How a Canadian retailer aims to please all chromosomes in the jeans pool

Generation XX XY
Posted July 26, 2000

Never before in retail history has a group so swiftly harnessed the amount of retail power as has the Y generation.

And Y not? The economy has been on the upswing for most of their lives, and so this latest cultural phenomenon finds itself in the (retail) driver's seat years before its members reach Sweet 16. Plus, with more double-income households than ever, guilty parents leave their kids with generous allowances and no shortage of time to spend them. In short, Generation Y -- those 22 and younger -- is a consumer tour de force.

It's no small surprise, then, that Gen Y-targeted stores have sprouted like mushrooms. Competition is tough, and savvy retailers with staying power need a strong brand statement to distinguish themselves from the herd.

With these ideas in mind, Thrifty's, a division of Dylux (Toronto), developed XX XY, a jeans/sportswear store targeted toward 16-29 year olds. The retail concept combines all the fave brands of Generations X and Y -- Fubu, Diesel and DKNY, to name a few -- under one roof. Because other stores like Le Chateau and Urban Outfitters are similarly merchandised, Thrifty's envisioned a store design that would emphasize the XX XY brand first and the individual labels second. So the retailer tapped Toronto design firm Yabu Pushelberg to create a unique shopping experience that would keep its fashion-conscious target demographic coming back for more.

Going Against the Flow

After designing the retailer's first two stores -- one in Mississauga, Ont., (a Toronto suburb) and another in Vancouver -- Yabu Pushelberg was asked to create XX XY's Yonge St. flagship, the main drag in downtown Toronto that's undergoing major revitalization. According to Glenn Pushelberg, managing partner at the design firm, the objective was threefold. He says, "We wanted XX XY to be on the street and feel like a street store. We wanted a store environment that would be a strong envelope to contain individual labels, but under the XX XY brand. And we needed to make the environment a place that kids would want to hang in."

Tapping into the target consumers'psyche took extensive R & D. Pushelberg says research came by way of an "MBWA" -- Master's of Business by Walking Around. It also came via informal interviews with younger office workers and from checking out such competition as Abercrombie and Urban Outfitters.

According to Mickey Maklin, president of Thrifty's, the store's concept is different than any other jeanswear layout in Canada or the U.S. Rather than separating clothing by gender, XX XY groups apparel by label. Furthermore, designers differentiated the XX XY brand by combining timeless elements (such as steel and wood fixturing) with more hip touches, like scrims, bright splashes of color, large graphics and "techy" elements that keep the environment dynamic.

The store is bold from the get-go, with a dramatic 50-foot-wide-by-30-foot-high storefront featuring gigantic, white-neon "XX XY" letters that float inside six-sided translucent acrylic. The letters, in turn, hang in front of digitally printed, translucent scrims decorated with "muted gene stuff" -- actually images culled from high school biology books. As Pushelberg puts it, "If you're in the groove, you can figure it out. If not, it's just an interesting image."

The scrims are illuminated by high sodium lights that glow through the fabric at street level and diffuse blasts of "techno" lighting, depending on the time of day. The overall effect is a storefront that glows day and night.

Inside, low-sheen, white epoxy flooring wraps seamlessly into white walls, keeping the space light from the ground up. It also emphasizes bright color spots, such as giant blue, refrigerator-like fixtures that sit perpendicular to the walls and act as brand dividers.