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The Top 10 Youth/Contemporary: The Kids Are Alright

Youth brands court the teen set.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 07/23/2008
1. Abercrombie & Fitch
2. American Eagle Outfitters
3. Disney
4. Guess
5. Candie’s
6. Limited
7. Limited Too
8. J. Crew
9. Express
10. Esprit
 
When teens and tweens can emotionally connect to a brand they love, they will spend their hard-earned dollars to buy just about anything it offers. From Abercrombie & Fitch to Esprit, this year’s 10 most familiar youth brands have fi gured out how to capture this fickle group.

With music blaring from the front doors of its 360 stores, Abercrombie & Fitch welcomes teens, who flock to it for its cool casual look — perfect for campus or the beach. The brand is so strong that it even managed to bump megabrand Disney from the top spot this year. Even in a tough economy, Abercrombie & Fitch has proven it can still have a growth spurt as it will open a slew of stores — 110 units in North America alone are planned so far.

After capturing this loyal American customer and seeing dramatic sales increases from its London fl agship, which opened in 2006, the company has set its sights on overseas expansion, too. Abercrombie executives predict that before the next 10 years is out, half of its business will come from its international stores.

The $3.75 billion retailer knows it can’t grow on the Abercrombie & Fitch name alone, so it also plans to expand its other retail brands as well. The brand’s newest concept, Gilly Hicks, launched in January targeting young women with comfortable and good-looking underwear and loungewear. Early response is leading the company to open 16 more stores this year.

Overall, A&F plans to grow overall square footage by about 11 percent this year with 67 new Hollister stores and 17 abercrombie children’s wear units. It also plans to open four Hollister stores in the U.K. With 946 stores in operation, American Eagle Outfi tters is managing to grow in tough economic times.

Last year, the company launched aerie f.i.t. workout wear consisting of graphic T-shirts, sports bras and shorts. That line is a spin-off of its successful aerie-brand lingerie and loungewear line that went from selling in AEO stores to launching its own aerie chain. To further capture today’s tech-savvy teens, AEO plans to air a TV and Web-based comedy series called “It’s a Mall World” on MTV and mtv.com. The series is being produced through the company’s new entertainment platform, 77Entertainment, and stars young fi lm and TV actors — who, naturally, will be decked out in AEO clothes. It is also expanding its Martin + Osa retail concept for people aged 25 to 40, opening 11 stores this year, for a total of 29 units by the end of 2008.

Disney may have slipped to number three on this year’s list, but that doesn’t mean the brand has slowed down. The Disney Consumer Products division hit the $30 billion mark, thanks to successful TV shows and fi lms like “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical.” It’s from these programs that the giant entertainment conglomerate has launched a full range of products — from toys to clothes and accessories — and the brand has clout in retailers ranging from Wal-Mart to Kitson. Most recently, DCP launched “Camp Rock” merchandise — apparel, stationery and bags — based on the Disney movie featuring teen heartthrob songsters the Jonas Brothers, exclusively at Target and Disney Stores. The Tinker Bell line has also expanded in anticipation of the October movie release and includes vintage Tinker Bell apparel for juniors at specialty boutiques and a line of Tinker Bell body lotions by Goldie. Disney Couture continues to expand with Kidada Jones’ line of women’s Disney Princess lingerie sold at Fred Segal.

Ask any teen to name a favorite brand and Guess is bound to be on the list. Paul Marciano, vice chairman and ceo of the fourth-ranked brand, said in a recent interview that the fi rm has stepped up internationally, now running showrooms in Barcelona, London, Paris, Düsseldorf, Milan and Florence, with another opening in Lugano, Switzerland. Revenues in Europe, which surpassed $700 million this year, rose 50 percent in the most recent quarter and contributed to 68 percent of the firm’s operating earnings growth, he said, adding that Guess is two years ahead of its European store plan. “The plan was for 250 stores in Europe in 2010, and we are already close to 150. We will be at 220 stores by next year.”

The company also plans to triple its e-commerce business over the next three years. It expects to launch e-commerce sites next June 1 in Italy, Spain, France and the U.K. Currently, its site is operational only in the U.S. and Canada. Known for reeling in teens through its kitschy advertising campaigns, Candie’s hit it big again this year by scoring “Heroes” star Hayden Panettiere as its newest face. The star joins such Candie’s “It” girls as last year’s Fergie, Hilary Duff and Ashanti, among others. Owned by the New York-based Iconix Brand Group, the $300 million Candie’s brand, which placed fi fth, is doing well selling exclusively at Kohl’s. Also for fall, the brand will launch a new scent, Candie’s Luxe.

After selling a 75 percent chunk to Sun Capital Partners last summer, sixth-place Limited is onto new strategies in hopes of bringing in a new range of customers. Plans are in the works to enhance its 230 store interiors, as well as add larger sizes and more accessories to its mix. In 2009, the company plans to launch more categories, including intimates and bath and body.

Highly focused on that often-underestimated tween girl, Limited Too captures its customers through its happy and brightly lit storesselling a range of products — apparel, swimwear, sleepwear, underwear,footwear, accessories and personal care products. It has 580 stores in 46 states and Puerto Rico, and recently began opening franchised stores internationally. Additionally, seventh-place Limited Too publishes a catalogue coinciding with key tween shopping times, and conducts e-commerce on its Web site, limitedtoo.com.

Under the leadership of chief executive offi cer Millard “Mickey” Drexler, J. Crew has moved away from its classic, preppy looks in favor of colorful, trend-right merchandise — and it’s paid off for the eighth-ranked brand, as the retailer has grown to be a $1.4 billion empire. Now, the multichannel specialty retailer is opening new formats, such as its J. Crew Collection stores, which will sell a high-end mix of merchandise. The company’s Madewell division is also picking up steam.

Express is also still hot with the teen set. Last year was a turning point for the ninth-place retailer, which is known for sexy yet sophisticated sportswear. Its former parent, Limited Brands, sold a major stake in the 580-unit chain to Golden Gate Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity group, taking the Express brand private. Michael Weiss, who left the company in 2004, returned as ceo.

In 10th place, Esprit is trying to position itself as an adult women’s brand in the U.S., but the $3.85 billion label still keeps hold of its teen customers. As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, the company now has 12 product lines and a cosmetics brand called Esprit Red Earth. The company expects to return to its California roots by opening stores on the West Coast. It now operates 660 stores worldwide, as well as a healthy wholesale component. In March, the company launched de.corp Esprit Urban Casual, a casual sportswear line.