brands anywhere and everywhere,” Youssef explained. “Our site will be a seamless extension of our physical store experience.”
Looking to step up its kids’ shoe department, Selfridges called in the experts. The venerated department store, located on London’s Oxford Street, tapped footwear retail specialist Kurt Geiger to oversee the business beginning in 2015. The firm — which operates 170 department-store concessions worldwide — updated Selfridges’ kids’ area with a modern, playful design. The space features quirky details such as monster-teeth display tables and chairs fashioned from plush animals. In addition, more than 20 new brands were added to the assortment.
Through three generations, the Panconesi family has grown its business from a small hat boutique, opened in Florence, Italy, in 1930, into a global fashion empire spanning two flagships and a booming e-commerce site that reaches more than 180 countries. LuisaViaRoma has garnered a reputation for being a haven for the newest and most directional brands, and that extends to the children’s category, a fast-growing part of the company’s sales.
Specializing in classic styles with a modern edge, Papouelli operates a robust international e-commerce business and three London shops. Britain’s royal family launched the retailer into the limelight in a big way last year when Prince George was photographed several times in its shoes. “We are so honored that Prince William and Kate Middleton chose Papouelli. It’s given our brand an amazing boost, putting it on the world stage,” said co-founder Nicole Robinson. “I was in Portugal, at our shoe factory, when George wore our Barney loafers in Canada, and my phone started bleeping madly, with people around the world wanting to know about our shoes.”
New Yorker Jennifer Cattaui opened her Babesta boutique in 2001 to give hipster parents an alternative to the cutesy kids’ fare dominating the market at the time. She sourced under-the-radar clothing and shoe labels with a cool, rock ’n’ roll edge, showing parents a different side of the kids’ wear market. Last year, Babesta expanded into Brooklyn, with a third store in Brookfield Place.
French retailer Bonpoint has stores dotted around the world, but one location tops them all. Tucked away in Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, a historic, 17th-century mansion on Rue de Tournon has been transformed into a magical showcase for the brand’s upscale children’s wear and shoes. Each room is decorated with a different fairytale theme, including a woodland scene with real trees. The flagship also features a tearoom and restaurant that opens onto a terrace and courtyard garden.
FabKids stands out among the growing crop of subscription-based e-tailers by bringing together both clothing and shoes for perfectly coordinated outfits. The site curates trend-focused capsules, taking the guesswork out of the process for parents. “We help parents avoid those ‘Are we there yet?’ drives, dressing room meltdowns and long checkout lines,” said Maggie Dawkins, VP of merchandising and production. “Each month, parents receive a personalized email featuring head-to-toe outfits designed and styled by us. Outfits are sold as a bundle, so parents hardly have to think — it’s one click and done. Fewer errands, more fun.”
Since 1985, adult sneaker fans have flocked to Sportie LA on Los Angeles’ Melrose Avenue to get their hands on the hottest releases and most exclusive collaborations. In 2010, the retailer debuted a kids’ store, capitalizing on the growing demand for mini-me kicks. Now, owner Isack Fadlon has even bigger plans for the offshoot: The store is in the midst of a major remodel, set to be unveiled later this year. In the meantime, kids’ product is being sold at the main flagship.
Through the years, Nordstrom has remained the retail account that every kids’ brand wants to crack. The department store sets the bar high when it comes to its standout customer service and carefully edited assortment. Nordstrom is particularly regarded for its shoe departments — it got its start as a footwear store back in 1901, after all — where staffers still provide kids with what’s becoming increasingly rare: one-on-one, sit-and-fit service. “Nordstrom is synonymous with exceptional service,” said Ryan Ringholz, founder of Plae. “They put product quality, brand story and the customer first, and they’re strongly committed to driving the future of retail.”
Founded in 2006, Swedish e-tailer Babyshop quickly cornered the northern European market with its multi-category approach and expansive lineup of brands (more than 180 and counting). Now, it’s gunning for a global audience, and it has some serious new ammunition. The company recently acquired U.K. competitor Alex and Alexa — which has a well-established following in the U.S. — and formed The Luxury Kids Group. Combined, the sites ring up nearly $90 million in sales annually.
For more than 15 years, Journeys Kidz has managed to remain relevant and cool to the most fickle of consumers: kids. The Genesco Inc.-owned chain, which spans more than 180 locations, combines the hottest shoe brands with a fun in-store environment (think TV screens, cool music, contests and other special events). “Journeys always evolves with the changing marketplace to ensure they are attuned to their consumer’s needs,” said Ryan Clasen, senior director of sales for Vans. “Young kids are more active than ever on social media, and that influences the footwear and apparel they want to wear. Journeys understands that its customer is ready for the same on-trend styles worn by the people they look up to.”
San Francisco-based startup 33rd Republic’s mission is to make online shopping even easier and more efficient for time-pressed parents. Billed as “a giant online mall,” the site functions as a search engine and aggregator, allowing customers to access the assortments of nearly 80 different retailers, among them Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Nordstrom.
Instead of clicking from site to site, parents can shop and compare prices in one destination. “Shopping for kids can be daunting,” said Enitan Ladipo, the company’s CEO. “At 33rd Republic, we bring the stores to you. Customers can filter and virtually dig through thousands of products without needing to go to multiple unconnected sites. Our goal is to become the largest global aggregator of kids’ fashion for style-conscious parents.”
Created by French entrepreneur and mother Cécile Roederer in 2008, Smallable takes a family lifestyle approach, offering clothing, shoes and accessories for both children and women, as well as toys, furniture and home decor, from a staggering 600-plus brands. To complement the merchandise, Roederer and her team produce a digital magazine, providing style insights and inspirations, and partner with influential bloggers to deliver other unique content. In 2015, Smallable debuted a physical store in Paris, featuring special events as well as exclusive collaborations and designer capsules.
One of the early pioneers in the kids’ e-commerce space, Childrensalon built on the reputation of its high-end children’s emporium — opened in 1952 in England’s Royal Tunbridge Wells — to become a major global player. Last year alone, the company’s sales surged 52 percent to top $54 million. “We went online so early, and we just became very good at it by the time any competitors were anywhere near us,” noted CEO Michele Harriman-Smith (at left). In addition to the biggest designer names, Childrensalon also cultivates smaller, niche labels and emerging brands. Shoes are a key part of the assortment.
Former Vogue colleagues Luisana Mendoza-Roccia and Sylvana Durrett bring an editorial eye to the online shopping world with Maisonette, launched earlier this year. The site, which functions as a marketplace, targets digital-savvy millennial parents who prefer to do most of their shopping online. From the comfort of their couch, customers can access more than 40 influential boutiques around the world (among them Yoya in New York and Bobo Choses in Barcelona, Spain), along with a curated, direct-to-consumer selection.
“We realized that a hole existed in the market,” Durrett said about the motivation to launch the site. “There was no central online destination to connect busy customers with stylish, well-made children’s products, mainly because the market is very fragmented. Most of what’s available online is low-quality mass [goods] or expensive special-occasion wear. Product in between those segments is limited.” She added that Maisonette is meant to be a place of discovery. “This is the concept our site is based on. We do the legwork for our customers — we are constantly sourcing new brands and retailers to discover and [producing] unique editorial that brings our site and products to life.”
Billion-dollar online juggernaut Farfetch allows customers to literally shop the world from their computer screens, connecting them to more than 400 international luxury boutiques and brands. Last spring, the company made it a family affair, adding a kids’ offering. “There was a growing desire from our customers to be able to conveniently shop across all categories in one destination,” said Candice Fragis, buying and merchandising director, who noted that emotion is a big factor in the luxury children’s-wear boom that’s happening right now. “The sentiment of the ‘mini-me’ effect and that moment of dressing up with your child is a real draw for some. -Socially, it reflects the way we react to our general lifestyle. We buy nice houses, eat at great restaurants and travel to exotic places — buying patterns for children, in that environment, becomes an extension of that same behavior.”
After the birth of her first child, Paris native Nathalie Christen-Genty (above) — now a mother of five — found herself disappointed with the shopping options for kids. So she launched Melijoe in 2007 to bring other moms like herself the most directional children’s fashions from all corners of the world. What began as a small, domestic business has flourished into a global success story.
Last year, Melijoe was one of 10 companies selected by Google for the first edition of its Scale-Up program, which supports French tech firms in their international expansion. The U.S. currently represents Melijoe’s largest market outside of France, and to better assist clients here, the firm recently opened a customer service center in New York. Pop-up shops are also in the works for the city. “We keep pushing the envelope,” Christen-Genty said. “To keep on track and remain one of the leading destinations, we are constantly working on our brand image and communicating our unique, avant-garde vision of fashion.”
A rare gem amid Tokyo’s crowded retail scene, Sayegusa has been the local authority on luxury children’s fashion since 1869. Housed in a four-story, Meiji-period town house in the Ginza district, the well-appointed shop offers its own Japanese-made collection as well as imported offerings from brands such as Paul Smith, Little Marc Jacobs and Milk on the Rocks.