Why do women join sororities, commit to being part of a joint purpose, and conform to shared identiy? Well, that’s easy. Greek life promises not just a sense of self, but a sense of belonging. You also become part of a collective fashion identity.
Sorority fashion is a poweful force on campuses and beyond. Sororities can be juicy market for fashion labels, an endless font of manna for the designers lucky enough to count them as fans. The sisters share a signature fashion sense, built around a cluster of brands, to whom they are fiercely loyal.
Today, the National Panhellenic Companies such as Kendra Scott, Lilly Pulitzer, and upstarts like Southern Tide see half a million potential customers ready to spend.Conference, or NPC, recognizes 26 different sororities. In the 2015–16 academic school year, there were more than 400,000 active undergraduate sorority members in the United States; at schools where Greek life has a major presence, anywhere between 30 and 55 percent of the undergraduate student body will pledge a house and as many as 2,600 women will participate in recruitment each year.
These numbers are big, but the groups remain exclusive through Panhellenic-determined pledge class quotas. At the University of Alabama, which hosts 17 NPC sororities, a record 93 percent of recruits got bids in 2016, but at a smaller school like Cornell, with 13 sororities, only 69 percent of recruits were offered membership. And, of course, some houses are more desirable than others, even if no one wants to admit it. f a brand manages to penetrate this conservative enclave, it has struck gold. There are more than 3,200 undergraduate sorority chapters, on upwards of 600 college campuses, that are part of the National Panhellenic Conference, a national sorority organization. Its 26 sororities have nearly 400,000 active members and welcome more than 100,000 new initiates each year. That’s reason enough for many brands to seek out these shoppers, but there’s more value to be mined. Often, they’re considered influencers who bring in other girls who look to them for fashion guidance.
Bloomberg Businessweek, examined the campus runway success of Kendra Scott, a brand founded by the designer in 2002. Sales were at just $1.7 million when the brand opened its first physical shop in 2010–now it has 48 stores and should haul in $200 million in annual revenue this year. Scott achieved success selling delicate necklaces, earrings, and ring sets through the persistent pursuit of college followers, teaming with sororities to host trunk shows and other events. Soon the crowds at college football games became chock full of Kendra Scott earrings in the home team’s colors. These days her customer base is broader, but she still serves that sorority shopper. In September, the company took an Airstream trailer filled with goodies to the Chi Omega headquarters in Memphis.
According Bloomberg, campus reps for various labels can be found at most universities, seducing their fellow students to buy everything from Apple iPhones to Rockstar energy drinks to Chipotle burritos. Clothing companies are some of the most devoted, with such brands as Rent the Runway and Victoria’s Secret Pink boasting deep networks of agents within America’s institutions of higher learning.
All these brands are battling for the valuable approval of sorority sisters. If you’re selling clothes, jewelry, shoes, or handbags, that means becoming a part of their uniform. Some sororities are more serious than others about style conformity, but it is a common theme.
“There’s comfort in looking the same,” said Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and author of You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You. “It’s a natural, human thing to want to belong, and one way we do that is to wear the same clothing.”
If a brand manages to penetrate this conservative enclave, it has struck gold. There are more than 3,200 undergraduate sorority chapters, on upwards of 600 college campuses, that are part of the National Panhellenic Conference, a national sorority organization. Its 26 sororities have nearly 400,000 active members and welcome more than 100,000 new initiates each year. That’s reason enough for many brands to seek out these shoppers, but there’s more value to be mined. Often, they’re considered influencers who bring in other girls who look to them for fashion guidance.
Once one sorority picks up on a brand, it can spread from person to person like a scandalous secret, infiltrating one house after the other until every sorority in the country knows about it. Ta-da: It has become a national phenomenon–and a marketer’s dream.
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