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Social Media's Effects on the Fashion Industry

I wrote this as an enterprise story for my reporting class last semester and figured it should see the light of day at some point.
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Charles Frederick Worth, a man regarded as the founder of haute couture fashion, had nearly 1,000 paid employees in the 1870s. He prepared several designs for each season that were shown off by live models to display the new fashions. Worth relied on word-of-mouth strategy in order for his clothing business to profit. Fashion today follows a similar routine.

There are two major fashion week circuits bi-annually as well as two intermediate collections where designers display their collections for the next season. Consumers used to have to wait until the collections appeared in that season’s magazines and print ads to view the new collections. Today, consumers are able to see them almost instantly. With a smart device and an internet connection, anyone can follow an event like New York Fashion Week, even 5,000 miles away.

In the last ten years, fashion has become a more universal industry. Elitism has been hugely eroded, as social media has triggered the floodgates opening to a new generation of consumers.

Society lives in a digital era. Social media has changed every facet of modern living, from listening to music to our eating habits and even to how we look at and purchase fashion. An average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day, turning social media into a dominant source of information.

“One of the biggest impacts social media has had is to expand peer reviews as a part of the buying process,” said Dr. Kathleen Stansberry, assistant professor of public relations and social media at Cleveland State University. “If you want to try a new restaurant, purchase a new product, or plan a vacation you can research the purchase by reading about other people’s experience. I believe that this makes corporations more responsive to their customers and makes for more informed consumers.”
There is a new innovative business model that incorporates social media, allowing firms to build a strong relationship with their customers and encourage loyalty to their company. Social media connects brands with their target market and audience and invites free and easy feedback from consumers. Brands can engage effectively with its customers on a more personal level and listen to crucial feedback.

Traditional media is no longer encouraging a two-way communication between fashion brands and consumers. Social media has created an open channel of communication between organizations and the general public, forcing brands to think more creatively.

Social media has revolutionized the fashion industry, beginning with the surge in 2009 by luxury brands. The industry became more accessible through blogs and Instagram pages, which have helped translate high fashion into daily life.

A company’s social media page is an extension of its brand, focusing on what their business represents both in values, aesthetics and what they offer. Brands focus on conversation, communicating with their customers through photos, status updates and videos that represent their business and products.

Some, like Maude Churchill, author at High Snobiety, argue that fashion is socially connected, yet is still more disconnected than ever. Churchill believes that a person’s pull or reach in the fashion industry is based on following, not talent. The Internet is crowded with content creators, and the well-connected and wealthy garner more attention than others.
“Like any major change in communication, there are both positive and negative effects,” Stansberry said. “I think social media has shifted a balance of power by opening access to distribution channels. Individuals can utilize social media to produce and distribute messages on an international scale with very little cost. That is a huge shift in the communication industry. I see it as positive–others would likely disagree.”

Chris Danforth, another writer at High Snobiety, noted that social media platforms have altered the requirements and credentials for those who wish to enter the fashion industry today. With fashion bloggers and opportunists like Chiara Ferragni (The Blonde Salad) and Leandra Medine (Man Repeller), who have garnered a combined following of 6.2 million followers on Instagram, the elitist industry has become more accessible and relatable to everyday consumers. Through social media and fashion blogging, the fashion industry is revitalizing itself. Social media can provide a creative outlet for those involved, whether they are citizen journalists, aspiring bloggers, editors, or even the designers themselves.

According to author Julia Yates, in 2006, there were a total of 27 million blogs and of those, two million were devoted to fashion. In a 2013 study by the Technorati Digital Influence Report, blogs came in as the number three most likely online service that could influence a purchase, right under retail sites and brand sites. The study surveyed influencers, consumers and brand marketers.

“I actually see fashion bloggers and Instagram and YouTube celebrities as the biggest distributors to the fashion industries,” Stansberry said. “Social media savvy fashionistas and fashionistos publicize street fashion, which in turn can influence runway trends and glossy fashion magazine features.”

Companies cut former payments to marketing because of social media. Instead of purchasing advertisements, companies choose to work with bloggers through monetary and itemized compensation as well as marketing activities that are focused on social advertising.

“Social media is used in a multitude of ways to build brands and enhance marketing activities,” Stansberry explained. “Companies and organizations are using social media to develop and distribute original content, communicate with publics, analyze customer concerns, amplify key messages, and in about a million other ways.

Before, fashion brands believed that social networking sites would weaken their relationship with customers. Today, social media is viewed as a chance to improve customer relationships and a way to capture a larger audience. Firms must continually find new ways to connect with their customers in order to build strong relationships and increase social engagement, which both can lead to growth within the firm. It can be crucial for brands to interact through their business model on social media.

According to designer Alexander Wang, the impact of social media today affects the designs.

“The way that we shoot it, the way that we showcase it and the way that we make the clothes and design them changed,” Wang said.

Word of mouth on the Internet can be powerful–especially when viral–whether it’s good or bad. The interpersonal communication about products and services between consumers is a marketing strategy of its own, much like how Worth’s business relied heavily on word of mouth each coming season in order to sell his products.

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York is the single largest media event. What used to be an industry only event for press and buyers has turned into a global event and technologies have advanced. The public wouldn’t see the collections until months later. Today, new collections are seen almost instantly through Instagram (from both bloggers, other content creators, and editors) or through Vogue’s own newest addition, Vogue Runway. The accessibility of fashion has become immediate.

Instagram is the first place to look for new fashion rather than sitting in the front row. Brands like Alice + Olivia, Rebecca Minkoff, Kate Spade and Marc Jacobs thrive on the social media application, but another man used it to transform and heighten a dying brand.

Olivier Rousteing, Balmain’s current 28-year-old creative director, used social media to complete transform the fashion house’s image. In 2012, Rousteing first brought up using an Instagram page for the brand and his bosses were weary. The brand was meant to represent elegance and poise, a luxurious image far away from the casualty and realness of social media. Rousteing believed that more people would be interested in the clothes if they saw who the face behind the brand was.

Rousteing became one of the first creative directors to launch their own personal Instagram feed. This personal connection allowed him to reach out to his followers, affectionately called the “Balmaniacs.” With major celebrities like the Kardashians and Rihanna posting on their own feeds about how much they loved the brand’s designs, popularity skyrocketed and a connection between Balmain and high profile celebrities was created.

Oscar de la Renta and DKNY have social media accounts for their PR girls, a source for all of the information regarding the designers and their collections. Erika Bearman, the face behind Oscar PR Girl, left her position at the company back in August but her mark on the communications department was apparent after six years there. In the same month, Aliza Licht, the woman behind DKNY PR Girl, left her position with the company as well.

Licht cites that social media provides an effective vehicle in order for company’s and brands to get their message out into the world. Shows like Project Runway give a first insider look on what goes on in fashion, behind the scenes action for viewers to enjoy. Through its existence and its promotion on various mediums, the industry continues to become more transparent and accessible for those outside of the inner circle.

The media landscape is constantly changing as time progresses and technology advances. Fashion houses are catching on to the new trend of creating a social media identity, making their presence known to a mass audience through the channels provided.


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