What does youth mean today? The question was mulled over today at the World Retail Congress by a panel of experts led by Juliet Warkentin, content director at WGSN.

Warkentin began by pointing out that understanding the drivers and motivations of young consumers was difficult if you are not “youth native”. She identified three “youth tribes” – “urban”, “indies” and “sport” while acknowledging that the very notion of defining youth is problematical as it is about “a state of mind rather than a demographic”.

The theme was picked up by Maria Janssen, global managing editor, youth, street and sport at WGSN, who observed: “In the past the idea of youth was always linear. Now it’s global and retailers have to look everywhere to understand trends.”

Gordon Richardson, creative and design development director at Topman, said that predicting the taste of youth-oriented shoppers was a matter of risk, “as in any business”.

“A lot of the secret is giving them something they never knew they wanted, but realise that they do when they see it,” he said. Citing the introduction of the skinny jeans to Topman, he noted: “We’d been monitoring it for about four and a half years before we introduced it and then we got it wrong:  it was still too early. Since then we’ve been credited with bringing it to the UK, but we were too early initially.”

Sean Pillot de Chenecy, director at trend consultancy Captain Crikey, seemed to sum up the panel’s thoughts when he said: “People still tend to overcomplicate what’s going on. Teenagers really don’t spend all their time staggering out of clubs and taking drugs. Retailers and brands need to be aware that if you talk at youth it will always be difficult.”