10 August 2007

OMG! What's with this Hollister business?

It started innocuously enough with a couple of tshirts bearing the moniker "Hollister." Then it was shopping bags. Then I noticed it was trendy as all hell among young people of a certain tender age. And I thought, what the ...?

Because when I lived in California, I spent five years in Santa Cruz, which wasn't too far of Hollister in the scheme of the larger state but in terms of culture it was worlds away. Hollister evoked lettuce and onion fields, carnivals and rodeos and the County Fair. Livestock, all the stuff that didn't happen so much in liberal, stoned, surfer's-mecca Santa Cruz (any given person was always at least one of those things).

I felt like I was going on a ride at Disneyland. It was like the line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride or for the restaurant, either guaranteed to complete the theme experience. When I walked inside the retailer's shuttered room into what felt like the inside of a boat perhaps, or a wooden chest stuffed full of thin, stretchy t-shirts in every configuration for young guys and gals.

The store answered my question when I looked into a lot of the stores at the mall and wondered aloud, "Where is everyone?" There are stores that are absolutely dead. There are stores that are sort of listlessly busy; they'll pick up when there's another good sale. But Hollister was jammed with people: teens, young college-age kids, their parents, and unstylish me (I would have gotten admiring glances if I'd been wearing my donkey gong t-shirt Leocadia made that I wore last night to the company picnic and got lots of compliments about, or if I had been wearing my hot-pink Where the Wild Things Are shirt, but no), both me and my kid outside the target age range for their products (although I did fix my gaze on one very cute top).

Later, I noticed that Abercrombie and Fitch has nearly identical dark shutters and this is a complete ripoff of their cutting-edge strategy. Thing is, it seems to be working. Now I have to ask whether they're all one thing. And my first few seconds with their Wikipedia entry confirms this!

It still strikes me as ironic that a town associated with earthquakes and fried artichokes is now the word on young shoppers' lists. That's marketing genius, turning that into giving the kids a way to project themselves back in time to a simpler notion of surfer dudes and bettys while giving the ones who think Abercrombie's too spendy or so last decade an obvious alternative (even if it seems a little too obvious). Simple stuff you wish you'd thought of first.

Speaking of which, the reason we were shopping in the first place was to find a rolling backpack for my kid. There are few options for the kid who must have something kidlike. I was willing to consider anything related, having seen the recent explosion in colorful luggage. But a wheelie, kid-friendly case was a tough item to find anywhere except the usual suspects: LL Bean, Lands End, and finally, Hanna Andersson. I thought: there's a great market. Design a simple, fun case for kids that they can sling over their shoulder or wheel as easily as they can pop the wheels out on their Heely shoes.

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