The Buying Power Of Tweens: What You Need To Know About Gen Alpha’s Shopping Habits

Blaire is the local fashion business looking to educate tween shoppers on being better consumers.

From luxury goods to skincare, young pre-teenage consumers are influencing the future of retail (and the wallets and purses of their parents).

A recession is possibly one of those times when brands and retailers can double down on their core business while reflecting on how they can attract future

But we’re not talking about the overly marketed-to Gen-Z audience or the disposable income of millenials. We’re talking younger; that pre-teen demographic of “tweens”, emerging as one key market with more influence than income.

Gen-Alpha, pre-teens born from 2010 onwards, have adopted similar discerning buying habits to their older Gen-Z siblings and millenial parents, with a particular interest in sustainably made products and a growing interest in luxury goods and skincare.

They’re plugged into the digital age, tech-savvy pre-pubescent consumers who in the next year will be the largest generation ever at over 2 billion in size, representing nearly 25% of the global population.

Aspirational consumers

“One of the defining characteristics of these kids is their hyper-brand awareness,” explains Rachel McBride, co-founder of local “tween” fashion label Blaire. “They generally find out about brands or products via social media, their friends, or mall trips (still very much part of the journey) and then pressure their parents to buy.”

While most brands and marketing departments have spent the past few years focusing on Gen Z, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the real influencers are the ones spending their parents’ money.

By the end of this decade, Rachel says Gen Alphas will have $5.5 trillion of consumer spending power. “They want to shop with brands that give them something beyond a digital ad. Something they can touch, feel and experience.”

Alongside co-founder Rose Owen, the duo set out to launch a clothing brand for girls that was serious about listening to the needs of the tween market and what they actually wanted to wear — starting with their own children.

“We could not find clothes that our kids wanted to wear that felt good to pay for,” says Rachel, “specifically, when my daughter Zoe was 8 she asked for some black flared Lululemon leggings. I was so bewildered by the fact that she knew something so specific and, frankly, so adult. And so I got brainstorming with design guru Rose. As mums and consumers here in Aotearoa, we can all do something to support each other. Buy local and buy from women-owned businesses.”

"We are all about the wisdom of youth - so we listen to what the kids say." - Rachel McBride (left) with Rose Owen of Blaire.
"We are all about the wisdom of youth - so we listen to what the kids say." - Rachel McBride (left) with Rose Owen of Blaire.

While the market for pre-teen clothing is still largely dominated by fast fashion, Rachel says the brand’s efforts to create stylish clothing in smaller runs is an opportunity for them to educate young fashion fans about the importance of sustainable and ethical practices, and how they can grow into becoming more mindful consumers.

“These kids are way more on to it than us millennials and Gen-Xers who drove the rise of ultra-fast fashion,” says Rachel. “These kids want to buy from companies that do good in the world. This (rightly) puts pressure on businesses to look at their supply chains, business models, and end-of-life processes for products.”

Part of that education is talking to tweens about the importance of buying from brands with aligned values.

“Our Blaire Buyback offering hits parents on two levels, functionally — you know these kids are going to grow, so being able to trade in their gear (especially in tough economic times) is huge,” explains Rachel.

“From a values perspective, we exist in a market that is pretty much exclusively fast fashion, and mainly huge conglomerates. We are the opposite of a big black corporate box, and so our conversations with parents are completely transparent and authentic.”

Blaire sells both vintage finds and its own designs for the tween market in New Zealand.
Blaire sells both vintage finds and its own designs for the tween market in New Zealand.

The business of tween beauty

The concept extends to the beauty space, with pre-teens heavily influenced by adult beauty trends across social media as reported earlier this year by the New Zealand Herald. Viva’s resident beauty editor Ashleigh Cometti says the phenomenon is seeing girls as young as 9 seeking out an active skincare routine. It’s a reality that demands brands be tactful in communicating across generations, including one as impressionable as Gen Alpha.

“At such a young age, there’s a fine line between taking care of skin and being overzealous,” says Ashleigh. “There are many experts quick to share concerns over what tweens are buying since many active ingredients are known to cause damage to young skin in the form of rashes, reactions or burns.

“Earlier this year, the turn of phrase ‘Sephora tweens’ proliferated the internet — a name given to the over-eager group of pre-teens who marched into their nearest beauty department store in search of the latest product to go viral on TikTok,” says Ashleigh.

“As one of the most prolific social media platforms, TikTok has always been slightly problematic. Its accessibility means anyone and everyone can become an ‘expert’ on the topic of their choice — not least, beauty.”

But there’s no sign of social media activity slowing down when it comes to fashion and beauty brands appealing to this specific market.

“Our eventual goal with Blaire’s social platforms is that we are merely the moderators and that our customers are driving it, creating and starring in the content in a way that speaks to them” says Rachel.

On TikTok, 13-year-old Kansas native Evelyn Unruh is one of many tween influencers who are part of a new wave of digital stars impacting what their contemporaries are buying right now. Since posting a clip of her applying makeup and talking about her life, friends and school on the Fourth of July weekend in 2023, Unruh has attracted a new fanbase of tween consumers who hang on her every word, noting everything she wears (and that her parents buy) according to her developing sense of style.

But while this digital savvy group are connecting with trends online, they represent a sector of developing consumers who still want to experience their first introduction to a product in person.

“We have a pop-up taking place on August 3 in conjunction with Hello Darling in Millwater. Next stop, perhaps The Mount or Christchurch. Anyone, reading this with an idea of where we can come and spread the Blaire vibe should get in touch,” says Rachel. “These pop-ups are fun. It is not just about shopping, this is about a day with friends, crafting and making bracelets, games and challenges and connecting with our community.”

When it comes to in-person shopping, Ashleigh agrees it’s a fundamental part of introducing emerging consumers to understanding what a brand is all about.

Popular tween beauty TikTok star Evelyn Unruh puts on makeup at her vanity table in her home in Kansas. Photo / Getty Images
Popular tween beauty TikTok star Evelyn Unruh puts on makeup at her vanity table in her home in Kansas. Photo / Getty Images

“Tweens gravitate to department stores like Sephora and Mecca for the same reason any grown adult would — for the try-before-you-buy experience,” says Ashleigh.

While Mecca head of skincare Maia Bryant agrees that customers of all ages are coming in-store to sample new products they’ve seen online, for the most part tweens and teens only comprise a small portion of its customer base.

“It’s not new to see teenagers experimenting with beauty as a way of self-expression and self-care,” Maia says. “They’re often accompanied by parents, who are the ones making the purchase.”

Maia points out that it’s this demographic most likely to be influenced by trends, their peers and social media, as reflected by their shopping habits in-store.

“They often come in looking for new, hype products that give a visible effect — for example, Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balms — or wanting to sample the latest products their friends are all talking about,” she says.

Another brand that has garnered a substantial tween following over the past year is Drunk Elephant, an active skincare brand available from Mecca.

In late 2023, in response to the influx of teens and tweens shopping for its range of trending skincare which wasn’t necessarily geared towards young skin, Drunk Elephant took to Instagram to share a list of products could be used safely by its Gen Alpha fanbase.

This sentiment is echoed by Mecca’s store hosts, Maia says. “If a customer is looking to purchase a product that may not be right for their skin needs, our team always suggests alternative products that may be better suited to address their concerns,” she adds.

“To support these conversations, we’ve been sharing regular education reminders, taking them through the questions they can ask younger shoppers and their parents to help them find the most suitable products for their skin.”

A simple routine is all that’s needed for tweens and teens, says Caroline Parker, head of education for Dermalogica New Zealand, and that adding a gentle cleanser and moisturiser coupled with sun protection is a great start.

“I can see the temptation to self-select products — they can look so enticing. Using incorrect products can actually create problems that weren’t there before, such as congestion, breakouts, or redness and sensitivity.”


It’s also a demographic at a pivotal moment in their lives, on the cusp of puberty and exploring their identity. “We are all about the wisdom of youth,” says Rachel, “so we listen to what the kids have to say. You won’t see Blaire making skinny jeans or ankle socks anytime soon — these are major no nos from the kids, so it pays to listen to what they’re actually into.”

Part of what makes a brand appealing to a tween is creating a brand that’s playful but not wanting them to grow up too soon.

“The key thing with kids this age, is that you don’t want them growing up too fast,” says McBride. “We also could be a first real shopping experience. So, we are very purposeful that a kid’s interaction with Blaire about fun and building confidence. And our clothes are meeting them where they are — it suits their age and stage of life.

“We keep our Mum hats on — no crochet crop tops for 10-year-olds.”

Dan Ahwa is Viva’s fashion and creative director and a senior premium lifestyle journalist for the New Zealand Herald, specialising in fashion, luxury, arts and culture. He is also an award-winning stylist with more than 17 years of experience, and is a co-author and co-curator of The New Zealand Fashion Museum’s Moana Currents: Dressing Aotearoa Now.

Ashleigh Cometti is an Auckland-based beauty journalist with more than 12 years’ experience in the industry. After joining the Viva team in 2018 and being appointed beauty editor in 2020, Ash has fine-tuned her skills at sniffing out new fragrance launches, discovering the next generation of talented makeup artists and writing about all things that feed her obsession as a skincare fanatic.

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