Millennials unenthused about this year’s spring fashions, according to IU Kelley index

May 7, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A lack of innovation in spring fashion is not being well-received by college-age consumers, who perceive that what they're seeing in the stores is similar to what's already in their closets.

According to the new FIndex survey released by Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, young, fashion-conscious shoppers simply aren't enthused about spring fashions. Those surveyed said they are tired of several brands and trends that previously were go-to items.

The FIndex -- Fashion Innovation Index -- is based on survey data obtained from a representative sample of’s 600 "style gurus," who report on fashion trends at college campuses around the world. Style gurus are a curated group of college-age students who possess a keen eye for new style trends in all realms of the fashion industry.

The broader millennial demographic is estimated to be responsible for $65 billion in retail spending in fashion categories.

"Whenever we have prolonged periods of pretty strong financial performance, what tends to happen for retailers is they become more conservative in their approach to product," said John Talbott, associate director of the IU Kelley School of Business' Center for Education and Research in Retailing. "They take fewer chances. Because last spring worked pretty well, they go back and think of things in terms of a sequel. I think it stymies innovation a bit."

Talbott said the lack of enthusiasm isn't because of a lack of disposable income or because young consumers are more interested in home furnishings or electronics -- including wearable technologies.

The quarterly index, produced in collaboration with Kalypso and, measures consumer sentiment toward fashion trends in the apparel, footwear and accessory industry. Its purpose is to help retailers better track and understand consumer sentiment toward the innovativeness of merchandise quarter-to-quarter and more quickly identify and adopt emerging fashion trends.

"Increasing financial wherewithal may not be enough to entice shoppers to buy at the levels retailers are hoping for this spring due to inconsistent levels of innovative new merchandise," said Steve Riordan, a Kalypso partner.

Several products that have been popular are now on the list of the style gurus' least-popular items. They include Ugg footwear ("The fad is over"), as well as prominent brands such as Michael Kors, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister Co. and Timberland.

Talbott said it is possible that Michael Kors is seen as more of a brand for 30-somethings and "is guilty of playing sequels and not really innovating." He acknowledges that the company has succeeded in placing a large amount of product across many distribution channels but also may have gotten "a little too saturated."

A year ago, when Michael Kors' stock was trading at near-record highs, style gurus in the FIndex survey were beginning to cool on the brand. Since then, the company's stock price has fallen in value and analysts have lowered their ratings to "neutral."

With regard to Abercrombie & Fitch's drop in popularity, Talbott noted that many of those surveyed may have been turned off by the company's use of highly sexualized marketing techniques and comments and policies about hiring practices based on body type and physical attributes.

"This brand was irrelevant to them, but yet it's become relevant again in a very bad way, because of the ongoing commentary associated with their brand in the press," he said. "Certainly, I think our college-age women respond negatively to the positioning that Abercrombie has established. They may not mind the clothes, but they definitely don’t like brand and the values it appears to represent."

On the other hand, those surveyed were particularly fond of Kate Spade, which continues to see exponential growth in sales of its apparel and accessories.

They also like Urban Outfitters, which Talbott said continues to offer a mix of new and different items and has well-located stores near college campuses.

Tall boots are out. Gladiator sandals are in, as are dresses.

While fashion magazines in the past may have helped to set trends, FIndex survey results suggest that blogs have become the most important source of information to these women. Blogs are easier to read on phones, and the proliferation of mobile devices also has contributed to their popularity.

"If you're going to be a content-based provider about anything, your magazine needs to appear in digital form first," he said. "It has to start and finish with accessibility from a mobile form standpoint, with the ability to monetize over this medium."

Other findings from the first-quarter survey included:

  • Specialty stores were the top choice for shopping, followed closely by online retailers. Surprisingly, department stores also were popular, even though many analysts see them as targeting older consumers. Discount department stores and outlet stores were least popular.
  • Traditional retailers with a strong online presence remain competitive. Among them are well-liked high-end brands that don't have brick-and-mortar stores in proximity to college towns where the "style gurus" spend eight months of the year.
  • Apple Pay hasn't caught on with this group of consumers.

This is the seventh quarterly version of the FIndex.

See previous FINdex reports here.