Looking at my little cousins's wish lists (one teen and one college age), I realized that a great deal of what I've been hearing through the qualitative research we're conducting at Alloy Access is already playing itself out on the ground for urban youth around the country. Although these consumers still value looking cool ... fly ... dope or whatever word they're using this week, what we are seeing is a consumer who is shopping for and asking for things differently.
Just two years ago, my younger cousin wanted either a pair of Jordan's, a North Face jacket or whatever PlayStation was "hot" at the time. This year, he seems more concerned, specifying that I should "get more for my money." On his list this year: either three pairs of Vans, a parka from American Eagle or a gift certificate to GameStop so he can find the right deal.
Could it be that he's beginning to care about more than just the swooshon his ankle? Is it that he understands that the economic climate is such that he shouldn't even dare ask for a $300 jacket? If you had asked me two years ago about the shopping and buying behaviors of the average urban youth consumer, I would have told you that brand names reign supreme, that young urban consumers more often than not would sacrifice paying a bill or even eating in order to acquire a status material item. But, what's coming through from our recent conversations is a group with a new "hustle."
For this distinct youth population, expressions of self are greater than the check on their sneakers or the name splashed across their shirt. They are striving to express themselves in more dynamic and less stereotypical ways. They're adopting brands not necessarily "urban" in their aesthetics, and creating styles and looks not solely tethered to particular name brands (e.g. Jerkin Style).
Instead of using brand names to define themselves, they're adopting a more multi-dimensional aesthetic in which to say "this is who I am" and "this is what I am about." Just when we thought the focus was on "The Money and the Cars," this urban, "Yes We Can" generation may prove us all wrong. The recession has bred not only a newfound resilience, but also redefinition.
With all of this in mind, it's important to remember that young urban consumers carry unique characteristics and like all young people, appear to be morphing at hyper speed. They want to know that we are listening, watching, and finding ways to meet their needs and that we respect them, not only their hustle, but their ability and right to evolve.
Isn't this what most young people truly yearn for? They want to feel they are being heard and understood, and, ultimately, that connection will have its rewards.
A new year is upon us, so why not try to keep one resolution: Don't rely on the old stereotypes. They're evolving and so should you.