Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Teens turn to thrift as jobs vanish and prices rise

I tried to think of a better headline, but the one from USA Today is pretty complete. Quite simply, fewer teens have the high-paying jobs and access to cheap transportation in order to still be able to afford that $150 Coach wristlet handbag or $100 designer jeans anymore, and that spells big trouble for retailers who count on a steady stream of free-spending minors in order to turn a profit. Instead of bemoaning the end of an era (and let's face it, most of 'em probably didn't even realize that such easy access to cash isn't actually normal), some brands and media are instead trying to capitalize on being frugal.

That's right, my friends. Thrift is in.

For example:

Last week, Ellegirl.com, the teen offshoot of Elle magazine, launched a new video fixture called Self-Made Girl, which shows teens how to make clothes and accessories. The first video offers tips on how to create a prom clutch.

"It's a little tacky in the economic unrest to tote a big logo bag," said Holly Siegel, the site's senior editor. She said it's no longer about teens "one-upping each other," but rather where they can get it cheap.

Victoria Bradley, a 16-year-old from Springfield, Mo., says the $80 she earns each month from baby-sitting is being eaten up by more expensive school lunches, late-night snacks with friends and stylish clothes.

Now, she says, she and her friends head for the thrift store or just browse at the mall.

"I used to be able to buy a T-shirt and jeans every couple of months," Victoria said, adding some of her friends are even "making their own clothes or altering their old ones to fit or look better."

Victoria's mother, Michelle Bradley, said she and her husband cut back spending on themselves last year, and early this year also started paring back "frivolous" buying for their three girls.

Now, I'm a consumer, and while I do tend to live pretty simply I admittedly enjoy some creature comforts. So I'm certainly not going to get on a pedestal and talk about the timely demise of conspicuous consumption or anything like that. The fact is, economic slowdown isn't usually good for anyone, even if it does knock some of the wind out of annoying nouveau riche and get people to pile a bit less debt onto their already overburdened credit cards.

As expected, some of the big brands are already starting to feel the effects of the belt tightening, with American Eagle and Tween Brands Inc. (who operate Limited Too) already posting lower profits and revising their forecasts downward. The good news is that those who can provide more affordable luxuries stand to win a bigger slice of the remaining money out there, and perhaps a new crop of customers that they might not have otherwise had access to. Aeropostale and H&M are typically put into this category, but thrift stores and second-hand clothing stores are feeling significant growth, and that's only going to continue if the glow surrounding thrift continues to wear down the stigma of shopping for used clothes.

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Juvie said...

I own a boutique for older kids (sizes 7-14, or tweens), and I significantly changed up my buying for summer and into fall, replacing higher priced lines with lower priced brands that are still fun but represent better value. That's what it's all about these days!

Annie said...

The success of Plato's Closet, a re-sale boutique for juniors, is a good example of the thrifty teen market. There's also a solid DIY movement in college student fashion.