Juniors’ Category FacesGrowing Pains

The juniors’ market is changing as teens and college grads have become more sophisticated, tech savvy and creative.

And just how those consumer shifts play out is affecting both retailers and vendors alike. Some brands say the juniors’ and women’s categories are becoming more blurred with their product, while others say keeping a distinction between the markets is vital.

Jeffrey Campbell, for one, said, “I’m not sure what ‘junior’ means today. We do not consider ourselves ‘junior.’ Some styles cater to the 17-to-mid-20s customer, while some cater to 50-year-olds [and older]. Labeling yourself limits what you can do, so we try not to.”

Added Jan Harvey, VP of marketing at Pastry, “These days, I don’t think teen girls really consider the category when they’re buying in a certain area of a store or from a juniors’ brand. If the style and the marketing appeal to them and the brand is relevant and cool, they will buy.”

Still, other vendors say their brands will continue to differentiate their product in key ways to appeal to the junior customer.

“We intentionally try to make the J. Loren juniors’ line a little more youthful,” said Yosi Samra, president of J. Loren and J. Loren Juniors. “For spring, we know the peace sign is huge [for that consumer], so we’ll incorporate that and maybe more rhinestones and metallics.”

Doug Weston, VP and partner at Osiris Shoes, added that the Osiris Girls design team has a specific customer in mind when creating the line.

“We believe it is essential to draw the distinction between the juniors’ and the women’s markets,” he said. “In our product development stories, there isn’t a disconnect between juniors’ and the actual demographics. The juniors’ market is where our consumer lives and shops, while the women’s market is where they go after high school.”

No matter their take, the juniors’ category does seem to be growing up. Traditional youthful looks commonly associated with the category, such as pops of color, adornments and age-appropriate heel heights, are now things of the past. Today’s teen lifestyle has become driven by the online world, moderate price points and a keen do-it-yourself approach to trends, said Monique Umeh, accessories editor at forecasting firm Stylesight. As a result, said Umeh, the younger consumer is pushing fashion more than ever.

“It’s a much bigger movement than just the fact that [juniors are] crossing over,” she said. “The teen market is much more sophisticated [now].”

Stylesight’s associate editor for the youth market, Shannon Davenport, added that teens’ influence on fashion these days is due, in part, to their online expertise and the success of young bloggers, such as 17-year-old Jane Aldridge, who is now designing shoes for Urban Outfitters. That viral impact is prompting designers and retailers to take notice — and respond.

“There isn’t a better marketing tool than the ‘word of mouth’ marketing provided by peer blogs and networking sites,” said Osiris’ Weston. “When you speak with the end consumer, they will push you out virally in a way that can’t be matched by print media.”

And teens’ access to runway images and streaming fashion shows today has vastly improved their ability to follow trends. “Juniors today have an advantage,” said Jasmine Imani, head women’s buyer at Boston-based Karmaloop. “When I was a fashion student, I couldn’t click on a blog and see a designer’s next collection.”

Now many designers, said Umeh, watch what teens are wearing and get ideas for their lines. With price being the main factor in the category, more high-end designers are reacting with lower-priced lines, including Jimmy Choo for H&M, Christian Siriano for Payless ShoeSource and Zac Posen for Target. For spring ’10, John Paul Gaultier is teaming up with Melissa shoes. Other brands, such as Steve Madden and Jeffrey Campbell, have captured the designs and prices juniors want, Umeh added.

Ultimately, the category will continue to change, said Davenport, catering to the fastest-moving consumer in the marketplace.

“The confusion around the word ‘junior’ almost represents a new blending of the market,” said Davenport. “It will be interesting to see in the next few seasons how [the category and its customers] continue to change.”

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