GETTING THEM WHILE THEY’RE YOUNG
Byline: Melanie Kletter
NEW YORK — Young girls and preteens aren’t content with frilly, girly looks — they want to be fashionistas, too.
Junior makers have heard their calls and are taking their messages to girls and tweens — aged 8 to 14 — a bulging demographic with a heightened sense of fashion.
While some junior companies such as Esprit de Corp. and Rampage have carried girls apparel for some years, a number of youth-oriented firms have recently announced plans to introduce fashion-forward girls’ lines, including One Clothing, Self Esteem and Steve Madden.
Industry executives note that girls and preteens are a ripe audience and are taking their cues from trends in the junior market. They are subject to the same lifestyle influences as older customers, are well versed in pop culture, read the same teen magazines and watch the same television shows as their older sisters and friends.
Many companies hope that by snaring girls while they are young, these customers will graduate to their junior line a few years down the road. Most of the girls’ lines from these companies will carry the same feeling and flair as the older lines, with some younger touches.
One Clothing, the junior resource that also produces clothing for girls under the Bugle Boy label, recently announced plans to launch a girls’ sized 7 to 14 line called One Teenie.
“We had been doing girls’ for some of our private label customers and we saw that demand was getting stronger,” said Ace Ross, president of One Clothing. “Also, we saw that retailers were having a hard time finding merchandise, so we decided to enter it with our own brand.”
One Teenie will bow at the International Fashion Boutique Show this June in New York, Ross noted. The line carries basically the same fashion direction as the core One Clothing line. Styles include tie-dyes, bell-bottoms and logo T-shirts and will retail for $6.99 to $24.99.
“Girls want to look like teenagers,” Ross added. “They want to wear the clothes of their older brothers, sisters and friends. They want to dress sexy and dress like the stars they see on television.”
One Clothing is also launching a licensed girls’ line under the Bugle Boy label. The Bugle Boy product will include more preppy looks, similar to the Bugle Boy boys line, according to Ross. One Clothing earlier this year began producing B heart B, a junior line for girls. Guess also sees girls’ as a growth area and is focusing on its kids’ line with increased advertising this year, said Leslie Singer, vice president of women’s and kids’.
“We think there is tremendous opportunity in this business,” she said. “There is more demand for fashion, and we have an advantage because we can pull down whatever trend is happening in our core line.”
Guess recently took back its girls license last year, and has since expanded its product offering and stepped up advertising.
Singer noted that trends such as the current mania for backless looks do not translate into girls’, but by and large the fashion demands are similar. Retail prices in the girls’ line range from $16 to $48, and distribution is similar to the core line in department stores and specialty shops.
Steve Madden, known primarily as a shoe brand, has dramatically expanded its product offering for junior customers in recent years, and the company just announced it has launched a new line of products for girls aged 6 to 12 under the label Stevie’s.
The line comprises eight product categories produced under license, including backpacks, jewelry, sunglasses and belts, and is aimed at department stores. The apparel offerings are focused on outerwear, but plans include the introduction of other apparel. Price points will range from $5 to $36.
Set to launch in July for the back-to-school period, Stevie’s is expected to add at least $1.5 million in incremental revenue in the second half of the year, according to Wall Street analyst Joseph Teklits at Ferris Baker Watts.
“The tween market has been the largest in over two decades, and they are big spenders,” said Corrine Moroney, director of licensing for Steve Madden.
According to the company’s research, the tween market now includes over 27 million girls who spend about $14 billion a year on apparel, accessories, shows, entertainment and food.
Moroney described the Stevie’s product as “aspirational,” with similarly quirky fashion touches as the core Steve Madden line.
At Self Esteem, an L.A.-based manufacturer of junior sportswear, a new collection of clothing for girls was launched in March and will debut in stores for fall 2000. Fabrics include nylon, stretch twill, cotton and wool blends, and silhouettes include flood pants and capri pants.
“We saw a niche in the kids’ market for hip sportswear that both the young customer and modern-day parent would like,” commented Richard Clareman, president of Self Esteem. “Our kids’ division offers the young girl the trendy styles of clothing her big sister would wear.”
So far, much of the action in this market has been concentrated in specialty stores, which have been in hot pursuit of preteen customers, as well as in catalogs.
A clear retail leader in this category has been Too, formerly Limited Too, the chain created by Limited Inc. in 1987. While the store initially carried girls’ and infants’, management refocused the company in 1996 to target fashion-conscious girls between the ages of 7 and 14.
Too grew dramatically and was spun off from Limited last August. Now operating about 350 stores, Too has seen dramatic sales and earnings growth and has also gained momentum through its newly expanded Web site, Limitedtoo.com, which features celebrity interviews, hair tips and entertainment. The site currently doesn’t offer e-commerce capabilities, but e-commerce is expected to be up and running this summer.
Teklits at Ferris Baker Watts noted that there is a severe void in the retail marketplace for this age group.
“Tweens are a strong demographic that has been overlooked,” he said. “At department stores, things seem to be styled for younger kids or teenagers. A trend-conscious 12-year-old has grown out of the kids’ department and hasn’t had a lot of opportunities.”
Delia’s, the catalog operator and direct marketing firm, closed its tween-oriented book called Dot Dot Dash, after finding that many of those customers were shopping in the core Delia’s catalog, said Estelle Demeusy, executive vice president of Delia’s Direct, which includes the company’s catalog and Internet businesses.
“We are taking strong positions in the catalog in areas that appeal to these girls,” Demeusy said. “We have found that there are certain categories that make them feel like they look older, without going all the way to wearing things like halter tops.”
Among these categories are shoes, accessories and T-shirts, she said. Demeusy also noted that Delia’s has widened its sizing to include smaller and larger sizes.
“There has been more acceptance of the diversity in the way kids are shaped,” she added.
Brat, another junior catalog and direct marketer, has seen growing interest from younger girls, according to creative director Michael Burwasser.
“I was targeting teens when I started the catalog, but we got a lot of response from girls aged 9 to 12,” Burwasser said. “Now, we get about half of our business from this age group. There is a niche between kids and juniors that consists of a girl who is hipper and more sophisticated and hasn’t grown into juniors, but wants junior fashions.”
Burwasser said some of the more popular items for this group are bell-bottoms, jeans and bikinis.
Le Chateau, a Montreal-based junior chain with a growing U.S. presence, carries a girls’ line called Junior Girl that is now sold in about 100 of its 164 stores.
“This age group has a lot of money and they want the latest fashions,” said Cara Vogl, marketing manager. “We are taking the elements of the fashion world and incorporating them at a reasonable price. If capris are hot, we will have them in the smaller sizes.”