Youthful have-nots and have-lots get creative

03 June 2005

The UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing, in conjunction with Youthdynamix, recently conducted extensive research into South Africa's youth, and their findings show that this group represents the most valuable and vulnerable contingent of the market place.

"South African youth appear to be worldly wise and money sussed," says Katherine Thomson, who is responsible for the institute's public relations and communications.

"They live in a world of accelerated change, much of which they make themselves, and they have unprecedented access to information through computers, e-mail and cell phones. All of this alters the way young people communicate with others and relate to the world. What was trendy today is quite different from two years ago."

According to the study, conspicuous consumption is alive and well. The display of money has become the new competition, and 90% of young adults surveyed felt that a lot of money would make them happy.

"The need to be noticed and the power of the external image are more prevalent every time we undertake the TrendYouth research. This is particularly so among black youth where brands are a key differentiator," Thomson explained.

So how does the wide range of "have-lots and have-nots" of South African youth ensure they create the right image with limited funds?

Thomson says they get creative - not only in the manner in which they constantly reinvent and authenticate themselves through brands, but also how they access those brands they wouldn't normally be able to afford.

"While the have-lots may succeed in having several pairs of Diesel jeans or Levi's and the have-nots may only have one, both have learned the invaluable fashion lesson that it only takes one or two truly striking items to create an impressive wardrobe."

This is where the concept of rocketing comes in. The youth will buy one or two expensive, designer-label fashion staples, which form a consistent, well-branded backdrop and can be teamed up with cheap, high-fashion "throwaway" items that only last one season but look good for now.

"For them it's not just about looking good, but also about social camouflage. Young tweens told us how vital it is that they have at least one hot brand they can wear on civvies day so that the other kids don't know they come from poorer homes."

For the bargain hunter and savvy shopper, knockoffs have become a new fashion tool. The youth appear to be readily embracing knockoffs and lookalikes, and achieving the ultimate look is more important than owning a real brand.

"It appears that even the most unlikely people, who have trendy malls on their doorstep and big bank balances, are bargain hunting and fake-brand buying in a big way," notes Thomson.

A new trend has also shown that the youth are creating their own clothing brands and customising them to add individual flair to the look.

Said Thomson: "They want to actively engage with their clothes rather than just wear them passively. It's now cool to say, 'I made it', and for the end product to be something personal and not mass produced."

Vital statistics

80% of SA youth feel the future is bright and there are many opportunities.

96% of young adults believe anything is possible - people can achieve whatever they set out to achieve.

However, what is concerning is that with regard to sex:

86% of young adults agree with the statement "many young people have casual sex without any emotional attachment these days."

84% agree that "many young people my age have unsafe sex".

And with regard to drugs:

92% agree with the statement "most young people smoke these days".

83% say "most young people use drugs these days".

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