Another One Bites the Dust: Why Are Teen-Focused Stores Failing?
I remember shopping at La Senza Girl as a precocious tween and thinking, ‘I can’t wait until I’m older so I can upgrade to La Senza!’ And although I’d only ever walked by the store and didn’t have any intention of updating my underwear drawer to include less printed cotton and more lace and silk, all I knew was that La Senza was a place where ‘grown-ups shopped’ and shopping there would mean I was a grown-up too. You know what they say: youth is wasted on the young. And like many tweens and teens before (and after) me, I just couldn’t wait to be older.
Today, I can’t help but notice that most of the shops I visited back then no longer exist. The ones that still do – Garage, Sirens, and Stitches to name a few – have seemingly grown up along with me, updating their looks and assortments every few years, and earning themselves at least a semi-regular spot on my roster of favorite shops even over a decade later.
If those shops could make it, why can’t their peers? Why are some teen retailers slowly dying off while others remain better than ever?
The end of an era
In 2015, Wet Seal filed for bankruptcy and closed two-thirds of its stores. Now, the struggling teen retailer will be shutting down all 171 of its remaining stores, including its California-based headquarters. In a letter to headquarter employees, Vice President Michelle Stocker wrote, “Unfortunately, the company was unable to obtain the necessary capital or identify a strategic partner, and was recently informed that it will receive no further financing for its operations.”
Earlier this year, Aéropostale also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced they would be closing around 20 percent of their North American stores. Since then, the teen retailer closed 120 of them – significantly more than originally planned. Aéropostale also shut down 125 of its P.S. by Aéropostale children’s stores.
What needs to change
If you’re thinking teen retailers are going out of style, you’re probably right. But why are these companies – many of which used to be the end all and be all of teen fashion – failing so spectacularly?
For one, they just can’t seem to keep up with fast fashion, both off and online. Think about it: as a teen, all you wanted to be was an adult. Stores like H&M and Forever21 don’t put such a heavy focus on marketing towards teens (but rather, “young adults”) which seems to make them all the more appealing. Furthermore, fast fashion companies are continuously updating their assortments to reflect current trends – something these perpetually-connected digital natives can respect and relate to.
How many times have you thought to yourself, “kids today are growing up way too fast”? In my mid-twenties now, I see very little difference between what I wear and what I see kids 10 years my junior wearing. Stores like Zara (more specifically its TRF line), Missguided, Charlotte Russe, and hugely popular e-tailers like Fashion Nova all carry a range of styles that are easily suitable for consumers aged 16 to 30.
Also responsible for this shift is the increase of Gen Z influencers. Can you imagine Kylie Jenner shopping at Wet Seal, let alone collaborating with them? Fashion Nova, however, has a dedicated “Kylie” collection based on the 19-year-old’s personal style.
In fact, when looking at more successful teen retailers, working with Gen Z influencers seems to be a common theme. American Eagle, one of the few teen retailers that has been able to withstand the test of time, has a very modern approach to marketing towards this demographic. Their underwear line, Aerie, boasts a body positive mission, with extended sizes ranging from XXS to XXL. They’ve also partnered up with the All Woman Project for a diverse and un-retouched advertising campaign. As for their main line, American Eagle recently teamed up with several Gen Z faces for their #WeAllCan campaign.
“So many brands market to this customer in a canned, pre-packaged way. It’s so inauthentic,” says Trey Laird, chief executive of the agency Laird+Partners, which developed the campaign in partnership with American Eagle. “We were trying to let these kids just be who they are. There’s this whole inclusive sort of vibe.”
Indeed, if teen retailers (and brands) want any hope for survival, they may just have to grow up – or, at the very least, treat their consumer like they have.
Follow her at @D_isforDayana