The VSCO girl subculture took hold this summer with news articles, memes, and an abundance of social media posts spreading content, and sometimes criticism, of teenagers defined by their preppy, beach-inspired apparel, love for scrunchies, and passion for protecting the environment.

The name comes from the VSCO photo editing and sharing app, founded in 2011 and commonly used for its filters to create a consistent social media aesthetic. In an age where millennials and Gen Z’ers are always plugged into social media, this VSCO girl subculture took off as young consumers shared content through platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

While this trend has its beginnings in technology, it has created opportunities for products and brands in a variety of industries including apparel, beauty, fashion accessories, footwear, and sporting goods.

What are the implications and opportunities for your businesses? We asked some of our industry analysts to weigh in…

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Ben Arnold: VSCO girls are nothing if not brand loyal and this allegiance is very appealing to technology companies because it can drive sales into adjacent products – from mobile phones to headphones or streaming speakers. In this way, VSCO girls and similar consumer cohorts can help develop brand ecosystems. While VSCO girls have shown some affinity for tech products like Apple AirPods and instant print cameras, the idea that these consumers are using technology (the VSCO app) as the launching point for their very specific style is most meaningful. Consumers want to identify with the tech they use every day and the brands they choose help define their personal style.

Maria Rugolo: The VSCO girls trend has strengthened social media’s role in impacting fashion trends – a new way of advertising. Younger consumers are not only discovering trends on social media; they are starting new ones as well. The apparel categories the VSCO girls are synonymous with are growing. NPD data shows that categories like jeans (+3%) and active pants (+4%) continue to gain in dollars while sweatshirts—which we know she likes to wear over-sized—grew double-digits for females.

Beth Goldstein: According to NPD data, footwear and accessory brands identified with this trend—such as Birkenstock, Crocs, and Fjallraven—are each performing well. In fact, they’ve been experiencing strong growth for a number of years and are appealing to a wide range consumer groups – not just VSCO girls. 

Larissa Jensen

Larissa Jensen: A recent survey conducted by CivicScience shows that 25% of women 13+ years old are wearing less makeup, with 9% reporting they used to wear makeup and now no longer do. At the same time, NPD’s 2019 Women’s Facial Consumer Report shows that skincare engagement is on the rise. These statistics are consistent with the current shift towards the “no-makeup makeup” trend that we’ve been observing. One of the key drivers of this is the younger, Gen Z consumer. But while the VSCO girl epitomizes this trend, the VSCO girl as a trend in itself will likely evaporate quickly.

Julia Day: Outdoor brands have been investing in and moving towards sustainability for years; for many it’s engrained in their DNA. An element of the VSCO girls trend is marketing sustainability as fashionable and as a result hydration products, a category where Hydro Flask – a staple among VSCO girls – is a market share leader, have seen a 15% increase in sales, according to NPD. Though sales in this category have been growing for quite some time, the VSCO girls phenomenon provides another avenue for Gen Z’ers to discover premium brands and products that coincide with being outdoorsy and tie into sustainability.

What are ways in which brands can appeal to this group of consumers?

Maria Rugolo: This is the next generation of valley girls where 90’s retro meets beachy vibes. Her style is casual and her mission is to save the planet, so comfort and sustainability are key. Also important to keep in mind is that the VSCO girls influence extends beyond teenage and college girls – pre-teens, and sometimes even younger sisters, are showing interest in these styles as well.

Beth Goldstein: The term “VSCO girl” is not always used favorably, so I think brands need to be careful. We’ve seen what happens when brands and/or styles become too ubiquitous – they can fall fast. Brands should remain focused on their target consumers, whether that includes young females or not, and focus on building lasting connections with their consumers, not being part of a trend.

Julia Day: While this trend may just be a flash in the pan, I do not expect it will completely dissolve, but instead morph into yet another Gen Z trend. These young consumers are gravitating towards sustainability, but one of the keys here aside from sustainability and fashion is the ability to also be unique by accessorizing your products, an inclination that I don’t think will go away anytime soon.

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Ben Arnold: How to become a component of the VSCO girl look is part of the mystique around this trend. There is a degree of authenticity that VSCO girls seek from the brands they favor, but ultimately brands must fit into a style sensibility. In tech, there’s a consumer experience associated with products that extends into the image the product helps portray. So while features and functionality remain hugely important to how they fare in the marketplace, other elements like design, user experience, and brand profile are more important than ever. Young consumers are notoriously fickle and there’s no hard and fast rule for gaining popularity among them. That said, listening to consumer wants and needs is always a good starting point.