We’re not flocking to the mall right now. At first, I thought the instinct was limited to child-centric Gen Xers like myself—people who are willing to pay more for organic apples and gas to get out of town (Hey, who wants to fly?) than a perishable hippie-style dress. But the latest retail numbers suggest that even teens aren’t rushing to the stores, either. Companies like Pacific Sunwear and Wet Seal just posted disappointing sales numbers for the quarter.
So what’s going on? I don’t think we can blame it all on the soft housing market (“Julie, we’re cutting your back-to-school allowance because our adjustable rate mortgage has gone through the roof.”) Every brand has its ebb and flow, obviously, but I think mainstream brands will increasingly find it tough to win big numbers.
The emphasis in fashion, at least, is increasingly on being unique. When everyone can own any brand anywhere, thanks to Web shopping, the challenge is to find the stuff that’s not in the usual chain stores. I know several far more fashionable women than me who do the bulk of their shopping on eBay. That’s right. eBay. They’re looking for one-of-a-kind items that aren’t going to show up at Banana Republic.
One of our interns, Maha Atal, talks about her generation’s move away from the mainstream, too. (Check out the column she wrote at Brown)
Retail numbers do say something about the state of the overall economy, but they can also point to deeper underlying trends that are just starting to emerge. Companies like Gap find they’re hitting a wall with growth in the U.S. We don’t need more stores per city block. People are finding other ways to feel fashionable, and unique.
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