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Product Knowledge
April/May 2003

Teens say...

how they choose clothes

Teens are extremely brand conscious. Every retailer knows that. But, which brands do they like most? How and where do they buy? What triggers them to buy? TRUDI DU TOIT asked some trendy teens from various communities

Teens like to think of themselves as individualists who wear high fashion brands and that they are discerning buyers when it comes to choosing clothes.

Yet, the responses to our survey on teenage brand choices show that they all tend to wear the same branded uniforms, that they favour athletic and surf brands more than fashion brands, and that peer pressure more than likely plays a role in the clothing brand they choose.

Of special significance to retailers is the fact that teens tend to buy clothes on impulse while mall crawling (64%) and the retailer with eye-catching brands or designs on prominent display is therefore the most likely to make a sale.

This confirms the responses given by teenagers interviewed by us a year ago when we asked them about footwear brand preferences. All of them then said that they bought on impulse when they saw something they liked in a store — and several said that seeing a shoe in the first store, leads to them trying it on in the second and buying it in the third.

In other words, having the right stock is the first step in attracting teen buying power ... even if other stores stock the same.

Good news for sports retailers is that sporty NIKE and adidas and surfbrand Billabong beat fashionable Levi as the clothing brands most favoured by the teens who responded to our current survey.

But, on the other hand, more than 50% of them say that they buy their clothes at a fashion chain, compared to under 20% who buy at a sport store and even fewer who claim to buy at branded concept stores (Levi). The majority — nearly 50% — say that their clothing style can be categorised as fashion, while just over 40% describe their style as sporty and 4% as a surf/skate look.

Could it be that the teens view NIKE, adidas and Billabong as fashion instead of sporty or surf brands?

This seems to be confirmed by the over-whelming vote for Billabong from the Eastern Cape country and Pretoria-based Afrikaans-speaking teens — none of whom are very likely to walk the walk nor talk the talk.

As a matter of fact, when asked to describe their clothing style, only about 10% of the country kids chose Surf brands — even though all of them said Billabong was their favourite brand. And apart from Billabong, hardly any of them selected any of the other surf brands as a favourite.

The teens from coastal areas, interestingly, were not that keen on surfing brands and rather showed a preference for fashion brands like Diesel and Levi, and to a lesser extent PUMA and NIKE.

This corresponds with the response from 70% of the English speaking urbanites and more than 40% of the township kids who described their clothing style as Casual fashion — in both instances followed by Athletic brands.

Diesel — selected as one of the top three footwear brand by 100% of the teens surveyed by Sports Trader last year — has either lost its lustre or is favoured more as a footwear than clothing brand. Less than 40% of the respondents in the clothing survey chose Diesel as one of their three favourite brands.

Diesel more sophisticated

The English speaking urban kids from an affluent background, however, gave Diesel a 60% approval rating, second to Levi with 80% and followed by PUMA with 40%.

The township kids — who were most likely to say that they wore brands because it made them feel good — rated Diesel just slightly below NIKE, but on par with Levi, Quiksilver and Sissy Boy at 50%.

The country and Afrikaans speaking urban teens, however, brought Diesel’s overall score down. The country kids are not too keen on brands apart from Billabong (selected by all), NIKE and adidas (60% each).

The Afrikaans-speaking teens made interesting choices: 80% indicated their approval for Billabong, 60% chose Sissy Boy, 40% Levi — but none chose NIKE and adidas.

There was a slight difference between the brands most likely to be selected the No 1 favourite of all and the brands that were one of the first three choices.

When asked to select their top brand, most teenagers selected NIKE and adidas (22%), closely followed by Billabong and Levi (19%) and Reebok, Quiksilver and Diesel (15%).

However, the brands that got the nod as one of the three most favoured brands were Billabong with a comfortable lead at 52%; Levi (45%) NIKE (40%) followed by Diesel and adidas at (38%).

What we also found interesting, was the similarity in brand choices from scholars in one school. This either shows that the trendy kids in a school all wear the same brand as a kind of uniform, or that they all played follow the leader when completing the forms and chose the same brands as the coolest kid. Both possibilities point to strong peer pressure.

And while 30% of the respondents said that Uniqueness is the most important consideration when buying an item of clothing, only 22% are brave enough to admit that they do not wear brands.

Of those that say that they do not wear brands, 43% say they cannot afford to wear brands, while 29% say that brands are not worth the price or that they prefer to put together their own clothing style.

Judging by the reasons SA teens give for wearing branded clothing, they all have impeccable taste and employ common sense when selecting clothes. A high 59% said that they wore branded clothing because the cut and styling was good, followed by nearly 20% who said brands showed that they had good taste. Only 18% admitted to wearing brands because it makes them feel good and 5% (mainly township kids) said that they wore brands because it made them feel good or gave them status.

We tested this response by asking them what criteria they used when choosing clothes and mothers will be relieved to know that their offspring looked for style (44%) and quality (27%) rather than brand name (4%).

Oh, yeah?

A bargain at any price

We are not sure if the fact that price is a criteria for less than 5% of the teenage buyers is good or bad for their parents’ pockets ... on the one hand there are the teens (mainly from less affluent areas) who told us that it was important to wear expensive clothes because it shows you can afford it.

But, on the other hand, nearly 45% of the respondents are quite prepared to pay up to R200 for a T-shirt, 4% will be willing to pay up to R300 — and 7% say that a good T-shirt is a bargain at any price. None of them thought that R80 and under was a fair price. There are, however, 22% of them who said that they would not be prepared to pay more than R120.

The fact that 78% had parents willing to pay for their clothes could have something to do with teenagers’ willingness to spend (somebody’s) money on clothing. Only 11% have temp jobs to pay their clothing bills.

Another very interesting trend to emerge from the survey is the tentative acceptance of house brands developed for a specific retail chain — even discount chains like Mr Price’s RED brand or Hang Ten from Ackermann’s. Not that Billabong, NIKE or Levi has any reason to fear competition from these house brands, but in the footwear survey, the cool kids were adamant that they would not admit to setting foot in a discount chain or wear a recognisable house brand.

Now, 22% of the respondents said that Hang Ten and Red are one of their three favourite brands, but higher end house brands like Body Logic, Kelso and LA Jean were only selected by 15%. The other Mr Price brand was placed in between with 18.5% of the votes.

What is even be more interesting, is that the house brands got the most votes from township and the affluent urban English groups — two groups that are at opposite ends of the economic spectrum and kids who could be considered to be the most sophisticated in their brand choices. None of the country kids selected a house brand.

Could it be that some teens are actually going beyond brands?

How we went about it

Sports Trader contacted schools in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu/Natal and Western Cape areas and asked the trendiest scholars between the ages of 16 -18 (Gr10 - Gr12) to complete a questionnaire on brand preferences. Six schools responded. This is by no means foolproof research, but the responses show interesting trends.

All the world want to know about Teens

It is not only in SA that teens set the trend for buying branded footwear and clothing. Worldwide, it is accepted that teenagers could be a retailer’s best friends. For instance, it is estimated that the 31-m teenagers in the US annually influence the spending of as much as $200-bn by their families. No wonder that researchers are finding the teenage market such a fertile field. You might be interested in the following studies:

Two European studies — the first pan-European Boardsports Retailer Study and pan-European Youth Culture Consumer Study — are being undertaken as a colloboration between ispo, Label Networks, a global youth culture marketing research company, and Boardsport Source Magazine

  • The Boardsports Retailer Study should provide a comprehensive knowledge base about the state of the Boardsports industry — including skateboarding, surfing, and snowboarding.

  • The Youth Culture Study will clearly define the preferences, habits, opinions, purchasing patterns, and influences in music, fashion, action sports, technology, and general lifestyle goals and interests of 13-25-year-olds. This study is intended for global businesses that need to know more about this elusive, yet highly desirable, youth market. They will also be looking at factors that influence young people most in each European country, where trends and patterns are headed, and why.

  • Findings from the studies will be presented at ispo, Munich in January 2004.

    For more information visit Label Networks at; or Boardsport Source at; or ispo at

  • The latest data on teens, their buying trends, demography and spending on various major market categories — including footwear and clothing, sport and recreation — has been compiled in a report, The US Teens Market.

  • This revised report offers strategies and examples for marketing to teens, as well as a thorough discussion of teen shopping and retail patterns.

    The cost of a hard copy of the report is about $413. For further information see

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