Youth Tribes' Andrea Richeson navigates the mysterious world of youth subcultures

We sat down with trends researcher and owner of Youth Tribes, Andrea Richeson to talk about the mysterious world of youth culture. Read on for more from one of our #YMS16 speakers:

We always like to start things off with who are you, what do you do, and why do you do it?
My name is Andrea Richeson and I am a New York-based trend researcher, consumer anthropologist and owner of Youth Tribes, a youth culture research consultancy. My areas of interest include youth subcultures, fandoms, new media, gaming and social media.  

My research is inspired by a desire to understand why people love what they love. Whether it is Game of Thrones fans, country music enthusiasts or collectors of Star Wars toys, my job is to understand the joy and passion that drives their consumer behaviour.

Youth subcultures are a bandwagon brands desperately want to jump on. How do brands do this without interfering with the authenticity of a tribe?
I think it’s really important for brands to understand that youth tribes today are far less rigid and far more culturally diverse than in previous generations. In fact, today’s label averse youth are less likely to self-identify with any particular label, especially anything that the media may try to affix to them.

That’s not to say that subcultures no longer exist, it’s just that young people see themselves as individuals with many cultural affiliations, identities and passions. For example, it is entirely plausible that your all American football player, is on the honour roll, digs anime, EDM and loves baking cakes. Youth see no need to be placed in an exclusive box.

That being said, I think the most effective thing a brand can do is reach out to their natural brand fans and then slowly expand from there. Very few brands can appeal to the whole youth market, and that’s okay. Start small and figure out which groups and subcultures will be most responsive to your brand message and product. Throw out what you think they are and who they are, and then do your research. Interact with your brand fans and potential consumers, and ask them why they love what they love! It is within these insights, that authenticity lives.

What are the next three big youth subcultures in North America, and why?
The three youth subcultures that I am most excited about are K-Poppers, or Korean culture enthusiasts, the alternative black youth Afropunk movement and the heritage brand and American roots loving Americana.

© Koreanet (Flickr)

© Koreanet (Flickr)

K-Poppers are an interesting bunch, they are very fashion forward, love luxury and are globally diverse.  The influence of the Korean Wave pop music and TV soaps on American youth is significant and rapidly growing. Interest in Korean brands and products has also helped open up opportunities for international e-commerce markets and has allowed Korean brands like TonyMoly cosmetics and Samsung mobile phones to establish themselves as favourites among trendy American youth.

© Versus And Company (Flickr)

© Versus And Company (Flickr)

The Afropunk movement, which is being lead by alternative black youth, is another very influential subculture. The Afropunk movement, which embraces its inner rebel and African roots, has the potential to usher in a whole new era of fashion and cultural influence in the US. This may be the first truly original youth movement we have seen since the early 90s! These Afropunk enthusiasts are stepping away from media labels, and Western ideals of beauty and fashion, and doing their own thing. It’s bold, beautiful and entirely powerful.   

© Alabama Shakes

© Alabama Shakes

The Americana movement, which takes it’s cues from a romanticised view of America's mid-20th century, or America’s golden years, is also a massively growing subculture in the US.  The denim and work wear clad Americana movement has been around for a while, and although it has been scoffed at as a hipster creation, it’s influence is far reaching and growing in fashion, design, food, music, home decor, and travel. Whether it is or a yearning for simpler times, or a growing number of youth identifying with their blue collar roots, Red, White and Blue, American cool is certainly something to keep your eye on.

Why is it common for young people to create ‘tribes’ of their own, and how does one usually come into being?
Participating in youth tribes or subcultures is a natural part of adolescent development. Youth is a time of rapidly changing identity exploration and peer-based socialisation.  Because of this, young people yearn to be part of accepting peer groups that allow them to play around and discover who they are without adult’s rules, expectations and judgement. Technology of course has not changed this, it’s just ushered in an infinite amount of new choices for youth to try out.

The majority of American youth tribes today are being formed on the internet. While previous generations of subcultures may have been built around music genres, socio-economics or school cliques, today’s tribes are arising within fandoms, or communities of like minded enthusiasts. Young people around the world are connecting through Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr and Pinterest and YouTube and they are co-creating their own cultural movements and communities. Sometimes there is a very strong, easily identifiable aesthetic, other times there is not. Either way, passion, identity and community, is the foundation from which subcultures grow.

How does the usual trends research process for you look like? Can you let us in on a few research secrets?
There is really no secret sauce in my process. I just keep my eyes open and ask a lot of questions! For the most part, youth are very open to discussing their passions and interests if you show them that you are genuinely interested.  Seriously, a smile, a compliment and some enthusiasm goes a long way! I do a lot of online ethnography as well, I scroll through a lot of social feeds and Tumblr accounts, read through a lot of message boards and comment sections, and watch a lot of short form video content on Vine and YouTube. People’s reactions to things can be just as insightful as the content itself!

What does the next year look like for you? Any exciting new campaigns or projects we can look out for?
2016 will see me continue my American youth tribes project, that documents America’s new subcultures. I also love speaking at workshops and conferences, so I’m hoping to share my findings with the industry in the coming year. Next to that, I just want to keep on traveling and exploring this vast and endlessly fascinating country I call home.  

Andrea will be speaking at Youth Marketing Strategy NYC, 21-22 September 2016. Catch more of her insights in the session, 'Future youth fashion trends' where she speaks on the next three years of youth fashion.

Get your tickets for YMS NYC 2016 here.