Graphic designer Shannon Visteisen wanted to create a line of kids base layers that would grow with her son, Gunner.
Graphic designer Shannon Visteisen wanted to create a line of kids base layers that would grow with her son, Gunner. (Photo: Courtesy Littlest Sidekick Outfi)

The Upstart Brand Making Affordable Kids Apparel

Littlest Sidekick Outfitters will launch with a line of kid-specific base layers, which parents will be able to return for a discount toward the next size

Graphic designer Shannon Visteisen wanted to create a line of kids base layers that would grow with her son, Gunner.

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When it comes to expensive outdoor gear (that is, most outdoor gear), quality and durability usually justify the price tag. Pay a few hundred bucks for some wicking, well-fitting base layers and you know they’ll enhance your outdoor experiences for years to come. Naturally, you want the same quality for your kids. There’s just one problem: Kids grow. When you know your child will be a full size bigger in six months, it’s hard to justify spending a lot of money for high-quality clothing.

Shannon Vistisen wants to fix that problem. On May 1, she’s launching a new company on Kickstarter, called Littlest Sidekick Outfitters, with a line of base layers for kids. The new brand’s hallmark is a return program that will allow parents to send in their used base layers and buy a new size at a discount.

The idea for a kid-specific outdoor apparel brand came to Vistisen not long after her son, Gunner, was born, in 2015. “I realized that there was a huge hole in the market for quality outdoor clothing for kids,” she says.

Vistisen began conceptualizing a line of base layers. A graphic designer by trade, she knew how she wanted the clothing to look and function, but she had no idea how to get there. “I didn’t know where to start or what to ask for,” she says. So Vistisen signed up for a six-month online course that “walked you through the process of reaching out to suppliers, what to not say, and how to approach the industry as a newbie.” More than a year of research and dozens of cold calls led her to the one textile factory that would work with such a small, upstart business. Now she just had to settle on the fabric.

Gunner was her chief product tester. Vistisen wasn’t just looking for fit and comfort; she wanted to know how well the fabric stood up to stains, how many wash cycles she could get out of a single garment, and whether the fabric wore down after several days of consecutive use.

The result is a six-piece line: a 100 percent merino wool T-shirt ($55), a merino-nylon T-shirt ($50), a full-length base layer top ($64) and bottom ($64) in merino-nylon blend, and a merino-nylon neck warmer ($26). All items will be available for prepurchase when the Kickstarter campaign launches in May, and those who purchase within the first day will be eligible for discounted pricing. “I thought about all the little things I would want out of a garment for my son,” Vistisen says. “I wanted a basic, quality garment that could be layered in cold weather, worn stand-alone for school, and was soft enough to wear to bed while camping with the family.” The base layer tops have thumbholes, so the sleeves don’t bunch up when putting on a jacket; the tops and bottoms have extra sleeve length, so they can be uncuffed if the child has a growth spurt.

And when your child outgrows the garment, you can print off a prepaid label to send the clothing back for a discount toward the next size up (or another item altogether). Returning an item after six months is good for 30 percent off your next purchase; returning an item after one year is good for 15 percent off.

As used items are returned, they’ll go to a professional wash-and-mend center in California, where they’ll be cleaned, repaired, and sent back to LSO headquarters to be put back on sale, at 30 percent off, in a special used-clothing section of the company’s website. Any items that are too far gone will be recycled.

Vistisen’s return-and-resale platform is new and unique in the kids outdoor clothing space, though LSO won’t be the first kid-specific outdoor apparel brand. A small Canadian company called Wee Woolies sells one- and two-piece merino wool base layer sets for kids, as does Ella’s Wool. However, there’s more to LSO than quality clothing.

Once it launches, the company’s interactive website will allow customers to track where each of their LSO items has been, read adventure-log entries from previous owners, and add their own photos and written posts to the garment’s virtual “Thread Trail.” Vistisen hopes, one day, to create downloadable postcards so kids can write notes to the garment’s next owner.

The whole process is designed to “allow kids to share their stories and feel connected to the other little ones who have previously owned each garment,” Vistisen says. “From the clothing to the experience of tracking used garments, the entire company was created with kids in mind.”

Lead Photo: Courtesy Littlest Sidekick Outfi