Opportunities in nurserywear

Fruit of the Loom Kids Sofspun T
Fruit of the Loom Kids Sofspun T

With the government expanding funded nursery places and childcare hours, nurseries and preschools continue to spring up and expand. Sara McDonnell looks at the kinds of clothes that might be needed by these potential printwear clients.

The number of under-fives attending nursery or some form of daycare is on the increase and that increase is set to continue. According to the latest data from market researchers LaingBuisson, the total number of children attending nurseries was up 6.5% between the years 2012/13 and 2013/14. The nursery market in the UK overall was worth £4.9bn in 2013/14, an increase of 4% in real terms on the previous year.

This significant increase is hardly surprising, seeing as the government has been expanding its funding of free childcare for under-fives. Currently, all three to four year olds in England can get 570 hours of free childcare per year, which usually works out as 15 hours per week for 38 weeks of the year (i.e. during term time). The government plans to start rolling out 30 hours of free childcare per week for three to four year olds from 2016.

Along with this we have also seen over the last few decades, an increase in the number of schools adopting uniforms. In recently published guidelines for school uniforms, the Department for Education said it ‘strongly encourages schools to have a uniform as it can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone.’ This rise in popularity has filtered down to nurseries, and many schools now have a nursery version of their uniforms in the form of a polo shirt, sweatshirt or T shirt.

Get covered in paint

However, it’s not just nurseries attached to schools that can adopt a uniform. Many private nurseries are starting to adopt their own branded nurserywear for children, even if it’s only a branded T shirt to stop their normal clothes from getting dirty.

While there are some who object to the idea of their child wearing a uniform at such a young age, there are advantages for parents and nurseries. For parents, a recognisable T shirt that they don’t have to spend hours negotiating with their toddler in the morning about putting on, and which can get covered in paint without it mattering too much, can actually make life easier than their child wearing their normal clothes. For nurseries, branded clothing gives an increased identity and can provide additional assistance to care workers taking children outside of the nursery setting.

Children’s garments are available from many suppliers, and in ever smaller sizes. The Mini range of clothes from Mantis World, for example, offers T shirts, polo shirts, hoodies and long-sleeved T shirts from age two upwards. Its baby range offers hoodies and sweatshirts for infants aged six months to three years. Kids Wholesale Clothing offers T shirts, polos, hoodies and a wide range of other baby and kidswear from newborn upwards. Gildan, Fruit of the Loom and Hanes also offer T shirts for toddlers. Hanes’ infant toddler tee caters for six months onwards.

Durability is important

Apart from age-appropriate sizing, what other things are nurseries likely to look for when sourcing clothes for their children? While price will of course be a key factor; durability is very important. A nursery’s image will suffer if the branded clothing it sells to parents falls apart or fades after the first wash. Some brands offer extra protection against shrinkage – which will go down well with the parent of a growing child. Hanes’ Authentic Tagless Kids Cotton T-shirt, for example, is preshrunk to avoid shrinkage, is tag-free and has the seams at the neck covered, with shoulder-to-shoulder taping, to reinforce the seams. Many other brands offer similar features.

Stedman Stars JAMIE
Stedman Stars JAMIE

Safety will be paramount; a nursery would be deemed irresponsible if the clothing is dangerous in any way. Plus, with many young children prone to allergies, nurseries may be particularly mindful of avoiding any harsh chemicals used in the dyeing process, or be keen to use organic materials where possible. Childrenswear suppliers are increasingly aware of this and there are now ranges of children’s clothing that adhere to the Oeko-Tex 100 standard, which means they’ve been tested for harmful substances. The Babybugz and Mantis Mini ranges from Mantis World, for example, all adhere to the highest Oeko-Tex standards which mean that they are produced in an environmentally friendly way as well. The recently launched Stedman Stars Jamie crew neck T-shirt for kids is made from 100% organic cotton, certified to the Organic Content Standard 100. Continental Clothing’s Earth Positive range – with its organic cotton, reduced carbon footprint and Fair Wear labels – also includes babywear and kids T shirts.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that nurseries are duty bound to let children have access to outdoor space. Guidance provided for Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) providers states that childcare settings ‘must provide access to an outdoor play area or, if that is not possible, ensure that outdoor activities are planned and taken on a daily basis.’ So while T shirts/ polos/ sweatshirts might suffice for some settings, there may be some nurseries that wish to provide more substantial wear for its children, such as cardigans or jackets.

There is a variety of kids waterproofs and fleece jackets to choose from. For those who take their kids on rainy adventures, there is Regatta’s all-in-one Kids Paddle Rain Suit, or jacket and trouser set, the Kids Rain Suit. B&C offers a windbreaker jacket which can pack away into a small bag (aged 3-4 upwards). Result has a range of kids’ jackets, also available for children aged 3-4 upwards, from its Core PU coated waterproof jacket with microfleece lining to its newly launched hooded soft shell jacket. Its reversible storm stuff jacket is available from the younger age of 2-3. On the fleece front, Fruit of the Loom and Jerzees are two brands that offer kids’ zip fleeces from age 3-4.

When taken outside of the nursery setting for trips to say, the local park or museum, some nurseries will want to keep their children visible with a hi-vis tabard – brands such as Result and Yoko (supplied by BTC activewear) offer these in small sizes.

Even when not outdoors, it’s unlikely that a child’s clothes are safe from dirt. As any parent with young kids will testify, there are a million ways in which a young child can get dirty. Gone are the days when childcare meant keeping children as tidy as possible – nowadays nurseries actively encourage messy play in which preschoolers can explore paint, glue, sand and water without impunity. Childcare providers are also required to encourage independence, which means encouraging children to feed themselves, hold their own cups etc. At this tender age, messy eating is almost inevitable. And that’s not even going into leaking nappies… Dirty clothes are a fact of life for your average preschooler and it’s likely that clothes will need to be washed after just one wear.

Aprons for messy play

For this purpose, some nurseries may want to provide aprons and bibs for the kids. Result’s CORE range has a smock for budding artists and branded baby bibs are also increasingly available, such as the Bella Reversible Bib, Larkwood Reversible Bandana Bib (both available from PenCarrie), or the BabyBugz range of bibs (available from BTC activewear).

Regatta’s all-in-one Kids Paddle Rain Suit
Regatta’s all-in-one Kids Paddle Rain Suit

While branded kidswear is unlikely to cause too much of a problem for screen or direct to garment printers, embroiderers of babywear may need special frames that enable the embroidery of smaller garments. To this end, embroiderers might want to consider frames such as the Hoopmaster infant station (available from Stocks), which is specifically for embroidering baby and toddler clothing, or Fast Frames from GS UK, which when used with Filmoplast backing, allows for embroidery onto the very small garments.

Bear in mind that it’s not just the children who might need a uniform in a nursery setting. Nursery staff might need a uniform as well – it can help with the visibility of staff to young children, and also be a way for the staff to protect their own clothes from the inevitable mess that comes with the job.

When it comes to caring for small children, practicality and comfort will almost certainly take precedence over style; and in settings with very young children, a T shirt or sweatshirt is far more appropriate than a smart shirt and blazer. Staff are likely to be subjected to the mess that comes with working with small children, so as with nurserywear, staff uniforms need to be hard wearing and amenable to a heavy washing schedule. In fact, when sourcing clothes for the carers, nurseries may well apply the same criteria for the adult clothes as they do for the children.

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