Article written by Parsons Faculty member, and panel moderator, Caletha Crawford.
On March 9th, Parsons hosted an “Inside Children’s Wear” panel, highlighting the interesting design challenges, creative opportunities and varied career options in the kids’ market. The panel was comprised of Michi Raab, director of talent acquisition at Polo Ralph Lauren; Amy Pang, design director for 7 for All Mankind Kids; Sebastien de Hutten, event director for Playtime Trade Shows; Terra Fazio, owner of Thread showroom; Ashleigh Crawford, vice president of children’s design at Ralph Lauren; Michelle Copelman, accessories designer and brand buyer at Crewcuts; and Joey Casey, store manager and designer at Yoyamart. Having made the switch from women’s wear to children’s wear during her design career, panel organizer, Francesca Sammaritano, Parsons assistant professor, specializing in children’s wear, said her goal is to inspire more students to focus on this sector of the market. The panel, which was moderated by children’s apparel expert Caletha Crawford, discussed the design, sales, marketing and retail factors that contribute to a brand’s success. Participants also shared advice that would serve entry-level candidates well in any industry.
Copelman, who is a recent Parsons grad, had a women’s wear focus but soon found her dream job at J. Crew’s kids’ label. She urged the audience to research the myriad facets of children’s wear to discover opportunities beyond the big-name brands and stores with which they might already be familiar. “If you’re looking to become a gazillionaire over night and have some Alexander Wang story, that’s one thing” she said. “But if you’re just looking to have a career, build up a brand and tell your side of the story, there’s a lot more in between [Barney’s and Kmart].” Copelman credits this realization to attending children’s wear trade shows like de Hutten’s Playtime New York, where she discovered specialty boutiques such as Little Sunshine, Sweet William and Yoyamart.
For aspiring designers who might be afraid that children’s wear would banish them to a land of cutesy and whimsy, the panel affirmed that the quality and sophistication in this segment are on par with women’s wear. As an example, Fazio pointed to the evolving tastes of grandmothers, who have long been the customers to uphold the sweet, simplistic end of the market. “Grandma has changed, and the design aesthetic from the grandma’s perspective has changed so the fuzzy teddy bear market is smaller than the contemporary takedown,” she said.
From a practical standpoint, Raab implored students to consider specialized areas of design like men’s wear, children’s wear and accessories as a way to increase their job prospects. “Design schools crank out primarily women’s wear designers, and when we’re looking for a really good children’s wear designer, it is a lot harder for us to find [them].” While she noted that having a degree in their specialized area of choice isn’t imperative, she said it helps signal prospective employers that applicants truly have a passion for their chosen field.
After the hour-long panel presentation concluded, students were given an opportunity to pose their own questions, which exposed their very pragmatic concerns. In response to a student’s query about the long hours and egos found in women’s wear, the panel agreed that while still demanding, children’s wear allows for a better work/life balance and provides a friendlier environment. Another student wanted to know if children’s wear designers have to like children. While deep maternal instincts aren’t necessary, Crawford noted, students should recognize that they will work with pint-sized fit models throughout the design process.
The entire panel discussion is available for viewing on YouTube.