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Monday 13 February 2017

When fashion follows
the (digital) trends

For many years the high fashion industry followed its own rules, not caring much about what was happening in the pitch black surrounding the spotlighted ramps. Yet for anyone with a slight interest in the industry, a shift in the beams’ direction was highly perceptible. New technologies started to steal the show, not of the clothes but of the outdated ways of bringing them to the market.

The old (fashioned) days

As every woman interested in fashion, I always had an eye on the famous Fashion Weeks. Yet the closest I could get to these shows was the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week advertising stickers on the stairs (if my memory is not failing me) outside Lincoln Center during a New York trip.

Indeed, when thinking of Fashion Weeks, the most commonly spread idea that popped in people’s mind was how exclusive it was and therefore not reachable for the “mere mortals”. People who had the privilege to attend the runways and parties were usually editors, celebrities and other very select communities’ members portraying a very high end image of the industry.

Fashion houses and designers could not care less about the mass market and its opinion. It was an elitist world put together by elites and for elites. And that is how it rolled for decades and how it would have continued rolling for many more if it was not for the digital wave taking over every sector; even the most averse to it.

The new trend

Surprisingly enough, the last shows brought new ways and dynamics into the game swapping the exclusive vibe for the benefit of more media coverage. The previously closed ritzy industry opened up on social media revamping entirely its marketing strategy. This consumer oriented approach led fashion designers and houses to make drastic changes in their business model. Big houses such as Tom Ford have even cancelled entire shows, abandoning the typical “six-month beforehand preview” tradition to focus on ongoing seasons’ styles; making it possible to purchase immediately what you see.

The elitist image of the industry started to fade as high-fashion started to democratise with a closer to consumer spirit. Anyone with a smartphone could catch a glimpse of the next must have items presented at the catwalk through their smartphone; or even better by getting their hands on one of Givenchy’s available to public seats.

Trendsetters

Fashion weeks and shows are not anymore a trade place where buyers place orders right at the end of the runway, but rather a real show with opportunities to advertise.

The legitimate question that comes in mind therefore is why? Why big names in fashion came down their pedestal and surrendered to technologies and analytics? The reason is the same as for any other industry and even truer in fashion: fast changing market.

This englobes trends and consumer tastes obviously but also competition. Big brands started losing market shares to smaller, more agile companies with better consumer targeting.

Whether you are an eager fashion blog reader or a casual one, you probably have not missed how, regardless of the blog type, the content is more heterogeneous brand-wise. Websites such as
Who What Wear cover more affordable brands such as Zara and Forever 21 alongside Saint-Laurent and Louboutin.

Indeed, these more agile companies started by gaining insight on consumers’ tastes, which in turn helped perfecting production and inventory management, therefore reducing costs and selling prices by leveraging data. As a matter of fact, the new strategy was based on a pull method – collect information on the market/coming trends (based on tastes, weather, ongoing trends, etc.), adapt production, reduce overstock waste – rather than a push method where a couple of designers call the shots.

Backed-up with technologies making everything possible instantly, outdated methods could not keep up with the revving market needs. That is when the shift operated, engulfing with it social media, techs and analytics.

New season

In fact, intuition based decisions solely cannot be trusted anymore. Designers begin to publish their collection on social media, crawling consumers’ response to help them predict the upcoming trends. This is made possible thanks to sentiment analysis run on likes, shares, comments, tweets and re-tweets, pins, etc.

Brands start working with Snapchat or Instagram Stories to broadcast their show and/or to disclose previously exclusive behind the scenes in order to reach a broader, younger, more connected audience. Next to the conventional social media platforms used for the latter purpose, unexpected and creative means emerged as well. Uber users had the privilege to access Rag + Bone’s secret show for instance.

As in the beauty industry bloggers and other influencers such as YouTubers or Instagrammers have been called to the rescue; being invited to fashion weeks, wearing clothes sent for advertising purposes, taking over social media accounts, making sponsored post, being invited to events for social media coverage purposes, etc. The influencers are allowing the brands to have access to a larger customer base (i.e. their followers) via their person and are therefore viewed as yet another new marketing tool.

Curtain call

The important changes on the market for the last years have proven how important it is to catch the tech train before it is too late. Whether you are a small company or listed on Fortune 500, data and analytics either will have a negative influence if you incur it or will make a difference on your business story.

Likewise, the fashion industry needs to master digital performance in order to remain sustainable. It is not enough to be a big name in the game, as the current changes one could swiftly become the small fish in the suddenly bigger pond.

Merve Gunaydin
BI Consultant

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