Robert Clark
Brand Strategist

Hot Topic: Retail Design & Brand Refresh



A refresh to a fading retail brand by reestablishing a clear voice that will transcend trend.


Hot Topic has fallen from it’s glory days.

In an effort to appeal to today’s mainstream masses, Hot Topic has lost its identity. What was once known as the anti-conformist, “loudest store in the mall” has been reduced to a diluted sea of licensed merchandise.


Youth culture does not identify with classic traditional teen archetypes.

It’s the most accepted time to be weird, but they don't like to self identify with any labels. Today’s teens embrace what makes each other different rather than seeking polarizing opposites. It's all about the exploration of the individual and creating more of a crossculture, rather than counterculture.


Hot Topic agitates the standard to prevoke creativity.

We are shifting the brand from a chaser of culture to a creator of culture. Hot Topic embraces culture’s rough edges. They’re not for the slick or perfectly polished; they stand for the messy, handmade, ever-evolving. Hot topic will always give voice to the different, the gritty, the fearless.


The Misfits of Gen-Z

They’re fearless, curious, and crave self-expression. The ones who demand change and are willing to use their voices. Not sure who they are, but they know what they aren't.

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Key Findings

They’re fearlessly expressive

They have their own opinions and aren't afraid of expressing them over a variety of channels. They’re becoming politically active, particularly in causes that hit close to home.

Resurgence of DIY culture in teens

To combat ultra commercialization, there’s a movement amongst teens to “take the community back” and return to punk’s roots of DIY. They tend to be skeptical of anything that looks too slick. Emphasis is put on making things happen yourself, like putting on a concert in someone’s living room rather than a formal venue.


Overcoming Barriers

Teenage Misfits are extremely weary of anything that comes off overly polished or commercialized. Hot Topic can’t speak to them from a high-level brand perspective, it’ll never work.

We want to give teenagers control of their own self-expression, and Hot Topic’s. Hot Topic is store supported self-expression, not a place of pre-packaged store-bought identities.


For the teenager who never thinks twice about wearing his bright yellow pants and guyliner,

For the little kid who shouts from the mountaintops her love of Pokémon and pentagrams,

For the rap-lovers and dad-rockers, for the fangirls and fanboys, for the people who refuse to hide their ME-flag,

Come, gather. Be heard.

Hot Topic

For the Fearless Ones.

Updated Brand look & feel

Hot Topic is for the fearless ones… but the emphasis is on the FOR. The new logo, color and textures you see here aim to provide a blank yet bold canvas for consumers to leave their mark.

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Retail Experience

HT Hubs

Although malls are dying, Hot Topic is still thriving. Because of this, it doesn’t make sense to take all Hot Topics out of malls. So, we’re only closing some mall stores in regions with abundant locations, and replacing them with a new, secondary store concept called ‘HT Hubs'. In order to get extra square footage, we will place these HT Hubs in suburban town centers.

We are using Rockville, MD as our pilot market. This overflow suburb of DC and Baltimore has a thriving art scene full of the fearless individuals we are aiming to reach. Plus there are 17 Hot Topic stores within a 50 mile radius in this region.

A look inside

HT Rockville exists as a place for participation with the Hot Topic brand. This is a space for conversation, cultural creation, and connection. A place where people can embrace their differences but also come together. The design is simple, modular and adaptive. It is meant to take on the personality of the community it lives in– many of the walls are left blank for local artists to put their stamp on the space.

Taking a stance

At HT Rockville, you can still buy all the products you know and love… but these locations are about so much more. If we’re going to embolden young people to agitate the standard, we have to actually take a stance, and walk the walk.

The Stance Wall you see here serves as an agile home for rotating products that benefit various causes. These products are similar to items that Hot Topic already offers– t-shirts, hats, and accessories– but their backstories, which you can see scrawled on the shelf’s chalkboard surface, empower shoppers to vote with their dollar.

Create & Question

HT Hub Hosts – location managers with a passion for community outreach – will sit at an open office space and help community members find new ways to get involved. Hub hosts are in charge of building out what we’re calling “The Fearless Few: A Catalog of Local Creatives.” HT Rockville visitors can access a curated, dynamic list of local artists who are accepting commissions.

Each HT Hub will house a chapter of The Fearless Ones membership program. On a local level, people who hold the The Fearless Ones membership card get perks like exclusive products and deals, and access to the multipurpose space you see here inside HT Rockville. This space is perfect for viewing parties, poetry slam nights, or music performances– whatever members want to organize. On a national level, The Fearless Ones program is meant to ensure Hot Topic is staying relevant and listening to their consumers.

who’s going to manage this?

Each HT Hub location will employ two positions:

Hub Hosts

  • Merchandises their HT Hub

  • Oversees their The Fearless Ones chapter

  • Produces events and various programming

  • Keeps a pulse on their local community

Assistant Hub Hosts

  • Curates social content

  • Leads their Fearless Ones chapter

  • Assists in producing events and programming

  • Constantly brings fresh ideas to the Hub Host

Our Goal:

In today’s societal and political landscapes, it’s more important now than ever to question authority, break rules, start new conversations and find new solutions. The next generation is already doing this, and we want to empower them, give them a voice, encourage progression and expression. As we did at our inception, we will continue to speak to budding generations and evolve as they do. Explore with them. Create with them. And always encourage their fearlessness.


Robert Clark (CBM), Catie Frech (ST), Sara Matheson Harris (ST), Joelle Halle (XD), Molly McCarvill (AD), Ainsworth Kerr (CW)