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October 18, 2017
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Three young models from Global Kids Fashion Week. Source: globalkidsfashionweek.com.

Suri Cruise, the sole offspring of actor and Scientology crusader Tom Cruise and girl next door turned face of Bobbi Brown, Katie Holmes, is one of the most talked about celebrities of the moment. Her daily outfits are analysed and scrutinised. She often features on multiple blogs dedicated to the miniature fashionista and can be found regularly present on the best-dressed lists of major international magazines. Her style is admired the world over and imitated by thousands. Suri Cruise is a fashion icon. Yet she is just seven years old.

Suri Cruise with mother Katie Holmes
Source: vanityfair.com.

The tiny tot's presence on the celebrity fashion scene has been immeasurable. However, the constant coverage of Suri's sense of style is indicative of the growing influence children are having in an industry that was never really meant for them.

Earlier this year, Charlotte Philby reported for The Independent that the British children's fashion market was now worth an estimated £6.5bn, with the international market worth over £65bn. Children's fashion is becoming bigger than ever. Parents, it would seem, are increasingly concerned with what their children are seen wearing than in previous years.

These statistics were undoubtedly at the forefront of the minds of organisers for the first ever Global Kids Fashion Week, which took place in London last March. The show drew in international crowds, who watched styled children strut down the runways in clothes worth thousands of pounds from the likes of Missoni, Hugo Boss, Roberto Cavalli and Marc Jacobs to name just a few.

Children's clothing and accessories website AlexandAlexa.com was the driving force behind the event. Founder Alex Theophanous explains his company's motives for the fashion week on the GKFW website: "Kids' fashion is playful, fun and innovative - we all believe it deserves its own dedicated platform. […] With this event, we aim to put children's fashion on the map worldwide."

Related: Vogue's New Rules On Young Models: A Futile Effort?

Yet in presenting an event in which children's fashion is admired, judged and critiqued like that of the adult world, the question arises as to whether the supposed 'playful' and 'fun' elements are subsequently removed from the criteria as a result. This is perhaps why GKFW organisers chose to place significant emphasis on the "playful activities" that accompanied the runway shows, including photo booths, stage performances organised by the V&A and a Little Bu nail varnish lounge. The emphasis was to remind audiences that the children walking the catwalk in front of their judging eyes were in fact just that: children. They were not the svelte runway professionals that designers long to drape their handcrafted fabrics over, but simply little legs just having fun.

It could be argued, though, that this sense of fun was merely a distraction from the worrying sense of what children's fashion has in fact become. In August 2011, ten-year-old model Thylane Loubry Blondeau's photo shoot in French Vogue caused international uproar. The high fashion shoot showed the pre-teen in full make up, sophisticated hair up-do and high heels posing for a range of different shots. The photos led to comments across various publications about the disturbing nature of the Vogue spread and the bad taste in which the magazine had executed the use of very young models.

When the creative lines are purposely blurred in the modelling direction, ensuring the child on the runway is protected is ultimately  what remains key.

In immediate response to the outrage that her daughter's posing had caused, Veronika Loubry told French journalist Jean-Marc Morandini, "My daughter isn't even naked, no need to blow this out of proportion!" She was later forced to close down the ten-year-old's Facebook page, however, to "protect" her daughter following the suggestion of inappropriate activity from viewers of the young model's pictures. 

Writing on Thylane's Facebook page, her mother stated that "Thylane doesn't know about the buzz and I want to protect her from the bottom of my heart…she's so young." When the creative lines are purposely blurred in the modelling direction, ensuring the child on the runway is protected efficiently is ultimately what remains key.

It is quite likely that the organisers of GKFW were fully aware of the controversy that French Vogue had caused with Thylane Loubry Blondeau's photo shoot, and aimed to learn from past mistakes. However, it cannot go ignored that when placing a child in the adult world of high fashion modelling, it exposes that young person to the very grown up risk of abuse.

With the Jimmy Savile scandal leaving indelible ripples on British society, awareness of child protection has certainly grown. Although it may seem fun to put a young child on the runway - offering children's fashion a chance to perform on the global stage - there is a very definite danger that must be considered, while trying not to overshadow the innocence of childhood.

For Erica Tashiro, child photographer and owner of child-focused street style blog Hide and Go (Style), it is all about capturing the essence of those early years rather than extinguishing it. The photographer, who was first inspired to begin her blog after working in a kindergarten, claims on her website that children's fashion demonstrates style void of impressions and expectations and the blog aims to seek out "the kids who dress to not impress."

Speaking to The Genteel, Tashiro explains, "To me, style is not about designer labels and expensive price tags - it is much more about how the person wears it and expresses themselves. Whether the child chooses what they wear or not, children definitely walk the streets wearing what they do with more confidence than adults. They are not as exposed to trends and designers as we are."

Related: Two Mothers, Two Children and a Jewellery Company

Her photographs aim to show real kid's fashion, where children's clothes are not picked out in order to stay up-to-date on the latest trends or imitate the catwalk models. Instead, the lack of outside impressions allow for a creativity in styling that adult professionals often struggle to engage with. As Tashiro claims, "my blog is not about judgement whatsoever. My mission is to showcase young children in different cities, towns, countries - that have the sense of style, the attitude, the confidence, the clothing and expression. Style is not about fitting in. It is about self-expression."

Hide and Go (Style) celebrates an innocence in fashion that is not found anywhere else in the industry. Yet it is not just through street-style blogs such as Tashiro's that the world is realising the fun and creativity of pre-teen stylists. Five-year-old Alonso Mateo has risen in the fashion industry to iconic status, with adults across the world imitating and admiring his sense of style. After being discovered last year by celebrity stylist Ugo Mozie, who advised his fashion savvy following to "get familiar and take notes" from the child, Alonso now boasts an impressive 22,000 Instagram followers and five fan pages, all of which are regularly updated with his latest outfits.

Alonso Mateo. Source: instagram.com.

Mateo's unquestionable confidence with dressing was first exposed by his freelance stylist mother, Luisa Fernanda Espinosa, who took pictures of him and uploaded them to her own Instagram account, before his following got so big that he needed his own. Espinosa told TIME Magazine that while Alonso is the chief stylist, she helps him get picture-ready each morning by making sure the outfits chosen "make sense".

She goes on to note, however, that her son is "too young" to be described as fashion forward. The conflict is evident; Mateo has impeccable style and is seemingly old enough to reveal it to 22,000 people per day, yet according to his own mother, he still remains too young to properly immerse himself in the fashion industry. Where are the boundaries and who controls them?

Admiration for a growing fashion market is encouraged and unstoppable. However, the essence of childhood and innocence must remain explicit in the clothing, models and the styles that are exposed to the public, not only for the safety of the youngsters being presented to the world, but also in order for the emerging industry to continue to cater for the children it targets, rather than a generation of mini-adults. While it may be arguable that children do not belong in the high-pressured spotlight of the fashion industry, it is undeniable that their clothes do. That is something that we must learn to overcome while also treading the sensitive and complex boundaries that their young ages demand.

Related: Beyond Malala

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