Gen Alpha is growing up. How are kids brands meeting the demands of millennial parents?
Today's moms and dads are expressing their identities — and that of their young kids — through the brands they shop with.
The next generation of shoppers — Gen Alpha — are just growing up. Born any time after 2010 (the same year that Warby Parker launched), these are the offspring of millennials, and their shopping habits are already being shaped by the types of products their parents are buying for them.
A host of new kids brands have launched to meet the needs of today’s youngsters — or, perhaps more accurately, the desires of their demanding parents who hold the purse strings. Sensing an opportunity, venture capitalists have been pouring money into these nascent businesses.
Lalo, which makes high chairs and other baby and toddler-friendly furniture, has now raised $5.6 million in total, following its most recent funding round in July. Also in the summer, nursery brand Nestig scored $1.3 million in seed funding to expand its product range beyond the cribs it launched with in 2020, and shoe brand Ten Little, which can predict when kids need new shoes, raised $5 million. In February, kid’s products marketplace Maisonette landed $30 million to help it take on the $49 billion U.S. children’s apparel market, and Dopple, which sells kid’s clothing via subscription, raised $9.8 million in April.
Big brands are trying to play catch-up, too. At the start of October, the beauty giant Coty announced it was launching Kylie Baby, a sister brand to Kylie Cosmetics, which it acquired in 2019. In June, cleaning giant and Dettol maker Reckitt Benckiser launched Little Yawn Collective, which makes natural sleep products such as pillow sprays and calming body washes. A year earlier, P&G launched a millennial-focused diaper brand, All Good, exclusively at Walmart.
Babies and toddlers tend not to really care about the wider, curated lifestyle aesthetic that their clothes fit into, nor do they take a view as to whether their toys are sending out the right messages about their wider ethical and personal values. But their parents do.
Dopple’s clothing mimics the same designs that their parents might wear, while the jewelry from Super Smalls, launched by former Elle magazine accessories director Maria Dueñas Jacobs, looks like play versions of the glitzy rings and necklaces from high-end brands. Super Smalls is also tapping into references that parents will remember from their own childhood — its nail kit, for example, contains a bright yellow dryer that looks more like Pac-Man character than a device you’d find at a salon.
“When we conceptualized Super Smalls, we really leaned into nostalgia — Super Mario Brothers, Pac-Man, classic branding from the 80s and 90s — that would appeal to millennial adults,” says Dueñas Jacobs. “Our packaging is also magnetic and reusable to give the luxury ‘wow’ effect of fine jewelry brands like Tiffany or Cartier.”
New parents who have spent their 20s and 30s hacking their own health with natural remedies and “clean” foods can share that interest with their children, via the supplements on offer from brands like Begin Health or Hiya, or a new raft of baby food brands that are focusing on whole foods.
Meanwhile, qualifiers such as carbon neutral, zero sugar, made-to-last and derived from natural materials or ingredients are commonly affixed to these brands’ products. Their visual language, meanwhile, also tries to remain familiar, mirroring the pastel colors, san-serif fonts and minimalist designs of other direct-to-consumer brands targeting this cohort of shoppers for their own needs.
“Millennial parents are expecting everything to be smoother, to communicate effectively, to look and feel the way they expect it to,” says Madeline Lauf, the founder of Begin Health, which sells prebiotic supplements for kids. “These older brands just don’t do that. They haven’t innovated that well, and their digital experience isn’t awesome.”
Brands that can deliver on the high expectations of millennial parents are likely to find their efforts rewarded. A Super Smalls necklace costs $37 — a price point that is apparently not fazing parents. According to the brand, revenues rose 416% year-on-year in the 2020 holiday season.
A great product and beautifully designed website are one part of the equation, but today’s parents are used to interacting with brands on a whole different level. They also want brands to provide them with a talking point — or even a meeting place — that can help them connect with other parents.
According to luxury fashion ecommerce platform Farfetch, 46% of millennial parents turn to social media when looking for kids’ clothing ideas. They’ve even helped their kids build up their own online presence, with 22% of Farfetch shoppers with kids under the age of 13 saying their children have their own social media accounts.
Lauf says Begin Health has two communities on Facebook with a few hundred members each, where parents congregate to talk about their children’s potty habits. She says that while older generations of parents might have wanted to keep a problem like this private, parents today “want to know that they’re in this together with other parents, that they’re not alone.”
“Millennials want to have that connected experience around a brand,” she explains. “Who are the other parents using this brand, and what journey are they on? What worked for them? What are their recommendations and how can I contribute to that community?”
Community-building efforts from brands can range from the light touch to more highly organized efforts. Simply stating a point of view around topics such as diversity or sustainability can be enough to bring parents on board; moms and dads that want to signal their environmental conscientiousness might turn to rental service Loop Baby, of example, while parents who want to teach their children about female empowerment may look to Piccolina for its stated mission around equality.
Each week, Super Smalls makes a point to reshare content that parents have posted of their kids opening up their new goodies or modeling the brand's jewelry on its own Instagram stories. “We love seeing parents share unboxing videos and user-generated content,” Dueñas Jacobs says. “Aesthetics, packaging and branding are important — as is creating a relationship with the customers. As a relatively new brand, building trust and common language is key.”
Lalo, meanwhile, has gone one step further, launching a “product council” in May 2021, which saw the brand bring together a group of 15 parents that are now consulted on any new product launches. In exchange for their time, these parents receive free products — and the hope is, they’ll pass on their recommendations to other parents.
The pandemic has only made these sorts of additional touches more widespread. In April 2020, a few weeks into the U.K.’s lockdown, children’s bedroom decoration brand Pea decided to send out seeds to customers that had signed up to its “Adventure Club” (which had, until then, provided printable activities for children and parents). Cofounder Claire Quigley Ward says the brand sent out 8,000 packets of seeds during the few weeks that the promotion was running.
“We were conscious of the fact children were suddenly stuck at home, for some [that meant] living in flats with limited access to nature and not a lot to do,” she says. “It was one of those things that helped us talk to people at a brand level rather than just a product level.”