Minneapolis-based Target is expanding its successful private brand for kids, Cat & Jack. The move is designed to help kids with special needs, the collection includes sensory-friendly items for kids with processing sensitivities.

The official target blog “A Bullseye View” featured this interview with Stacey, a design director for Target and Julie Guggemos, senior vice president, Product Design & Development (PD&D).

Clothes with itchy tags and seams and uncomfortable details? For kids with sensory processing sensitivities, they can make getting dressed in the morning a big obstacle for the entire family. That’s just one thing Target designer Stacey Monsen and her colleagues learned as they talked to guests while designing new pieces for our Cat & Jack kids’ clothing assortment—a limited selection of sensory-friendly pieces.

Available exclusively at Target.com, the pieces include heat-transferred labels in place of tags, flat seams, and one-dimensional graphic tees, all designed to minimize discomfort when in contact with the skin. The pieces are based on existing Cat & Jack styles, combining both fashion with function … all at affordable prices. This fall, we’ll expand Cat & Jack even further to include adaptive pieces to help address the needs of children living with disabilities.

It all started when Stacey, a design director for AVA & VIV, Target’s owned brand plus size line, and her teammates saw an opportunity to design pieces that are more accommodating for all guests—including their own kids. We sat down with Stacey and Julie Guggemos, senior vice president, Product Design & Development (PD&D), to hear more about it.

What sparked the idea for the new pieces?
Stacey: I have a 7-year-old daughter, Elinor, who has autism. She’s not potty-trained, which means finding clothes that fit is a challenge. For pants or shorts, I either size way up, or buy pieces that are all function, no style. I’ve met lots of other parents who face similar challenges, including many of our guests and team members. After talking with some of my internal design colleagues I thought, why not create pieces that address some of these problems? So we formed a volunteer team outside our normal roles, and began to research and build our proposal.

Julie: When the group showed us their ideas, it was exciting that they recognized this need in an underserved market and did the research to understand what our guests wanted. It fit Target’s philosophy of making sure all guests feel welcome and included, and we knew Cat & Jack was the perfect place to start. While it’s just a few pieces in the line, for some families, they’ll make a huge difference. To me, that’s a reflection of what a talented team with diverse perspectives can bring to the table.

What were some of the considerations when designing and developing the pieces?
Stacey: We went straight to our guests—met with parents and organizations, like Pageant of Hope, a pageant for girls with special needs and challenges, Mind Body Solutions, a non-profit specializing in adaptive yoga, and National Federation of the Blind Minnesota—to ask about things like what they look for when they shop, how long it takes them to get dressed and whether they shop online. These answers helped us to better understand their needs so we could engineer products to fit more of our guests’ lifestyles.

We learned that sensory-friendly apparel can mean different things for different people. For these pieces, we decided to start with our core tees and leggings, and address guests’ most common requests—like removing tags and embellishments that can irritate the skin. We also added more ease through the hip and a higher rise in our leggings to fit with diapers, if needed, for older kids.

Julie: Parents and kids already love Cat & Jack clothes for their great design, quality and value—it’s become a $2-billion brand in its first year alone. So this project was about meeting even more guests’ needs, and helping all kids feel comfortable and confident. These pieces mean the brand can be even more inclusive, which is why our team used the same designs already found in the Cat & Jack assortment.

What’s next for serving up products that meet even more guests’ needs?
Julie: We introduced Cat & Jack with the intention to keep evolving it based on what our guests need. Introducing sensory-friendly pieces is the first step—this fall, we’ll add adaptive pieces to help address the needs of children living with disabilities. This could include styles with zip-off sleeves and side openings that make dressing easier, and pieces that open in the back for those lying down or sitting.

Stacey: The key is to keep researching, learning and developing. The Target team has immense passion and collective knowledge, and I love that we’re using it to develop products and solutions that will change people’s lives. My goal is to keep being an advocate, for my daughter and for others.

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.