Generation Y (which includes tweens, teens and twentysomethings) loves individuality, but groups are still formed — or at least aided — by possessions. In fact, for many Gen Yers, anti-brand brands or thrift-store finds are the connection. Just as one group of Juicy Couture-loving sophomores may scoff at the kids who wear Goodwill goodies, the latter group may hold in equal contempt the carefully selected Juicy garb of the former group. Connecting by not buying a brand is as powerful as connecting through a brand. The medium is still retail.
Given the time they spend online, it's little surprise that they know about — and want — the latest and best in products and fashion. Teens spend about four hours each school day devoted to technology-related activities, and nearly half of teens' activities are driven by technology, according to research conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association. Young people in the '70s, for example, didn't have the same level of information about style options. The '70s popular fashion and style culture pretty much revolved around Seventeen, Glamour and a couple of other magazines.
That change, combined with non-stop marketing messages, can create a dilemma for parents. "I don't want my kids to be the Luddite kids in the class," says Andrea Heiland, a Parker, Colo., mother of three who blogs at foolsandsages.com about personal finance. "But you can't submit and buy everything out there. It's not a good lesson for them."
Clothing and possessions also provide a common denominator through which Gen Yers can talk to and about each other and the world around them.
Jade Koile, whom her mother, Amy, calls a "9-year-old fashionista," got her new school wardrobe from Kohl's this year. It's from the Abbey Dawn line designed by rock star Avril Lavigne. This was "quite a change from last year, when all she wanted was Hannah Montana everything."
Even with six kids ranging in age from 4 to 16, the Fox family of New Albany, Ohio, looks forward to back-to-school shopping.
With 4-year-old Eli starting five-day pre-kindergarten and 11-year-old Noah celebrating a 25-pound weight loss this summer, there was plenty to make the process exciting. Even though 16-year-old Emily says back-to-school clothes are becoming less important to her as she gets older, she had to have a new pair of Gap jeans. And, well, some sweaters and tank tops from Urban Outfitters. "My family loves going back-to-school shopping because it's a fresh start … and it's really fun," Fox says.
This article is adapted from Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail by Kit Yarrow and Jayne O'Donnell, published this month from Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley.