The tween girl market wields unprecedented economic sway, social influence and digital aptitude. Why do you think Cynthia Rowley's latest brand collaboration is with JCPenney for a tween clothing line? FashionPlaytes, a digital design site aimed at tween girls, is hoping to inspire the next Rowley by giving her a virtual studio, showroom and sales channel to call her own.
The statistics alone speak to the clout of tween girls. According to NPD Group, 73% of girls ages six to eight go online an average of three hours per week, while 92% of girls between nine and 12 are online an average of five hours weekly. And it's not behind their parents backs (well, for the most part), either: “iGen’s parents belong to Generation X, who act as the invisible hand empowering and guiding the $150 billion a year that Tweens influence. The Gen X parent is raising a new type of young consumer that has more independence and financial prowess than any generation of kiddos to toddle along before them.”
Given the role that moms, in particular, take in influencing their daughter's choices — Rowley's dreampop JCP collection was inspired by her own daughters — it took an enterpreneurial mom to see the opportunity that the web provides to create a fashion-centric site for her own fashion-crazed offspring.
Sarah McIlroy, mother of two daughters and a son, started FashionPlaytes after her then five-year-old daughter asked to design her own clothes. McIlroy liked the idea but lacked the technical design skills, so she founded a site for tween girls to dream up their own clothing ideas and have them produced and shipped right to their door, from their own digital design studio.
“Tween girls expect to be engaged, entertained and enlightened during the time they spend with us on FPGirl.com and our fusion of content, commerce and community provides a rich experience for these first-time online shoppers,” stated McIlroy. She committed $20,000 of her own money and secured a factory partner. "For the first nine months it was really a bootstrap operation," she said, but in March 2009 she got her first round of VC funding and recently raised $5 million to expand FashionPlaytes audience of girls ages 5 to 12 who select base clothing, T-shirts, dresses and leggings, and create their own products, accessorizing ribbons, ruffles, graphics and custom labels to share and buy "at a reasonable price."
The marketplace took notice: The Internet Retailer put FashionPlaytes on their annual "Hot 100 E-Retailer" List in 2011 and the company also received a 2010 Mom's Choice Award for outstanding online product in 2010.
“Tween girls are not on Facebook, do not tweet and are not targets for email promotion," McIlroy told brandchannel, so "providing relevant content and an experience that speaks directly to these girls is essential to acquiring them organically and keeping them engaged long term. Additionally, tween girls (5-12) are a new generation of shopper and have very different expectations of a commerce experience than today’s shoppers. They want to be able to share their activity with friends and to exert influence over brand and product direction — they are the American Idol generation and assume that their voice is important!”
As well they should, and with the right mix of social gaming, creative expression and digital tools, FP's founder knows they carry a lot of clout among their peers. "The average time on the site is an hour for repeat users," said McIlroy who describes her brand as engaging, empowering and expressive. “We are meeting the e-commerce expectations of tomorrow’s primary shoppers and helping them create social capital in an increasingly complex and highly interactive digital world.”
In November, the company partnered with Hasbro on a Littlest Pet Shop clothing line and added gaming features such as creating avatars and stylebooks for family and friends.
“FPGirl is rapidly becoming the e-commerce on-ramp for the next generation of consumer,” stated Fairhaven Capital Partner Rudina Seseri. “This new generation doesn’t respond to ‘point and click’ shopping, they want a rich, personal shopping experience and the ability to interact with a brand.
Today’s wired tween is tomorrow’s young adult e-consumer, McIlroy believes. “This is a demanding new consumer demographic with significant purchasing power. They will expect to influence and interact with the brands they care about; they will expect a personalized commerce experience and to have the ability to interact and socialize with likeminded consumers within the commerce environment.”
FashionPlaytes currently has 500,000 registered users that have created more than six million unique designs, reimagining the fashion industry one girl at a time.
As an example of the creativity the FashionPlaytes brand inspires, check out the Zoe Denim Skirt, one tween’s FashionPlaytes creation: