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Dressing children up

Style baby

JUNIOR FASHION: Dresses by Chota Pero. (Below) A creation by Nee & Oink

Children's clothing is a growing market, but while international brands sell miniature versions of adult creations, Indian labels score with their emphasis on comfortable and fun designs.

Children's clothing has become a focus for many international brands. Walk around any international department store and you will see brands like Burberry, Gucci and Dior have all opened stores-within-stores especially for younger clients. However, they make mini-me versions of the adult-size classics they are known for - be it a checked trench, leather loafers or aviatorstyle sunglasses. Many Indian designers now have such mini-me ranges of clothes - be it Sabyasachi or Gauri & Nainika. The reason for this growth has probably been more due to economics than anything else. Children's clothing has proven to be more resilient to adverse market conditions, compared to their grown-up counterparts. A mother may think twice before buying a new dress or sari for herself, but not when it comes to her child. That is a natural reaction and of course all the big brands are ready to cash in on this.

But today there's also home-grown Indian children's wear which places less emphasis on being designer and more on being natural and organic. There is Chota Pero, Good Earth's Gumdrops, The Almirah and Nee & Oink, to name a few. What's interesting is that they do not do mini-me versions but work on organic clothes made for children. Says Aneeth Arora, the designer behind Cheto Pero, "If designers make replicas of adult clothing for kids and make kids look grown-up before their age, isn't that food for thought?" For her, children's clothing is all about comfort and that is what these home brands seem to have in common.

Natural and organic fabrics naturally work better for the gentle skin of a child. They also lend themselves to a very earthy and boho look. So in a way they have the direct opposite feel of the big brands' styles. They make clothes that are made to be played in, and are all about wash-and-wear. Most importantly it means that mothers are no longer waiting for relatives from abroad to send clothes for their growing children.

Also these 'Made in India' brands cater to our needs. The Indian wardrobe is perhaps among the most complex. It is something that still perplexes international brands. It is the reason that our own Indian designers and brands are still flourishing despite the influx of international brands. A sari will sit next to a little black dress, a kurta next to a T-shirt. For men the kurta is interchangeable with the shirt or polo, and the bandhgala with a tuxedo or formal suit. The home-grown children's brands know this and come out with collections tuned to the Indian market - be it a festive, wedding or a monsoon collection. As Neelakshi and Oiendrila Ray, co-founders of Nee and Oink, say, "Home-grown brands definitely have a finger on the pulse of their target demographics compared to international brands. The needs and sensibilities of any market are nuanced. "

The whole concept of dressing children up and making them wear "designer wear" may seem decadent. (And I have some friends whose children who aren't even five years old but know what a Burberry tartan or a Gucci Bamboo bit is) But these home-gown brands make the emphasis comfort and fun. Whether it is The Almirah's use of fun pink elephants or Gumdrops 'Miya Mithoo' range which, when loosely translated, means Mr Parrot, these clothes also make dressing (which can be a chore when it comes to children) fun! Some of these clothes even play on characters from Indian mythology - so you can dress, have fun and learn. What is interesting is that most of these brands have been started by mothers who were already in the design business. Like Simran Lal of Good Earth, who is the brain behind Gumdrops. Almirah is now two stores large in Delhi and was started by Divya Bajpai, a designer with 20 years experience, and her daughter Aditi. Sisters Neelakshi Ray and Oiendrila Ray were looking for partywear for their own children and started Nee and Oink when they couldn't find it. This brand is now available in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. With specialist multi-brand stores like Kidology and MAL increasing, it's great news for these brands.

International brands have found they have to co-exist with Indian designers - and this seems to be happening now with children's wear. It is a trend that we should be proud of. No matter what your age, 'Made in India' is something to wear with pride!

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