While the conventional children's sales grew by just 0.3 per cent, reaching pounds 3.178bn last year, the sports and leisure sector rose by about 10 per cent to pounds 1.4bn, according to Verdict Research, a consultants specialising in the retail trade. Replica football kits alone brought in pounds 150m last year, and the branded sportswear market as a whole is growing by 10 per cent a year, according to the report. On present trends, sportswear will make up 40 per cent of the entire sector within a few years, it predicts.
Hardest hit has been the small independent retailer, Verdict's chairman, Richard Hyman, said. "Ten years ago kids did not give a hoot about brand names. Now they are very fashion-conscious. The traditional stores have allowed competition from the sports and leisure shops to take trade from them. We are looking at how the high-street stores are responding and why children are wearing Adidas and Nike on their chests and not St Michael, for instance."
Demand for conventional clothing is affected by the falling birthrate, which is expected to drop by a further 9 per cent in the next 10 years. Supermarkets, led by Asda and its George brand, Tesco's Items and the recently launched Kids Own at Safeway, are taking a significant share of the market, Verdict says. But they are never likely to be "destination outlets", trade jargon for the places where children want their parents to shop. Specialist chains such as JJB Sports and JD Sports are more favoured.
Next and Gap win praise for re-engineering adult styling for smaller bodies but Marks & Spencer, the largest single childrenswear retailer, gets low marks for conservative styling and high prices. Bhs gets better marks for style but has failed to increase its sales.