I wasn’t a tween and did not have a tween in the 1990s when Delia’s when in its heyday, but I certainly remember its cute logo, a mix of upper and lower case lettering. It was a regular in malls, a bright presence full of gotta-have glittery things for girls entering or in their early teens. Unfortunately, those happy years are long behind and Delia’s is not facing middle-age particularly gracefully.
Delia’s basically put itself on the market this week, saying that unless it someone bought it and helped turn it around it would have to cease operations within a year or so. The reasons for its downfall are mixed. The tween market has gotten more sophisticated maybe, and Delia’s has not drawn in today’s tweens. The web is a bigger problem too: Delia’s has always been about going to the mall, and the tween market has migrated to the web,which is not its best thing.
According to several reports I’ve read, Delia’s caters to those aged 13 to 18, which does not seem right to me (now I am the parent of a tween). Although Delia’s clothes are not that different from those at other youth retailers like Abercrombie or American Eagle (both of which have struggled over the past couple of years), the Delia;s vibe seems to be a bit boppier and younger than it is at those stores.
I’d throw in another reason for Delia’s issues: the demographics have been against them. If you look at the female population in the U.S. aged from 10 to 15, you can see that it was growing from the mid-1990s through to about 2005. Since that time it has plateaued or declined a bit (data comes from the United Nations database). Combined with a major recession, it has created an only-the-fittest survive reality in retail.
Initial reports are that Delia’s is finding some interest, and that the store may be saved. Will it survive longer term? Maybe. There has been a small surge in births in the U.S. over the past decade, and that means that the number of tweens hitting the malls (and the internet) looks set to grow from now until at least 2020.