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Retailers Pinning Hopes on Edgy Tween Fashions

Maria Halkias
Dallas Morning News
April 20, 2010

This back-to-school season isn't going to be just about T-shirts and jeans.

Tweens will be enticed by new skeggings (leggings with a skirt attached) and jeggings (denim leggings with a snap and fly) and celebrity-backed brands that speak to them.

Macy's has signed on Madonna for her Material Girl line, which she's designing with her 13-year-old daughter, Lourdes Leon. The line will be sold online and in 200 of Macy's 800 stores beginning in August. It's geared for the older juniors market but is likely to be noticed by tweens, too.

J.C. Penney Co. has created an edgy brand for tween girls and boys called Uproar that will keep up with the latest fashion trends, while brands such as Arizona denim fill in the basics, said Clark McNaught, senior vice president over the Plano-based retailer's children's merchandise.

Penney introduces Uproar and talks with analysts today in New York about its tween and other strategies.

The chain of 1,110 department stores ranks fourth in U.S. market share for girls' apparel, behind Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl's, but it has the largest market share in malls.

Another big competitor is Children's Place, the largest children's specialty chain, with sales of $1.64 billion last year. The company's new chief executive, Jane Elfers, brings extensive department store background – she was CEO at Lord & Taylor until 2008 – and she's planning to increase market share by strengthening merchandise, accelerating new store growth and driving e-commerce sales.

During the recession, Penney's children's and junior apparel sales remained strong even though many teen specialty stores, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, watched sales sink.

"As the recession eases, the challenge will be to continue to entice those shoppers to say, 'Yes, we have value and we're still relevant,' " McNaught said.

That's why it's building its brands for this back-to-school season. Last month, Penney struck a deal with Warner Bros. and Olympic gymnastics medalist Nastia Liukin, who lives in Parker, to create Supergirl by Nastia, a brand for 8- to 12-year-olds.

Still influenced by mom, 8- to 14-year-olds can't drive to the mall but wield $43 billion in annual spending power, according to C&R Research data in EPM Communications' Tween Spending & Influence report. Marketers have expanded the age range for tweens beyond its narrow definition of 9- to 12-year-olds.

Before the economy tanked, it was common to see 10- and 12-year-olds toting Juicy Couture and other upscale handbags in the malls.

"Tweens haven't been oblivious. They recognize families have been strained," said Ira Mayer, publisher of the New York-based Youth Markets Alert newsletter.

Tweens primarily get their spending money from their parents, typically receiving $35 a week in allowance during the summer and $11 during the school year, Mayer said.

About 21 million strong, this age group is increasingly looking to older teen siblings for cues on what to wear. But they need clothes that fit their prepubescent bodies and conform with parental wishes to look age-appropriate.

Penney, Kohl's, Macy's, Sears, Target and Wal-Mart look to celebrity-backed lines to build instant awareness, especially among tweens.

"We're very careful about signing on role models for kids. It's harder to do," said Syndi S. Stark, Penney's division merchandise manager for girl's apparel.

Uproar is designed for 9- to 13-year-old girls and boys, and will feature premium denim and the latest fabrics and finishes, Stark said.

"It's for aspirational tweens – those who adopt fashion earlier but can't wear the low-cut tops in juniors and or the edgier graphics on T-shirts," Stark said.

Jeans in the collection will include fashionable "deconstructed," "rip and repair" and "chunky stitch" styles in various washes, incorporating foil, zipper or leather patch features. Items will be promotionally priced, averaging $19.99 to $21.99.

Uproar also will be available in plus and husky sizes, Stark said. Penney has plus and husky sections in its children's department and is a leader in that category, along with Sears and specialty store Justice.

"That little girl still wants all the trendy clothes, too," she said.





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