The childrenswear Merchandise Manager for Farmers Department Store, Rob Taurima sat down with Apparel Magazine to discuss the complexities of this sector of the fashion industry, as well as the group’s plans to rejuvenate their holdings in the coming years.
Taurima has been with Farmers for almost twenty years and has spent time in a variety of different departments. He communicated that the skills you attain in one area are very transferable and have given him a unique understanding of buying. “Toys was an area I worked in for many years, and there have been a lot of parallels between this and the children’s wear sector,” he shared. “Toys is almost more fashion and fad based than clothing. Kids can be very fickle; they will drop something in toys almost overnight, which can be difficult to invest in.” This understanding of what kids look for has helped Taurima understand the children’s wear sector at Farmers and see where changes need to be made. “Kids have more access to pop culture now, so they are coming to terms with what their preferences are a lot earlier than previous generations,” explained Taurima. “Generally, and historically, we have stuck to what works, those classic designs, and that is what we are challenging. We are looking to broaden our perspectives a bit.” The brand intends to make these changes by looking ahead to trends such as upcoming films, games releases and celebrities, all things kids engage with and will be searching for once the fad takes hold. However, Taurima also communicated that this new focus would not mean the elimination of the store’s prior focus on more traditional children’s wear. “It is a balancing act,” he said. “We will not be flipping to a totally seasonal business with new ranges every six months because, especially in kid’s wear, there are core shapes and looks that tend to be timeless.”
Changes are also expected to be seen in the group’s handling of the immense variety of ages their children’s wear department caters to. The age bracket for the Farmers childrenswear consumer ranges from newborns to aged 14, with a plan to push forward into 16 in the coming seasons. “Part of the changes we are going through is putting a much bigger distinction between what we would offer the younger age brackets to the older ones,” divulged Taurima. “For the older kids we haven’t really moved on from the more juvenile and cutesy styling into more ‘mini-me’ styling, and that is what we are trying to achieve.” This refocusing is relevant both for the company’s house brands and will be affecting the way they look at potential stock listings. The changes mean a new perspective on what is stylish for kids, looking beyond tropes which have become overused and unenthralling. “We want the boys to look cool and suave without giving them too much attitude, we want to give them time to be kids,” Taurima clarified. “For the girls, it is about having mums and older sisters to look at the products and think, I wish they did that in my size.” The rejuvenation of their children’s wear sector aims to attract and retain consumers who see themselves represented by the company and will stay with them into adulthood.
A part of making these changes, and a particularly important thing for brands looking to enter the Farmers holding to remember, is finding that balance between stylishness and what is age-appropriate. “These things need to be modern and contemporary but age-appropriate, and that is the balance we are trying to strike,” emphasised Taurima. A part of marketing a childrenswear label is remembering that the core consumer, particularly in the 0-7 range, is still the parent. “While we do need to appeal to the child, we do think of the parent first,” he said. “The main thing that makes a customer shop at farmers, I would hope, is trust. If something goes wrong trusting that Farmers will look after you, trusting the product, trusting the quality and that resonates a lot in what we do. In terms of choosing brands, it is very much a decision-maker for us.”
When looking at new brands to stock, there are several features which Taurima is hunting for. “The New Zealand made thing is always something we would like to do, as it is quite a romantic concept for most Kiwis,” related the buyer. However, he also shared the difficulty in partnering with most New Zealand made companies as more often than not the human resources behind them is not enough to fuel such a large order. “The small kiwi brands you see, most of them are not able to produce on the scale we need. While their brand may work for a single door retailer, it does not work for Farmers.” New Zealand made or not, the most important thing for Taurima, and for Farmers, is finding a brand with cut-through. “If customers are asking us for a brand and we don’t have it, that is a very compelling reason for us to try and stock that brand.” This point of difference varies for every brand: media presence, a strong social message or a resonating sustainability piece can all drive customer appeal, and there is nothing more convincing for a retailer than an existing and passionate consumer base.
Overall the call from customers is for change, and Taurima and his team are ready to make it. “Customers are sick of being told that their girl must wear pink and their boy must wear blue. They want to decide that for themselves and need a bit more variety than skateboards and fire trucks for boys and butterflies and ponies for girls.” Farmers are looking to breathe life into their children’s wear sector, presenting an extraordinary opportunity for brands looking for a substantial retail opportunity. “We have had quite traditional handwriting and mindsets in the past, and we want to change the narrative a bit, both in terms of our house brands and those outside brands we stock.”