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3 Ways Social Media is Disrupting the Fashion Industry

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Social media has had a way of disrupting industries over the past five years, with the world of fashion being no different. The unique operational cycles of luxury fashion labels (i.e. the time lapse between runway shows and actual product availability) are being challenged by a real-time environment where bloggers and socially savvy fashion enthusiasts can drum up interest in a designer or particular look overnight.

Fashion aficionados are increasingly sharing their favorite styles and brands via social platforms like Pinterest (shown above).

What’s more, the proliferation of consumer content on emerging platforms like Pinterest and Tumblr, and within social shopping sites like Polyvore, is changing the way designers view their brand identity. Labels previously exclusive and “closed” are becoming more open to sharing content across multiple social platforms.

Inspired by the SXSW panel entitled “Who Needs Fashion Cycle? I’ve Got Social Media,” this post outlines three key ways social media has disrupted the luxury fashion cycle as we know it, and what marketers in this space can do to get ahead of the trend to better reach their customers.

1. The real time web is speeding up the traditional fashion communications cycle, sparking consumer interest from the moment products hit the runway.
Ten years ago the fashion communication cycle was highly controlled. Fashion houses put on two major shows per year – private events for 1,000 to 2,000 industry insiders. Photographs from the shows did not reach the general public for six months, when they were seen in the pages of fashion glossies at the same time apparel was made available in stores. This communication flow aligned with the fashion operations cycle post-show, during which buyers and designers coordinated their orders and created the pieces over the next six months before going to market.

Enter social media via, bloggers and micro-sharing platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Once these real-time platforms were used in the front rows of designer shows, Fashion Week went from being a limited-audience occasion to a massive, consumer-facing event with couture images, trends and videos at the public’s fingertips.

Photobucket garners 2.3 million users a month. Per Wikipedia, print rival InStyle has 1.7 million subscriptions.
Consumer interest piqued as trends spread across the social web, but the couture creations would not become available until six months later for purchase, due to the lagging fashion operations cycle. The question became, how could couture designers maintain consumer interest until their products became available?

Retailers like H&M and Zara have used this challenge to their advantage, creating on-trend pieces as quickly as possible to meet consumer demand in what’s known as “fast fashion.” Other fashion sites such as and are approaching this by creating a buyer commitment, pre-payment plans and item “watch-lists” to allow shoppers to receive their desired dream item a few weeks before it arrives in stores.

2. As consumer content proliferates across the web, some traditionally “closed” fashion brands are shifting their strategies from exclusivity to inclusivity.
While some might argue that the era of the “star designer” is over as the volume of fashion brand messages has exploded, the designers with the clearest, most distinctive brand vision will still be able to maintain a relevant presence in this new age of fashion communications where consumers have become a large part of a brand’s narrative. DKNY is one example of a brand that has found success in this regard, namely through its popular @DKNYPRGirl Twitter handle managed by the brand’s SVP of Global Communications Aliza Licht. Similarly, Oscar de la Renta’s PR team has launched a Tumblr community that gives fashion addicts a behind the scenes look at the fashion house.

Oscar de la Renta on Tumblr
Some designers have even gone so far as to reject social altogether. Tom Ford for example, makes private appointments for small groups of tastemakers to view his collections – no tweets allowed. The goal of his contrarian approach: to optimize the timing for the release of images in closer coordination with the operations cycle and product availability.

However, while some may attempt to postpone influencer image sharing, fashion houses as a whole may need to begin to relinquish some control of their brand narratives and embrace the collective stories of consumers that have become a part of their digital brand identities via UGC. For example, the number of user-uploaded images posing with Louis Vuitton Damier purses is greater than the amount of content the house is able to create themselves. Moreover, a simple search for ‘Gucci’ within Pinterest yields thousands of results pinned by users – even though the brand does not have a page set up there. The consumer voice – louder than that of the brand – is proving to be a critical component to the brand’s identity.

3. Stylists are filling the increasingly important role as ‘curator,’ bridging the gap between online and in-store.
The digital ecosystems surrounding stylists are becoming increasingly diverse and, as a result, the industry expects their role to grow to be more important than ever before. Stylists will help bridge the gap between online and in-store now that trends are more readily accessible and brands can barely keep up with the demand for new styles. One way this occurs is through virtual reality styling events whereby shoppers use special apps to help make purchase decisions in-store. Stylists are also using the web to connect with shoppers in more traditional situations and give fashion counsel either in-store or online. Up-and-coming start-up Style for Hire offers such services.

Looking ahead, will operations ever catch up with the new rapid-fire fashion communications cycle? Some suggest that the fashion industry should reformat its current operational cycle for the Digital Age. This could be done by either skipping a season of shows (so garments can be produced for the next season by the time they hit the runway); and/or by flip-flopping the shows’ so the spring/summer and fall shows align the actual upcoming season. That way, items can be purchased and worn in the same real-time way the new designer trends are shared via social, perhaps giving a new definition to the term “fast fashion.” NBC’s new show “Fashion Star” is one innovator in the fast fashion trend – operating under the tagline “Watch it today, wear it tomorrow.”

The rise of the social web has disrupted the fashion world in similar ways that it has impacted other industries. Consumers today engage in real time, and brands of all verticals and sizes are realizing that the pace of interaction and engagement demands a different approach. The challenge of keeping up with the real time environment is also an opportunity, as it provides a means through which brands can create meaningful and lasting relationships with consumers