BY JOHN KEENAN
Omaha World Herald
September 25, 2007
Joee Fucinaro was 11 when she stopped wearing the clothes her mother picked out for her.
Joee often pays for her own clothes, but she and her mother have to agree first.
"If I buy it, she won't wear it," said her mom, Regina Fucinaro of Omaha. "It's a waste of money. It's a waste of time."
One year later, Fucinaro and her 12-year-old daughter shop together, with Joee often using her own money to buy the clothes on which she and her mother can agree.
"We both have to agree," said Fucinaro, who insists upon age-appropriate clothing. "She won't just get her way all the time."
Girls between the ages of 8 and 13 represent a recognized and powerful retailing force. From the creation of hip stores such as Justice to new styles to celebrity clothing lines, fashion retailers are taking aim at these young consumers - and their mothers.
One market research group, Packaged Facts, estimates the combined buying power of tweens and younger teens (two groups comprising 8- to 14-year-olds) will grow from $39 billion in 2004 to $43 billion in 2009.
Wynne Willis, a spokeswoman for Sweet & Sassy, a spa-salon-party store at Shadow Lake Towne Center, said three factors are involved in marketing to tween girls.
"They themselves are more empowered," she said. "They have money that they're actually spending toward some of these decisions.
"Second, their parents are very involved.
"Third, they are a potential for the future. You're really setting up that brand relationship at a young age, and if it goes well, that will be maintained going forward as they become older."
Although a girl may be spending her own money, at this age her mother still plays heavily into any clothing decisions. And mom often prefers age-appropriate clothing - nothing too adult.
"The biggest challenge is giving to the tween girl fashions she wants, while keeping mom happy with age-appropriate clothing at a value," said Sara DeVries, an executive at Gordman's.
With two older daughters, Fucinaro has been through this. She said she actually enjoys the mother-daughter bonding of shopping expeditions, often to Limited Too, Joee's favorite store.
"It's been quality time together."
Sometimes tact is required.
If Fucinaro sees an outfit she likes, she doesn't react too positively. Instead, she may approach the sales clerk. Joee is more likely to take a suggestion from a younger saleswoman than from her mom, Regina said.
DeVries said one of the biggest trends now for tweens is the re-emergence of prints - all-over butterflies, hearts and '70s-inspired retro patterns in babydoll, henley and hooded styles.
Fashion activewear is also a very strong category, with zip-front hoods and rolled up pants being the key styles, she added.
"It's still your basic fundamentals, so it's a matter of updating proven styles," she said.
This summer, Disney unveiled a "Hannah Montana" clothing line aimed at tweens, and "High School Musical"-themed looks are heating up as well.
"It's not a costume," said Donna Sheridan, vice president and general manager of apparel, footwear and accessories for Disney Consumer Products. "A tween girl isn't doing dress-up. They want to look like they could be Hannah Montana's friend."
Disney Consumer Products expects retail sales of its tween business to hit $400 million this year, with a lot of room for future expansion, Chairman Andy Mooney said.
Brand recognition really jumps in the tween years, said Amy Campman, an analyst with In the KidZone, a research firm based in California that specializes in trends in the youth market.
Among the more popular brands for tween girls are Old Navy and the Gap, Campman said. "They like those stores and what those stores put in front of them."
Only 27 percent of children ages 6 to 8 say brand matters, but that percentage jumps to 48 percent for the tween group, she said.
The focus on tweens can be seen in the industry's marketing efforts.
"It's important that we 'fish where the fish are' and reach kids and teens on all media platforms," said Laura Batey, a divisional vice president at J.C. Penney.
In addition to television and print ads, the company's marketing efforts have included sponsorships such as the Teen Choice Awards, mobile phone marketing, in-cinema advertising and in-store promotions.
"Kids and teens have a lot of sway and influence over what they wear and where they shop, so it's important that we make a connection with this audience," Batey said. "We are always looking for new, innovative ways that will break through the marketing clutter and reach kids and teens in a truly authentic way, yet still remain approachable to mom."
Fucinaro said her daughter's style choices are influenced by both the media - Hannah Montana is currently popular - and by what her friends are wearing, as well as the choices of her 19- and 24-year-old sisters.
Though mom has clout, tween girls also tend to follow older girls in fashion matters, agreed Willis, the Sweet & Sassy spokeswoman. "They look very much up to teens."
But they also have a growing sense of self, she added.
"They look for ways to express their personality, items that are uniquely theirs, that they can customize to express themselves."
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