Teens' attitudes towards clothing brands in general: a cross-cultural exploration.
Multiculturalism (Analysis)
Teenagers (Psychological aspects)
Teenagers (Clothing)
Youth (Psychological aspects)
Youth (Clothing)
Parker, R. Stephen
Hermans, Charles M.
Schaefer, Allen D.
Pub Date:
Name: Journal of International Business and Economics Publisher: International Academy of Business and Economics Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business, international; Computers Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 International Academy of Business and Economics ISSN: 1544-8037
Date: May, 2008 Source Volume: 8 Source Issue: 2
Product Code: E121930 Youth
Geographic Scope: China; United States Geographic Code: 9CHIN China; 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:

The global teenager hypothesis suggests that recent communication technologies (i.e., the Internet, satellite television) have homogenized the values, fashion preferences and attitudes of the world's teenagers. This study explores whether differences in attitudes towards apparel brands in general exist among teens from three nations comprising major teen apparel markets (China, Japan and the United States). The results do not support the global teenager hypothesis as significant differences in apparel brand attitudes were shown between teens from each of these three nations.


Perhaps more than any other age group, teens value apparel and fashion (Koester and May, 1985). They also value cell phones, the Internet, and the satellite television (Meredith and Schewe, 2002). Wysocki (1997) suggests that such international communication modes have homogenized global teen preferences and attitudes. Walker (1996) argues that this phenomenon has resulted in the tendency for MTV-watching teens to display global teen culture signs, such as jeans, running shoes, and denim jackets. According to the "global teenager" viewpoint, these forces have brought about a convergence of global teen values, such as independence, self-expression, openness to new ideas and cultures, flexibility, mobility, and enjoyment of life (Meredith and Schewe, 2002).

While recent technologies have provided the global teen with enhanced opportunities to interact with international apparel brands, a search of the apparel marketing literature uncovered no cross-national comparisons of teens' attitudes towards apparel brands. Such research could provide international apparel brand managers with valuable insight. This research is designed to provide such insight by comparing Chinese, Japanese, and American teenagers in terms of their attitudes towards apparel brands. These specific teen markets were selected for the following reasons. Their respective countries represent: (1) the world's three largest nations in terms of gross domestic product (CIA, 2003); and (2) three of the largest and fastest growing apparel markets in the world; and (3) three of the largest teen markets in the world (in aggregate spending power, and in the case of China, sheer numbers).

The global teenagers' affinity for apparel related products is likely a driving force behind the rapidly expanding global apparel, accessories and luxury goods market. This global market, which valued at $1.2 trillion in 2007, is defined as men's, women's and infants' clothing, jewelry, watches and leather goods. Womenswear accounted for 47.5 percent and menswear 31.9 percent. The global apparel, accessories and luxury goods market is dominated by three specific regions: Asia-Pacific (34.1 percent), Europe (30.7 percent), and the United States (20.6 percent). Continued growth is forecasted through 2012, with a value of $1.5 trillion projected (Datamonitor, 2007). This global growth suggests the need for an industry examination of international teens' attitudes toward apparel brands in general.


Teens and brands The preponderance of rather limited literature on teen brand attitudes has focused on the influence of socialization agents. For example, early research showed that parents influence children's clothing brand choices by acting as role models (Ward and Wackman, 1977). Dotson and Hyatt (2005) examined the impact of gender on peer group influence and found that girls report being more influenced by peers than do boys in terms of their preference for certain clothing brands. Auty and Elliott (2001) seem to hold similar views as they contend that conforming to the fashion that is accepted by the group is more important than choosing brands that express one's own identity. (Shim and Koh 1997) found that teens that interact more with peers about consumer matters exhibit a more brand-oriented decision making style. Adolescents frequently communicate with their peers prior to making purchases in order to maintain group identity (Bearden and Randall 1990).

United States American teens have a healthy appetite for apparel. According to the Packaged Facts (2007) "Teen Market in the U.S. Report," the 26 million American 12- to 17-year olds earn an aggregate income of $80 billion. Spending on and by U.S. teenagers is forecast to exceed $208 billion by 2011, an increase from $189.7 billion in 2006. The biggest portion of this substantial figure goes towards apparel, with an estimated 42 percent of the nation's total teen budget allocated to the fashion category (Poggi 2007).

Clothing offers teens a means of self-expression or a way of coping with social situations (Darley, 1999). Taylor and Cosenza (2002) argue that self-expression is especially important to the echo-boomers and found that clothing style, look and fit were the three most important clothing selection criteria used by 16 to 19 year-old females. Taylor and Cosenza (2002) also found that this age group was preoccupied with social acceptance, social affiliation and "coolness" attached to make the "right" clothing choices. Interestingly, brand/label received the lowest ranking in the study by Taylor and Cosenza (2002). However, as noted by Weiss (2003), echo-boomers tend to not be brand loyal. McLaughlin (2000) argues that echo-boomers are skeptical of advertising because they have been inundated with it. Indeed, the average American 21 year old has been exposed to 3,000 marketing messages a day throughout their lifetime (Weiss, 2003).

Japan Japan has an aging population, with a disproportionately small population between the age of 10 to 19 (approximately 13 million), and small nuclear families (Statistics Bureau, 2003). Japanese high school girls spend $2.5 billion annually and $275 monthly on clothing and gear. Tokyo high school girls are the biggest spenders, spending an average of $275 monthly on these items, which is three times the national average (Time 2001). In Japan, fashion is no longer controlled or guided by professionally trained designers but by the teens who have become the producers of fashion (Kawamura 2006).

White (1994) has offered one of the more comprehensive examinations of the Japanese teen market. She characterizes the Japanese culture as one that reinforces individual conformity, even if that conformity is as simple as complying with the fashion norms of a particular segment. It appears that Japan tends to have a sort of dress code for individual market segments. While older consumers may do little to modify the "code," teens seem to find a way to express some individuality. For example, while the majority of Japanese children wear unitforms to school, there are numerous "modifications" that are made to make them fit a particular group's personality. Boys change the legs of their slacks to be either a peg or a wider style and wear jackets that are tight, while girls adjust skirt lengths and hair styles (White, 1994).

China There are approximately 200 million persons in China between the ages of 10 to 19 (Carson, 2002). In response to its swelling population, China instituted the one-child policy in the late 1970s. This resulted in the "little emperors" family structure whereby nearly every child is cherished and indulged by "six-pockets" (i.e., two parents and four grandparents) (Wysocki, 1997). Relative to older generations, these "little emperors" tend to be less tradition-bound; more concerned with brand symbolism; and more oriented towards brands, success, and self-gratification (Salzman,1999). According to St. Maurice and Wu (2006), direct spending on or by urban Chinese teens totaled 290 billion reminbi (about $36 billion) annually. This figure includes $7.5 billion in pocket money and $28.75 billion families spend on their teenage children annually, with $3.7 billion or 11 percent of this allocated to apparel purchases.

There is a dearth of research focusing on Chinese teens and brands. In one exception, St. Maurice and Wu (2006) found that 14 percent of Chinese teens strongly prefer brand named clothing, compared to 5 percent of Chinese adults. They argue that Chinese teens are a very heterogeneous group regarding brand attitudes. Four segments of urban teens were identified. One of those segments, "Trendy teens," lives in the tier one cities (e.g., Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou). They tend to be more technology, money, status and brand-oriented, as well as more open to foreign brands than those living elsewhere. Another segment, "Virtuous teens" are the largest segment in second (primarily provincial capitals) and third tier cities (the next 60 largest cities). This group tends to be much less brand conscious and image driven, with most of their modest pocket money being spent on books. The massive "poor teen" segment lives in small towns and prefers Chinese brands. Despite their large numbers, they are less attractive to marketers. The final group, leisurely teens, spends mostly on entertainment and music.

Hypothesis: The purpose of the present research is to address these questions by exploring the Chinese, Japanese and American teenagers. Comparisons are made between teens in these three countries. The global teenager hypothesis, as it pertains to attitudes towards apparel brands in general will thus be supported to the degree that cross-cultural similarities in such brand attitudes are observed in these teens.


A cross-national exploration of apparel brand attitudes necessitated the creation of a survey instrument and the selection of a sample of adolescents in each of the three countries of interest. The study utilized a convenience sample of students in each country. Graduate assistants from Japan and China identified geographically and socio-economically similar regions and cities in their native countries. Each of the samples was drawn from relatively middle-class neighborhoods in medium-sized metropolitan cities.

The sample was comprised of 620 public middle and high school students from China, Japan and the United States. The Chinese sample included 178 students from suburban Xianyang, which is a city located in the central Chinese province of Shaanxi. The Japanese sample was comprised of 183 students from the city of Kyoto. The U.S. sample was made up of 259 students from medium-sized metropolitan areas in Western Missouri. All respondents were native to their respective countries. The survey instrument was administered during the students' regularly scheduled class sessions.

A three-way language barrier complicated the cross-national respondent comparison process. Direct translation was not attempted due to difficulties in translating certain words. The objective was to capture the intent and spirit of each question. Three translators were employed for survey examination and translation comparisons. One translator was fluent in all three languages, another fluent in English and Japanese, while the third was fluent in Japanese and Chinese. The English version of the survey was developed first. The instrument was next translated in both directions through Japanese and Chinese and back into English. Back translation techniques were used for item comparisons to verify concurrent survey instrument interpretation across the three cultures (Kotabe and Helsen, 2000). Next, versions of the questionnaire in each language were compared. Translation discrepancies were modified so as to enhance cross-version meaning consistency.


The survey instrument included a seven-item scale, with specific questions regarding apparel brand attitudes. These measures were modified from a five-item scale developed in a dissertation published by Moschis (1978). A scale reliability ([alpha]= .50) was reported in the original study. The scale items were measured on a Likert scale ranging from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 7 = Strongly Agree. The four items, means for each country and results of ANOVA comparisons across countries are reported in Table 2. One of the original scale items "I don't care about brands of -- that I buy," appeared to detract from scale unidimensionality. Using a factor analysis, it appears that due to the negative wording of the item, it did not load with the remaining scale items (See Herche and Engelland, 1996. While scale unidimensionality is an important consideration in cross-cultural research, the likely cause of the item loading failure concerns a reversed positivity bias associated with Likert type measures, rather than a true psychographic difference among the items (Herche and Engelland 1996). Therefore, this item was dropped from the analysis.

In order to test for reliability, a Cronbach alpha test for the resulting four-item brand attitude scale was run for the entire sample for each product, as well as for each group and product. The results showed that the alpha levels for sportswear were .717 across countries, and .714 for jeans across countries. When broken down by country, the alpha levels on sportswear were .701, .748, and .704 for the Chinese, Americans and Japanese respectively, and for jeans they were .677, .710, and .778 for those groups respectively. While Nunnally (1978) has suggested alphas of least .70 are desirable, Hair et al. (1998) have argued that alphas as low as .60 are acceptable in exploratory studies.

As shown in Table 2, the ANOVA analysis revealed that significant differences exist on each of the four questions with regards to at least one product. Only in the cases of jeans for AttBrand1, and sportswear for AttBrand2, were no significant differences between any of the groups detected. Tukey tests were also conducted to test which country means were different from each other.

AttBrand1 concerned preference for heavily advertised brands. The results showed that the Chinese were more agreeable than both Japanese and the Americans with the statement "I prefer heavily brands of --." As shown in Table 3, the U.S. teens agreed more strongly than Chinese teens that well known brands make higher quality jeans (AttBrand2). Significant differences were also detected between agreement levels with AttBrand3 (the statement that "I prefer certain brands of most--that I buy.") With regards to the statement as it pertains to sportswear, the U.S. and Chinese teens agreed more strongly than those from Japan (p<.05). However, the Americans agreed more strongly than both groups when the statement was posed with regard to jeans (p<.05). The Japanese teens agreed more strongly than both groups that brand-named sportswear was superior to off-brands (AttBrand4), and more strongly than the Chinese teens that brand-named jeans were superior to off-brands.


The results of the present study generally do not support the global teenager hypothesis as it relates to apparel brand attitudes. Significant differences between the teen groups were observed for each of the scale items.

The results suggest that American and Japanese teens were less likely than the Chinese to prefer highly advertised apparel brands. This is consistent with Schaefer, Hermans and Parker (2005) who found that relative to Chinese teenagers, American teens were less skeptical of advertising. A possible explanation for this is that American and Japanese teens have experienced relatively higher levels of advertising saturation throughout their lives, leaving them jaded. This finding is supportive of Tse's (1996) contention that Chinese place more importance on brands' social value than do Westerners. He argued that Chinese consumers use brands to distance themselves from out-groups, and in-groups have greater influence concerning brand name choice. Consequently, he proposed that relative to Westerners, Chinese consumers would be more likely to match the brands they consume with their perceived social status. Thus, Chinese may be inclined to turn to advertising in determining the social status value of a brand.

The results also suggest that Chinese teens are less convinced that well-known jeans brands are of better quality. According to McKeon et al (2006), Chinese consumers are more familiar with domestic brands and have become increasingly concerned about the quality levels of these brands, with their preference level for domestic goods dropping from 78 percent to 67 percent in the past five years. This decline has been the fastest among the nation's young, affluent and urban consumers.

While the results suggest that Japanese teens are especially strong believers in the superiority of branded products, they also indicate that Japanese teens are less likely than American teens to prefer certain brands of apparel. This could be a reflection of the Japanese street fashion scene. This finding is consistent with a Time (2008) report that fad-hungry Japanese teens are eschewing big brand-named apparel lines for logo-less luxury items of high quality. The desire for expensive fashion items without labels suggests a certain level of brand apathy on the part of the Japanese teens. Moreover, Azuma (2002) argues that an extremely fast-moving fashion cycle characterizes the Japanese women's fashion market. Culturally, the Japanese tend to be variety-seeking and craft-loving, which demands that their styles be constantly changing and slightly different from those in their reference groups. More than 100 fashion magazines showcasing local brands have sprung up, catering to the Japanese teen girls' hunger for clothes and their street-style pop culture (Japan Today). All of these developments seem to bode more favorably for niche brands than for mega brands.


As suggested by St. Maurice and Wu (2006), China teens are a heterogeneous group. The Chinese teens participating in the present study were from the city of Xianyang, which is located in the less developed and more stable interior region of China. With a population of one million inhabitants, Xiangyang would be considered a third or fourth tier Chinese city. As such, they would likely fall into the "virtuous teens" category, which is considerably less brand and status conscious than their tier one city counterparts.

Clearly, managers of multi-national apparel brands need to understand the differences in perception and cultures. Advertising must adapt to each culture to emphasize the brand name differently depending upon the cultures in question. Future research might continue to examine the "global teenager" idea and determine if attitudes are changing within cultures and becoming more homogenized so that advertising might also become more standardized.


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Dr. R. Stephen Parker, Ph.D. Louisiana Tech University (1981). He is presently an associate professor of marketing at Missouri State University.

Dr. Charles M. Hermans, Ph.D. New Mexico State University (2003). He is presently an associate professor of marketing at Missouri State University.

Dr. Allen D. Schaefer, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University (1992). He is currently a professor of marketing at Missouri State University.

R. Stephen Parker, Missouri State University, USA

Charles M. Hermans, Missouri State University, USA

Allen D. Schaefer, Missouri State University, USA
Table 1. Respondent Frequencies

                         China   Japan   U.S.   Total

Sample Size   n          176     180      257    613
Gender        Male       103      73      111    287
              Female      73     107      146    326
Age           13 to 14    49       2       10     61
              15 to 16   105      72      129    306
              17 to 18    21     106      116    243

Table 2. Item Means and ANOVA Comparisons

                                       Japan     CH        USA
ITEM                      Product      [micro]   [micro]   [micro]

AttBrand1. I prefer the   Sportswear    4.06      4.85      4.14
more heavily
advertised brands of      Jeans         4.24      4.45      4.50

AttBrand2. Well-known     Sportswear    4.63      4.61      4.82
companies make
quality --.               Jeans         4.66      4.29      4.88

AttBrand3. I prefer       Sportswear    4.15      4.74      4.61
certain brands of most
-- I buy.                 Jeans         4.19      4.23      5.07

AttBrand4. Brand-named    Sportswear    4.77      4.33      4.31
-- is
(are) better than "off    Jeans         4.81      4.15      4.42

ITEM                      Product      [micro]   F         p-value

AttBrand1. I prefer the   Sportswear    4.32      14.44     .000
more heavily
advertised brands of      Jeans         4.41      1.58      .206

AttBrand2. Well-known     Sportswear    4.70      1.19      .304
companies make
quality --.               Jeans         4.65      7.39      .001

AttBrand3. I prefer       Sportswear    4.52      7.30      .001
certain brands of most
-- I buy.                 Jeans         4.58      22.73     .000

AttBrand4. Brand-named    Sportswear    4.45      4.35      .013
-- is
(are) better than "off    Jeans         4.46      5.19      .001

* 1 = Strongly Disagree 4 = Neutral 7 = Strongly Agree

Table 3. Multiple Comparisons Attitude Toward Branded Sportswear

Dependent    Country   Country   Difference
Variable     (I)       (J)       (I-J)        Std. Error   P-Value

AttBrand1    Japan     China      -.79190       .16484     .000
Sportswear   China     USA         .70683       .15223     .000
             USA       Japan       .08507       .15148     .841

AttBrand1    Japan     China      -.20876       .16376     .410
Jeans        China     USA        -.05173       .15132     .938
             USA       Japan       .26049       .15033     .194

AttBrand2    Japan     China       .01228       .17054     .997
Sportswear   China     USA        -.20829       .15665     .379
             USA       Japan       .19601       .15585     .420

AttBrand2    Japan     China       .36932       .16721     .071
Jeans        China     USA        -.58960       .15347     .000
             USA       Japan       .22029       .15347     .323

AttBrand3    Japan     China      -.59175       .16588     .001
Sportwear    China     USA         .12780       .15191     .677
             USA       Japan       .46386       .15086     .006

AttBrand3    Japan     China      -.05202       .16651     .948
Jeans        China     USA        -.83079       .15332     .000
             USA       Japan       .88281       .15093     .000

AttBrand4    Japan     China       .43763       .18261     .044
Sportwear    China     USA         .01813       .16787     .994
             USA       Japan      -.45576       .16614     .017

AttBrand4    Japan     China       .66789       .18482     .001
Jeans        China     USA        -.27384       .16977     .241
Jeans        USA       Japan      -.39406       .16890     .052

Note: Bolded items indicate p-value significant in the mean at the
.05alpha level.
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