Think Outside The Brand

Teens’ brand preferences are as fragmented as their media habits. With cool new brands popping up overnight thanks to crowd funding and venture capital and the rebirth of the small business, there’s always something new to discover.

That doesn’t mean that teens are leaving behind the traditional big brands they love; instead, they want to find all their favorite brands in one place. They want immersive lifestyle shopping experiences tailored specifically to them – boutique stores chocked with all the brands they love across multiple categories, from music to lipgloss, from school supplies to shoes. Even department stores are getting in on the act, creating specialty sections designed just for teen girls and guys, such as M Style Lab found in Macy’s. Teen consumers are beginning to expect brands to work together to deliver a customized shopping experience.



While all brands have their own specialty and signature, they can no longer exist in isolation. Fashion is more accessible than ever – a teen in Cleveland can hunt down the same trendy threads as a teen in L.A., thanks to online shopping, and teens everywhere can discover and participate in the next big trend, which could come from a small unknown brand. Brands (big and small) that work together can keep on the cutting edge and help young customers fulfill all their style and personal needs. They’re the brands that are going to get teens’ business, while those that insist on pushing their own agenda will be left behind.

Many popular teen brands have already learned this lesson. It doesn’t matter the brand’s size or scope, its name or notoriety, everyone is partnering with someone to prove to teens that they’re the shopping destination designed with them in mind. Walk into Madewell, J.Crew’s younger sister, and alongside the store’s own labels you’ll find shirts and dresses from Austin hotspot JM Drygoods, exclusive Honeydew x Madewell intimates, and backpacks from Jansport.

Club Monaco’s new flagship store packs a Toby’s Estate coffee shop and a Strand bookstore in among the clothing racks. A visit to Urban Outfitters’ website includes a whole section of “Brands We Love” with items from MinkPink, Evil Twin and more. The featured brands are constantly on rotation and include a few well-known brands amid notable up-and-comers. To teen consumers, these stores have more than just fashion on offer, they’re providing a service to keep consumers in-the-know and enabling them to live their lives to the fullest.

Not only does it create cross-pollination for brands that partner, it gives them an aura of being modern and inclusive, aligning with the Millennial ideal of cooperation over competition. Sometimes such partnerships make strange bedfellows – Catherine Malandrino for Kohl’s and Supreme x The North Face – but that suits teens’ quirky streak. 

Collaborating with others requires established brands to take a step outside their comfort zone and relinquish some control, but the benefits are enormous. Such partnerships produce some of the most coveted items for both brands involved because they are a one-off and sometimes of limited quantity and distribution. Fans can’t help but buzz about their desire to get their hands on certain pieces. 

While fashion has led the way for this trend, it is hardly the only realm for brand partnerships. Brands in other categories with likeminded fans can offer a new audience without fear of cannibalization. Working with other brands to celebrate teens’ lifestyles is the ultimate way to please young consumers by giving them shopping experiences designed just for them and unique products that let them show off who they are.

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