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By Dana Turner, Hudson's Magazine


Sunny Forecast for Rain Gear Market

There was a time when wearing a raincoat was associated with wearing basic utility wear. The colors were limited to school bus yellow or navy blue. But not anymore! Today the rain gear industry is booming with innovation. There's a new crop of designs that are redefining how much fun "singing in the rain" can really be.

Within the past 10 years there's been a creative explosion in the rain gear market for kids. That's because designers have found that the key to kids actually wanting to wear their raincoats and boots is found in the fashion. Lisa O'Toole, President of Wippette Kids, says, "Twenty years ago we decided that we wanted to do cute, fashionable coats. At that time they only had the really basic parka look for kids, but nothing really fun. That's when we decided to take this flicker fabric and make some really cool, fun, fashionable coats out of it."

Wippette Kids, founded in 1988, was on to something when they put together the formula of fashion meets flicker. Their designs for Spring 2008 include coats, boots and umbrellas with names like Dino Fright, Berry Sweet, Butterfly Bubbles, Funky Frog, Firefighter and Butterfly Stripe. Kids seem to have a special connection with whimsical characters they simply can't resist. In addition to coats, Wippette Kids also sells coordinates like bags, hats, umbrellas and rain boots.

Rob Moehring, President of Washington Shoe Company, has found the same trends with his Children's rain gear lines, Western Chief and Chooka. "There's something about babies, kitties and puppies that elicits an innate attraction to them. The kids approach the boots like they are their friends rather than a utility item," he says. The Washington Shoe Company certainly knows the rain business. Located in the heart of the rain country, Seattle, WA, they've been manufacturing rain gear and rubber boots since 1891.

Currently the state of the children's rain gear market is in a huge state of growth, despite the fact that retail is having a tough time now. "We've doubled in size and have been a profitable company the entire time - even in what I would call a desolate market right now," says Nancy Gut, Assistant Operations Manager for Kidorable.

The first trend is that rain gear is now fashion wear worn in women's and older kids. The second major trend is that children's rain gear is expanding into the character market. Rob of Washington Shoe says, "Kids want fun and novel whimsical products and want to wear fun and whimsical stuff. We've found continuous growth here."

The fact is that kids today want to be unique and manufacturers are taking notice. There are more companies than ever in this niche market. Part of the uniqueness is offering rain gear products that go beyond the basic coat. Wippette Kids is getting requests for coordinates, and Lisa adds, "We have a coat that has and applique horse on the front that is done in velvet with fringes on the sleeves. There will be lots of printing for Spring 2008."

In fact, the market is growing so quickly that the industry is becoming flooded with copycat competitors. It's not uncommon, for instance, to see several different versions of a ladybug, frog or dinosaur children's raincoat in the stores. For this reason manufacturers are quick to point out that not every ladybug raincoat or boot is the same. "There is certainly a lot of competition," Nancy of Kidorable says. "I have had the opportunity to see a lot of our competitors' product and you just can't compare it. We have tremendous attention to detail, attention to quality and it's backed by a company that believes in customer service."

Although weather is an obvious factor when selling raincoats, manufacturers in the children's rain gear market have found that kids will wear their product year round no matter what the weather is. Nancy continues, "We don't think of ourselves as seasonal. Kidorable sells because of its uniqueness and the fact that it's cute. The fact that it's practical is just an added bonus." Parents often write to companies with stories of how they can't get their child to take off their rain boots. Rob says, "I remember running into a kid in Seattle. It was 100 degrees out and the kid had shorts on with our Dalmatian boots. The Mom says, 'Tommy loves the puppy boots so much he wears them everywhere.'"

The forecast for the future of the children's rain gear market is a bright one. Rob continues, "When you consider the bell curve and the growth of a product group, we haven't gone even half way up on the growth side." As global warming becomes an increasing factor, he also adds rain gear manufacturers will have ample opportunity to prepare for extreme weather, so to speak. "Just when you think you can't do anything else or anything new with vinyl, we find new things," says Lisa of Wippette Kids. "Whether it's using a new embroidered patch or heat seal, you can still have a lot of fun."

In a time when kids are pressured to grow up faster than ever, nothing makes more sense than simply allowing kids to be kids. "I'm happy because we've had the whole 'dressing-your-kids-like-miniature-rock-stars' phase, and that has definitely affected our business," Lisa says. "There seems to be the trend now for kids to dress younger." Nancy of Kidorable says, "We basically have given them something that looks cool and they feel cool in, too. The kids get to splash around in puddles and Mom is okay with that."

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