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Fandom Fashion: Why It’s a Missed Opportunity

Almost half of Millennials say they are in a fandom, but brands might be missing the opportunity to appeal to them, and create the products that celebrate their passions.

Highly connected and organized Millennial fan groups have taken fandom to a new level. In 2013, Ypulse found that Next Level Fandoms were using their numbers, passion, and organization to change the meaning of being a fan, and we recently revisited the trend to take a deeper look into this increasingly relevant space. Almost half of 13-33-year-olds now say they are in a fandom, and these connected groups are influencing brands and entertainment more than ever before. But while a huge number of Millennials and teens count themselves as members of a fandom, products celebrating those fandoms are still considered niche—and brands might be missing a big opportunity.

Our fandom research found that 58% of 13-33-year-olds in a fandom have purchased something only because it was related to their fandom, and 58% say they have worn clothing that features their fandom. Those fandom members who have purchased products related to their fandoms have spent an average of $400 on those products in the last year. When looking at fangirls specifically, 64% say they have purchased something because it was related to their fandom, and 63% have worn clothing related to their fandom. But few brands are capitalizing on the desire for fandom fashion.

Hot Topic is the clear leader in fandom retail, with a “Pop Culture” section that allows shoppers to browse clothing created major fandoms like Harry Potter, Supernatural, Dr. Who, and Adventure Time. Their products reflect the rise of fandom’s importance in youth culture. Marketplace reports: “Hot Topic was once the home base for all things emo and goth. Chokers, black rubber bracelets, black band t-shirts and studs were its specialty. However, as the niche market for alternatively-inclined teens changed, Hot Topic needed to rebrand itself to keep up. It still sells band t-shirts, but it is noticeably less-goth and more fandom-centric.” Hot Topic has become a fandom haven, and one of the only major retailers that provides a full range of fan-related clothing. 

Outside of Hot Topic, young consumers are finding their fandom fashion online—64% who have purchased fandom related clothing purchased it through an online-only retailer, and 38% have purchased from an online craft marketplace like Etsy. Many tell us they buy their fandom fashions through “official” stores. For example, the Beyhive (Beyoncé’s fandom) can visit Shop.Beyonce to buy tee-shirts bearing their queen’s likeness, and totes with an “I Got Hot Sauce In My Bag” print. These specific sources are providing some of the products that fandom members are craving, but there is clearly a bigger opportunity to appeal to fandoms with clothing and gear that celebrates their passions and communities: 68% of Millennials in a fandom think that brands should listen to their fandom and create more products and events for them. 

Her Universe is one of the smaller, independent e-tailers focused on fandoms, and female fans. The site was founded, “with the mission to create stylish, fashion-forward merchandise for female sci-fi fans,” and since 2014 has held a yearly “Geek Couture” fashion show and design competition at Comic Con. The online shop has recently been teaming up with bigger brands targeting fangirl consumers—Disney just partnered with Her Universe to create an expanded Marvel line featuring a line of superhero-themed activewear with tags like “Be a Hero.”

Hot Topic and Her Universe have also collaborated on a line that shows that fandom fashion is more than t-shirts. The Star Wars: The Force Awakens line was created by the winners of 2015’s Comic Con fashion competition, and is full of feminine dresses, sweaters, and jackets that pay homage to the franchise’s characters without veering into costume territory.  The line has been lauded for being body positive and chic.

But there aren’t a lot of options for fans who want to show off their fandom without wearing a costume or a tee. Digiday recently spotlighted U.K. e-tailer My Odd Girl for their Dawn of Justice line of dresses, inspired by Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman’s uniforms, but much of the site’s fandom-wear is more con-style than everyday fashion. When we spoke to Millennial fangirls, One 32-year-old female told us, “I would love if more clothing and jewelry companies made wear-at-work clothes with hints of my fandoms. does a good job of it so far, as well as a FEW of HerUniverse’s offerings, but there could be a lot more.” Female fandom members especially tell us they wish there were more fashionable fandom gear options. When we asked the best way a brand could interact with their fandom, creating higher quality fandom products was a common suggestion. One 20-year-old female said, “By creating fandom-themed versions of existing products that aren’t tacky or garish,” and according to an 18-year-old fangirl, “I think if they could make something that looked good and NOT dumb. A lot of things mass-produced for fandoms look really dumb and crappy.”

One piece of advice for brands looking to tap into fandoms: do your homework. Fandom members advised strongly that brands involve fandoms in the creation of any products targeting that fandom, and the nuanced lore and language of each individual fandom are important to its members. Consider this review of a Supernatural fandom t-shirt on Hot Topic: “Supernatural is my biggest fandom obsession and I’ve bought so many items from Hot Topic that is Supernatural but this may be my favorite shirt. I always get confused questions about it but when another Supernatural fan comes around they smile and compliment my shirt.” The insider language and knowledge unique to each fandom is part of the appeal of being a part of the community, and should be reflected in the products created for them.

To download the PDF version of this insight article, click here.