Name brand nation: What price do students pay for being cool?

Ask any teenager what they love to do and they’ll say shopping. It’s right up on the list next to watching TV, sleeping and eating. Teens are a driving force of our economy, spending billions

Ask any teenager what they love to do and they’ll say shopping. It’s right up on the list next to watching TV, sleeping and eating. Teens are a driving force of our economy, spending billions of dollars annually on clothes, CDs, movies and food. To big-time corporations, we are walking dollar signs and they are eager to make money off of our naivete.

Some of my friends have fallen into the trap and are obsessed with brand-name clothing. They come to school dressed like it’s a fashion show. One day my friend came to school toting a designer bag.

“Ooh, where’d you get your purse?” I asked her.

“It’s Coach,” she said with an air of exorbitance.

“Oh, wow, that sounds expensive. How much did it cost?”

“Not much,” she said. “It was only $400.”

My eyes nearly popped out of my socket. I asked her why on Earth she would spend that much money on a crappy purse.

“Well duh, it’s Coach,” like the name explained it all.

I couldn’t help but laugh at her foolishness. Here she is, a struggling college student working two jobs and she constantly complains about being broke. Hmmm, I wonder why.

I have this thing called “common sense.” I would never spend $400 on a designer bag, even if I had Bill Gates’ bankroll. It would be hypocritical to say I never bought anything solely by its name, but I try to keep things in perspective.

My generation is swayed by brand names 24-7, from clothes all the way down to shampoo. Name brands give the shopper assurance of its perceived quality. But are people really buying the name or the product?

Big-time corporations go “cool-hunting,” then try to sell youth culture back to us. They use effective marketing strategies to make teens crave their products, from Big Macs to Air Jordans.

And how do you cultivate this desire? You turn to the streets for inspiration. Designer Christian Lacroix said in a recent Vogue, “It’s terrible to say, but very often the most exciting outfits come from the poorest people.”

The history of “cool” in America has simply been the borrowing of black culture. That’s exactly what Tommy Hilfiger and Nike did in the early `90s when hip-hop became mainstream. Nike sends its new shoes into inner-city neighborhoods to create a buzz — and it even has a word for this kind of marketing: “bro-ing,” as in “hey bro, check out these shoes.”

Nike unleashed a new tennis shoe this fall called “The Loaded Weapon,”
which I believe promotes violence in inner-cities where guns are easily available.

Tommy Hilfiger revamped its country-club image by aligning itself with hip-hop artists.

A designer name distinguishes you, sets you apart from the crowd and says, “Hey, I’m rich and I can afford what you can’t.”

Sporting symbols of affluence are important to low-income youth. It’s a way to rise in status and transcend poverty. But it also breeds unhealthy competition.

When a teen buys a new pair of Nikes, they typically aren’t concerned with the ethical issues involved; they just want the flashiest, most expensive tennis shoes they can get their hands on.

All through elementary school, my parents bought us the cheap generic tennis shoes from Payless. I was so embarrassed that I would black out the ProWing label and sketch in the word Nike. For the longest time I complained to my parents that we were poor. They told me to get a job and buy my own Nikes.

Now that I am older, I’ve grown out of my desire to wear brand-name clothing. I’m learning to budget my money wisely and save it for something worthwhile.

And I’m not ashamed to say that I rummage through the clearance racks to find those designer jeans for $10. It satisfies me to know I outsmarted them.

Although I may not have the best fashion sense, I know what looks good on me and I stick to it – designer label or not.

Mary Andom is a writer for NEXT, a Sunday opinion page in The Seattle Times, and a freshman at Western Washington University. E-mail:
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