By  on October 23, 2008

American Eagle Outfit­­­ters starts selling children’s wear today with the launch of, joining an increasingly crowded market.

The competition includes abercrombie, the kids’ division; The Children’s Place; GapKids; Crewcuts, and Disney stores. Seeking to differentiate itself, American Eagle has filled its 77kids Web site with bells and whistles, from free shipping and returns and a guarantee that the products will hold up for at least 77 washes, to a tie-in to the Jonas Brothers. The group’s Nov. 14 concert in Los Angeles will be replayed on the Web site at 3 p.m. on Nov. 16 and, through a contest, 77kids is sending seven girls and seven boys to the event.

Executives said they’ve injected much of the character and quality of the American Eagle collection, which targets 15- to 25-year-olds of both genders, into 77kids, which is geared for ages 2 to 10.

“This is a natural extension of American Eagle,” said Chris Fiore, senior vice president of 77kids, at the Web site’s design offices in Manhattan. “A lot of our customers have outgrown American Eagle and have kids. It’s cool, casual, on trend” and not pretentious, Fiore added.

However, with such long, lean Henleys, sequins, ballet slippers, brocade party dresses and skinny-fit jeans included in the collection, there’s a dimension not generally seen in children’s wear. “You have to have an aspirational factor,” Fiore said. “A seven-year-old emulates older kids.”

The 77kids collection, for boys and girls, has 150 styles. With the different colors, there are 600 customer choices, Fiore said. Sizes run from 2 to 12. Categories include denim, fleece, T-shirts, dresses, outerwear, footwear and accessories.

Fiore said value is also built into the collection, with prices from $19.50 to $39.50 for jeans; hoodies from $19.50 to $29.50; knits from $12.50 to $29.50; socks at $12.50 for three-packs, and boxers at $12.50. The Web site highlights seven must-have outfits with kid models in head-to-toe looks, gift cards and 77kids stickers.

American Eagle Outfitters was founded in 1977, which was the inspiration for the name 77kids. Like many retailers, American Eagle has enjoyed strong growth on the Internet, increasing 30 percent year-over-year, and giving the company confidence that its online appeal will extend to a very young audience and parents. Direct sales account for about $250 million of the company’s $2.8 billion in sales. Fiore would not project sales for 77kids.

“We took a year to do research,” Fiore said, using a marketing firm to help identify opportunities in the children’s business. About 1,000 mothers, boys and girls were interviewed in focus groups to help determine what they would prefer to see in 77kids.

“They wanted something that was real, authentic, soft and comfortable,” he said. “They said, ‘It’s got to offer a value image, which includes durability and trust.’”

There’s no rush to open stores, which won’t happen until the 2010 back-to-school season. “We want to see the reaction to the brand online first,” Fiore said. “This market is a crowded landscape.”

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