When Jennifer Knoepfle, co-owner and chief executive officer at LilaPants, 14-year-old daughter Lila Knoepfle, co-owner and product designer at LilaPants, refused to wear dresses after kindergarten, the choices of what Jennifer could find Lila to wear were slim.
Unlike her 13-year-old daughter Georgia, co-owner and product designer at LilaPants, who had no problem with dresses, Jennifer found out firsthand what a headache it was to find anything in the current junior clothing offerings. All she could find was boys’ suits, leggings and tunics (which Lila classifies as “a shorter dress”). Jennifer would often spend weeks looking for something comfortable for Lila to wear to a special occasion.
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“I wanted to be comfortable and run around,” Lila said. “I hated wearing tights as well — pants were way more comfortable. I wanted pockets.”
Jennifer started to question why there wasn’t an option for younger people to wear a pantsuit like celebrities and notable figures such as Kate Middleton, Jennifer Lopez, Zendaya, Taylor Swift and Blake Lively do.
During the early pandemic, Matthew Knoepfle, co-owner and chief financial officer at LilaPants, and the entire family brainstormed their own company that makes suits that are comfortable yet stylish.
“Pretty colors and comfort are key — no tights or major shapewear,” Lila said. “You can also style it however you want. Dress it up with a sequin lapel, camisole and heels, or wear it with a concert T and Nikes.”
Additionally, the company said it’s looking to help give options to the vastly untapped market of children who might not identify themselves with the traditional binary genders.
“We decided to make detachable, interchangeable lapels so that one suit can offer a different look,” Jennifer said. “We wanted it to be stain and wrinkle resistant and machine washable. It needed to stretch. Real pockets were a requirement, and a hidden elastic waistband to accommodate growing bodies. Ultimately, our goal was to make the wearer feel confident and comfortable.”
Jennifer said LilaPants is a great alternative for tweens and teens during a time when they are figuring out their personal style. The “squirm-proof” suits also appeal to children who are more active and allow for free movement compared to dresses and tights that can often fall.
In September 2023, the company decided to go the direct-to-consumer route, after noting a decline in mall attendance and seeing large retailers struggling. Price accessibility was also something the company wanted to ensure; the entire family spent time making sure the suits were high-end quality and as tailored as a tuxedo.
Matthew said this strategic decision was fueled by wanting to have a solid idea of where and which colorways and sizes of LilaPants sell the most. He continued by stating that as a small business, it’s important to figure out where the company’s market is.
“With social media and the website, we can get our suits in front of more eyeballs than just hoping someone walks by our window,” Jennifer said. “Several times a grandmother has shared our ads with their daughter to buy for their granddaughter, and they might be across the country from each other.”
LilaPants plans to establish itself as the number-one formal pantsuit option for kids and teens. After being inundated with requests, the company has also expanded into creating “Mommy and Me” options by adding more sizing options as they scale; and Georgia planning to add dress designs to that line. Ultimately, LilaPants said they are looking to add dresses, ties and accessories to allow families and wedding parties to coordinate.
In many ways, the family business wanted to make sure the product appeals to its consumers as much as a dress would. The family sees the company as the answer to the problem of the lack of appropriately dressy clothing for younger people who aren’t interested in wearing a dress.
“I don’t want to have to settle for an outfit that isn’t ‘me’ when it’s a major event,” Lila said. “Everyone wants to feel confident and look their best.”
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