Mothers and daughters in France and Japan: Who influences who when buying clothes?

Mothers and daughters in France and Japan: Who influences who when buying clothes? A daughter is often complimented about how she looks a lot like her mother. But, in today’s day and age, is it just the daughters capturing their Mum’s looks or the Mum’s taking in their daughter's style? Digging deeper from a cross-cultural perspective, Professors Elodie Gentina, IÉSEG School of Management, Kun-Huang Huarng, Feng Chia University, and Mototaka Sakashita, Keio Business School, explore the clothing consumption practices of mothers and their teenage daughters.

A daughter is often complimented about how she looks a lot like her mother. But, in today’s day and age, is it just the daughters capturing their Mum’s looks or the Mum’s taking in their daughter’s style? Digging deeper from a cross-cultural perspective, Professors Elodie Gentina, IÉSEG School of Management, Kun-Huang Huarng, Feng Chia University, and Mototaka Sakashita, Keio Business School, explore the clothing consumption practices of mothers and their teenage daughters.

Mothers and daughters in France and Japan: Who influences who when buying clothes? by Tom Gamble, Nishtha Bahal and Mototaka Sakashita. Related research: A social comparison theory approach to mothers’ and daughters’ clothing coconsumption behaviors: A cross-cultural study in France and Japan, Journal of Business Research, Elsevier.

Clothes spending represents an enormous market throughout the world. In Japan alone, a 2014 study estimated that consumers spent JPY 9.38 trillion – equivalent to €83.5 billion – in attire. In France, another study, this time in 2015, set the figure at €41.7 billion. Who were the biggest spenders? In Japan, women accounted for 63% of clothes purchasers. Surprisingly, in France, spending in women’s apparel was 36% – lower than for men’s clothing but still representing a sizeable consumer budget. 

Knowing their markets, who their consumers are and how they behave, are important for the marketers. It allows them to tailor their marketing campaigns, clothes design and even brand image in different countries. And the further the information drills down into the nitty gritty, the better.

Mothers and daughters, for example, are key elements in the purchasing act. Moreover, much research has been carried out to help the marketers – but with a hitch or two. First, former research has tended to focus on mothers and daughters as consumers in one specific country. And second, this research has emphasized the mother’s influential role in shaping their daughters’ clothes buying patterns – ignoring the potential impact daughters might have on influencing their mothers. 

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Professors Elodie Gentina, Kun-Huang Huarng, and Mototaka Sakashita, decided to tackle this gap in existing research. And they did so by choosing to examine the mother-daughter relationship and behaviours in two countries – France and Japan. Using as a basis to their research an online questionnaire, they sent this to 423 French and 309 Japanese mothers having teenage daughters aged 15-18.

Moving up a size, they then analysed the data through 3 lenses: change, social comparison – how mothers see themselves in terms of societal expectations and pressures – and cultural influence – how national behavioural traits underpin the mother-daughter relationship.    

Adolescence – a changing room of sorts

For mothers and daughters who have lived the experience, they will readily acknowledge that something changes when a daughter reaches adolescence. Not only physically, but also relationally – everything becomes more complex.

For mothers it is a time of uncertainty. And sometimes of difficult acceptance that their daughters are fast drifting away from childhood to something as awesome as adulthood. This teenage transition necessarily brings change in mothers who see themselves also having to face swapping identities – from loving, protecting and maternal role models to new-found femininity and freedom.

For many mothers, a daughter represents a deep type of extended self and it comes as no surprise that daughters can serve as a kind of ‘new self’ or new image that can help them redefine their own roles and identities. Moreover, daughters can serve as ‘objects of comparison’, influencing what clothes and fashions their mother buy, which new shops to explore and which new brands to try out.

To make the change during this time of transition and uncertainty, both mothers and daughters also compare themselves against others. This helps them to identify models, copy behaviours they find positive in others and take on their new identities. As such, what more effective way to mix with others and compare than in a mall or high street – and connecting as mother and daughter by going clothes shopping together. 

Do you think it suits me? Comparison and the influence of self-esteem

Mothers and daughters in France and Japan. Do you think it suits me? Comparison and the influence of self-esteem

Humans compare themselves to others – a phenomenon called social comparison. And they do this both at a group and individual level. A group might be a club they belong to or even society as a whole. As such, if mothers were to compare themselves against what society expects of a young and attractive physical appearance of a woman, they would most probably feel pressure to adopt the clothing that reflects their age group.

But we also compare ourselves to individuals – other people who are similar to ourselves. For mothers, this might well include their daughter. It is interesting to note that the degree of comparison depends on one’s self-esteem.

Mothers confident in their worth and abilities will likely turn to their daughters at an individual level in the transition phase of their daughter’s adolescence.

But they will also keep a sharp eye on other women in society – middle-aged mothers, keep fit gurus, intellectual figures, women leaders and CEOs – both comparisons enabling them to form a clear picture of the new, enhanced feminine image they wish to convey to others.   

Stretching it to national cultures

There are some universal values that cut across cultures, wherever in the world you might be – shelter, protection, caring for family members among them. As such, both French and Japanese parents share many of the same goals and hopes for their children, especially when it comes to education and getting a good job to ensure financial security. 

But western and eastern parents do differ radically in how they promote these goals and identify with the collective or individualist approach to asserting them. Using, among others, Hofstede’s work on how different cultures and countries cope with hierarchical relations and decision-making – something he calls power distance – eastern cultures tend to be collectivist in nature. That is, the family, or group has precedence. Subsequently, people are encouraged to depend on each other, integrate socially, abide by rules and respect adult authority. Indeed, Japan falls into such a cultural dimension. And this has deep impact on how a child transitions to teenager and then to adult. 

On the other hand, parents in western and individualistic cultures think it only natural to encourage the notions of independence and self-reliance in their offspring. Being assertive and expressing their own ideas also carries importance, as western parents seek to prepare their children to fly of their own wings, survive and prosper in the big, wide world. In this way, western teenagers become vectors of influence on their parents – and also use various strategies, sometimes sophisticated (not to say at times Machiavellian) to achieve this.

So teenagers in Japan might tend to influence their parents by persisting and nagging in a one-way dialogue. Inversely, western adolescents will try bargaining and reasoning – which leads to the conclusion that they can often influence their parents’ consumer habits and behaviours. 

Mothers and daughters

Mothers and daughters in France and Japan: Who influences who when buying clothes? A daughter is often complimented about how she looks a lot like her mother. But, in today’s day and age, is it just the daughters capturing their Mum’s looks or the Mum’s taking in their daughter's style? Digging deeper from a cross-cultural perspective, Professors Elodie Gentina, IÉSEG School of Management, Kun-Huang Huarng, Feng Chia University, and Mototaka Sakashita, Keio Business School, explore the clothing consumption practices of mothers and their teenage daughters.

Coming back to Gentina, Huarng and Sakashita’s research, this can mean that French mums will accept their daughters’ ideas and opinions on what to wear as legitimate in order to obtain advice. French daughters are also more likely to introduce their mothers to new fashions by taking them along to discover new shops, styles and brands. And what if daughter makes a remark or questions her mother’s taste? No sweat – it’s all part of the mentoring dimension.

Japanese mothers and daughters are of a different approach. Having learnt to sail cautiously in social waters, they tend to be more self-aware and sensitive to how others see them. With collective values in mind – the family, the group – Japanese mothers will tend to seek models and comparisons with what is considered to be the social norm, be more authoritative and continue to view their daughters much as little girls. Fashion expertise, then, is not expected of a daughter. And, Japanese mothers will be less likely to change their clothing styles, shops or brands due to their daughters’ influence.

However, the good news is that because of the value of depending on and closeness to others, the Japanese mother-daughter bond remains strong. And according to studies of Japanese mothers, 51% of them find most fun in shopping together with their teenage daughters at department stores, and 42% shopping with them at outlet malls. This tells us that Japanese mothers and daughters actually spend a lot of time together shopping.

A perfect fit

The results of Profs Gentina, Huarng, and Sakashita’s research provide interesting insights into the intercultural comparison of mother-daughter spending behaviours. And this will please the marketers. Indeed, it was proven that the nature and level of social comparison – comparing to individuals or groups – does trigger different purchasing habits for teenage daughters in different cultures.

For Japanese mothers, those with a high level of self-esteem will compare themselves to both individuals and groups, making shared shopping sprees and co-spending with their daughters more likely to occur. With the French mother, it is through comparing with other individuals that not only co-consuming occurs but also change in behaviour. When the individual is close – such as a daughter – the psychological impact for changing image and style of clothing is much stronger.

A perfect fit. For Japanese mothers, those with a high level of self-esteem will compare themselves to both individuals and groups, making shared shopping sprees and co-spending with their daughters more likely to occur. With the French mother, it is through comparing with other individuals that not only co-consuming occurs but also change in behaviour. When the individual is close – such as a daughter – the psychological impact for changing image and style of clothing is much stronger.

For marketing professionals – clothes brands, manufacturers and agencies targeting different countries – taking into account how cultural backgrounds can shape mother-daughter spending can prove highly beneficial. Such differences enable them to sharpen their marketing strategies to specific markets and appeal to mothers in specific countries.

It may also help struggling brands too. Aiming to break into an Asia-Pacific market that is shaped by collectivist values, they can emphasise bonding and the strong emotional ties that are created when mothers and daughters shop together. Product development – for instance, special travel packages or cosmetics for mother-daughter pairs; store design and layout; pricing – for example, marking up daughters’ product that will be purchased by their mothers; and comms strategy, are further examples of where Gentina, Huarng, and Sakashita,’s research into Japanese mothers and daughters could give an advantage.   

And for marketing professionals dealing with individualistic cultures like France, the research points to laying greater emphasis on the strong influence of daughters over their mothers. Serving as important comparison and role models, daughters are apt in helping mothers change their clothing styles, brands and stores.

Here too, marketers can take advantage of this knowledge to tailor new garments and accessories that relate to a daughter’s ideal image of a mother. As for channels, online sites can be developed to attract daughters who in turn alert their mums to new trends and ways of purchasing. In terms of pricing, the reverse of Japan could happen – putting a lower ticket on an item destined for mothers in order to appeal to daughters’ pockets. And finally, communication strategy might focus on using social media to target daughters.

So what of the billions women spend per year on clothes in Japan and France? The markets seem to be set on growing. With more brands entering the competition for the bigger pie. If we take the researchers’ findings wisely, it is the mother-daughter-culture-conscious brand which threads a tailor-made solution that will find the perfect fit.   

Professors Elodie Gentina, Kun-Huang Huarng, and Mototaka Sakashita

Professors Elodie Gentina, Kun-Huang Huarng, and Mototaka Sakashita

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