Justine Griffin / Tampa Bay Times – Selling clothes and accessories to teenagers changes as quickly as a Snapchat message disappears.
Brand names come and go as the next hip chain emerges. Other retailers fall when they fail to keep up with the fast-paced nature of what’s trending with today’s selfie-taking youth.
H&M, a Swedish international apparel brand known for its discount prices on trendy clothing for young men and women, is one of the most popular brands to open in recent years, with stores in nearly every major mall in the Tampa Bay region.
A new wave of fresh teen-centric brands is lining up to take over the spaces of those that sputtered out before them.
Five Below, a value retailer that sells selfie sticks, inflatable pool toys, iPhone cases, candy and other items for $5 or less, is moving into Florida in a big way. The company opened nine stores in the state last month, including in Plant City and Brooksville, and has plans for more. Discount fashion brand Forever 21 has launched a new concept called F21 Red, which sells clothes at even lower prices than its regular stores. Its first store opened in California in April. Others are opening in Sarasota and Orlando this year, and Tampa Bay shortly after that.
“Fast fashion,” as analysts like to call it, is one of the most demanding — and fickle — segments of the retail industry. It’s where some of the most popular retail brands have the shortest lives.
“Anything can be replaced. Brands have a shelf life,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the Retail Group with Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York City. “This ‘cheap chic fast fashion’ is a very competitive sector in apparel. In order to stay alive, brands have to stay relevant and current.”
That’s the tough part. A slew of women’s apparel brands went out of business this year, citing that the competition from these new up-and-coming brands such as H&M, was too fierce.
Wet Seal, a discount clothier and a former staple in family-centric malls around the country, filed for bankruptcy in January and closed stores in WestShore Plaza and Westfield Citrus Park. Delia’s, which sold clothes and accessories to girls and teens, liquidated its stores in Florida. Cache, a common stop for prom dresses in malls such as Tyrone Square and the Westfield malls in Countryside, Citrus Park and Brandon, shuttered stores and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this year.
“Every brand has its day, and some have been dying a slow death,” Consolo said. “The ones that focus on the experience bring new excitement to the brand. It gives them a buzz factor when there’s always something new.”
Teen brands like Charlotte Russe and Forever 21 have been in malls nationwide for years and have succeeded because of low prices and because they are constantly reinventing themselves to stay relevant. The F21 Red concept is another rendition of that.
“Fast fashion is getting faster. Almost like it’s on steroids,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst based in Phoenix. “H&M came in and brought the prices down, and now Forever 21 has found a way to bring that price point down even further.”
At F21 Red, camisoles sell for $1.80, jeans start at $7.80, tees are priced at $3.80 and leggings at $5.80.
H&M has experimented with new ways to reach audiences, too, by beefing up its e-commerce sites and relying more on social media to target customers. Last year, H&M’s Super Bowl XLVIII television ad featuring David Beckham allowed viewers with Samsung smart TVs to be redirected to H&M’s website and buy products right from their screens.
Cache and Wet Seal, whose overall look and feel have been the same for more than a decade, could not compete with that.
These new retailers aren’t tied down to opening in malls, either. The Five Below store in Plant City opened next to Rue21, another aggressively expanding teen clothing company, in a strip center anchored by a Winn-Dixie. Strip plazas are usually cheaper to rent than mall spaces, which gives these new brands more opportunity to take hold of a market, Green said.
“That allows them to better target the family shopping demographics they’re looking for,” he said.