Michelle Cavé
Michelle Cavé

Addressing the gap in fashion targeting

By Michelle Cavé, Brandfundi MD. The fashion industry neglects a market of mature female shoppers – a significant demographic with high disposable income and a preference for quality and comfort.

By Michelle Cavé, Brandfundi MD. The fashion industry often targets the youth, but this neglects a market of mature female shoppers – a significant demographic with high disposable income and a preference for quality and comfort. According to a survey conducted by Ask Afrika, nearly 60% of respondents agreed that clothing retailers should cater to a broader age range. In comparison, only 33% thought retailers should focus solely on younger customers. Additionally, more than half of the respondents said finding clothing that suited their age and style preferences was challenging.

A contributing factor to this is the prevailing view among retailers that young consumers are more profitable than older shoppers. Many brands assume that younger consumers are more likely to spend money on high-end, fashionable clothing items and are more likely to be repeat customers.

However, this view fails to consider the significant spending power of middle-aged consumers, who often have higher disposable incomes and are more likely to prioritise quality and comfort over trends. This demographic is also more likely to be loyal customers, making it a potentially valuable market for retailers who want to build a long-term customer base.

The State of Fashion 2023 report compiled by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Co. indicated that the uncertain economy will have to work hard to remain tempting to consumers as “[younger and less affluent] customers [are] spending much more cautiously on discretionary items and often waiting for promotions before buying,” said Richard A. Hayne, CEO of Urban Outfitters. The report states, “Retailers are bracing themselves for reduced spending among younger generations… many young adults are embracing humbler lifestyles than their parents, in a shift described as tang ping, loosely translated as checking out of the rat race to pursue a more low-key life.”

In 2021, the International Longevity Centore (ILC) found that women over 50 accounts for more than 50% of the spending in fashion. It revealed that “Mature women have more purchasing power and today are also in better shape than ever. They are ignored while brands appeal to millennials and Gen Zs.”

Tamar Miller, a veteran retail executive and the founder and CEO of Bells & Becks, wrote in a QZ article that, “Women at every age, especially older women, are experiencing a new wave of power, influence, and relevance across industries, yet that same generation of women is being seriously overlooked as consumers in the fashion space. Brands fail to notice the tremendous buying power held by older women. Mature women want to wear something special with an element of style, but it must be wearable. Finding wearable clothing and shoes that are also chic is difficult, and most that deliver on style and femininity are only available at the designer level.”


Ageism in fashion can be as subtle as not considering older customers when designing clothes or designing for them without regard for style or aesthetics. The ILC found that, according to QZ,  “Several women indicated that they did not want the mass-market, high-street clothes that they perceive to be designed for younger women; but also, did not want the limited, staid choice they felt was offered by shops targeting their age group.”

Fashion is a highly subjective and rapidly changing industry, making it difficult for companies to keep up with the latest trends and styles. By adapting their merchandising strategies accordingly, brands will be better positioned to capitalise on emerging consumer trends and reinforce their relationships with a more expansive group of consumers.

Retailers may need to re-evaluate their buying strategies, adjust their inventory levels, or offer more personalised shopping experiences to meet their customers’ needs better. CEO of Woolworths Holdings, Roy Bagattini, was quoted saying, “We need to truly understand our customers, what they buy, why they buy, how they buy and what solutions they are looking for and let that inform our strategy.”

Retailers should consider rethinking their approach to targeting different age groups. Rather than focusing exclusively on younger shoppers, retailers should look for ways to appeal to more customers. This might involve developing product lines that cater specifically to middle-aged consumers or rethinking marketing campaigns to be more inclusive of different age groups.

Some successful examples of brands have already taken steps to broaden their appeal to middle-aged consumers. For instance, in 2015, Woolworths launched a range of clothing aimed at ‘women in their prime’ that includes classic, timeless, fashionable, and comfortable styles for women over the age of 40.

Internationally, UK-based retailer, Marks & Spencer, a range of clothing items for mature women, including the ‘Classic’ and ‘Autograph’ ranges, which feature timeless styles that are both stylish and practical. In the US, J.Crew offers a range of stylish and versatile clothing for women over 50, using high-quality fabrics and classic designs.

There’s a significant gap in the clothing retail market catering to middle-aged shoppers. By taking a more inclusive approach to marketing and product development, brands can tap into this valuable market and build a long-term customer base that will help to ensure their sustainability in the years to come.


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