Adolescence, a golden age for the sharing economy?


Coworking, coliving, participatory housing, carpooling, community garden… the collaborative is in tune with the times. Two out of three French people have already experienced the collaborative economy, and 65% are ready to exchange the objects they use, according to a survey carried out by Odoxa for AlloVoisins among a sample of more than 1,000 French people aged over 18 years old.

A lifestyle that is prepared through certain practices of adolescence? At this time of life, the exchange of clothes between friends is important and very frequent, especially among girls: a jacket that two friends share, a tank top that they send to each other by post during their summer vacation to maintain the bond between girlfriends from the same group… More than 50% of girls, at this age, regularly exchange tops with their girlfriends (compared to 20% for boys) and 56% of them regularly exchange fashion accessories (scarves, gloves, hats, etc.) (compared to 20% for boys). The phenomenon dies out at the end of adolescence.

The fact that these practices are more systematic among girls than among boys can be explained by the fact that friendships are based more on competition or the taking of power among boys, and rather on the exchange and discussion of girls side. Added to this is the importance of physical appearance and the desire to please in their identity construction.

Market learning

Many teenage girls take part in “Free Troc Parties” . Do they seek to get out of the economic game (they will return to it later) to learn new modes of exchange? Or, more than their relationship to the market, do these exchanges tell us about socialization at this age? What are the rules that govern these clothing exchanges and what are the motivations of adolescent girls to engage in such exchange practices?

In order to answer these questions, a qualitative study combining observations and interviews was conducted with about twenty adolescent girls aged 14 to 18 years.

We can first think that adolescent girls exchange clothes with their girlfriends for economic reasons: to obtain different clothes at no or low cost. This motivation is certainly indisputable, but it is far from exhausting the subject. Other rather symbolic motivations underlie these exchanges of clothing that can meet a need for integration into a group.

The forms of clothing exchange differ according to the degree of proximity: school friends, the best friend or “good friends”. All places are open to exchanges, whether at college or high school (periods of recess, between classes, lunch break, entering or leaving college/high school) or at home (in general, the teenager’s room and/or or the girlfriend in question).

There are occasional borrowings and lending of clothes with precise rules between classmates. The teenager reinvents another market, non-monetary, within the framework of the school, where she learns to apply the rules established by the institution: one only lends with an immediate counterpart, the exchange is often short, limited a few days, the conditions are fixed from the start between the two girlfriends…

“We exchange sweatshirts with classmates but I never lend without anything in return, it’s give and take, we set the rules of the game,” says Pauline, 15. The system is broken in. The exchange with classmates is more like an economic exchange, equivalence being the engine of the economic exchange and the transaction the support. It is a kind of apprenticeship of the market: we are in the field of accounting with a system of value – counter-value of a different nature than the monetary system. The relationship within commercial exchanges does not need intimacy or personal ties between individuals to maintain itself.

Teenage girls can also exchange clothes with “good friends” (neighbors, friends from extracurricular activities). The rules are then more flexible, as Morgane, 14, tells us: “I only talk to Kenza, my neighbour. As we live next door, it’s easier to get my stuff. If she has something I wanted to put on, I can pick her up and in 5 minutes. We do not set a duration for the exchange, it is flexible. 

Relational symbols

We speak of sharing, and no longer of exchange, when it comes to “best friends”. In the field of clothing, these intimate relationships materialize in the sharing of spaces – “sharing” in Belk’s sense , like the fitting room: “We try on two in the same room. We never had complexes, we go in, we go out, we try together. When we sleep at each other’s, we get ready together in the same bathroom before going out and we give each other advice, says Chloé, 16.

“Clothing for two” is another manifestation of this fusional logic. This fusion can go as far as the (con)fusion of bodies, erasing the very notion of property: “we buy a jacket for two and we share it”, notes Corentine, 17 years old. With the best friend, teenage girls are ready to share everything unconditionally, even swimsuits.

The best friend serves as a sort of substitute for the family. This is how Julie (16) shares a T-shirt during the summer holidays with her best friend: “We bought a T-shirt that we send to each other by post during the summer holidays, in order to share it for maintain the social bond between us despite the physical distance”. When economic exchange is based on the transfer of individual possession (“What is mine becomes yours”), sharing, on the other hand, is a common possession (“The shared object is ours, not mine or yours”).

Contrary to preconceived ideas, adolescents are not as materialistic as one might think: they exchange, lend, borrow, share. The exchange is not the way to deny the market but rather the way to invent another form of more collaborative and intimate link with the group of friends.

These exchanges take place directly between adolescent consumers and thus escape the traditional market. This “disintermediation” has a significant impact on the “business model” of distributors. Aware of the considerable growth in exchanges between consumers, more and more companies, targeting young people, are seeking to better understand this phenomenon and are beginning to integrate these collaborative consumption practices into their activity, through the platforms of online clothing exchange.

Author Bio: Elodie Gentina is Associate Professor, Marketing at IÉSEG School of Management