The New Social Media-Fueled Fashion Democracy

Have you ever looked at the latest fashions coming off the catwalk and heaved a sigh of dismay, wondering why they can't design fashions for people like you? Things are changing - no longer can an elite group of couture designers shape and dictate fashion for everyone. A revolution is happening. Fashion is becoming more democratic, thanks in no small part to social media such as Face book and Twitter and the rise of independent fashion bloggers, who are becoming a force to be reckoned with. An increasing recognition of ethical fashion and the need for more plus size fashion has undoubtedly been consumer led.

At the forefront of this trend is The Shopping Forecast, a unique forum which allows consumers to see, share, vote and comment on next season's lines. The Shopping Forecast provides a link between the buyers of fashion, and professional store fashion buyers. The selected outfits that viewers vote on are chosen by "The Style Council" whose members are predominantly independent fashion bloggers with no financial interest in the big couture houses or large retail outlets who have previously dictated fashion. Could the Shopping Forecast lead the way to a genuine change in the way the fashion industry operates - fashion by the people, for the people!

Listening to consumers improves the bottom line. And fashion industry is a business like any other so this is a compelling argument to encourage more customer feedback. Earlier this year, Marc Jacobs CEO Robert Duffy received a large amount of Twitter feedback from customers who wanted plus sizes. His response was to tweet back to the company's more than 26,000 followers, "We gotta do larger sizes... As soon as I get back to NY I'm on it,". This is clear evidence that designers are listening to the fans and no long operating solely for the elite fashionistas in their ivory towers.

Struggling retailer Ann Taylor saw a saw a 16% rise in same-store sales for the second quarter of 2010. Analysts have attributed this to the company's vigorous use of social media for helping to lure new customers. In response to criticism of a skinny model wearing a new pair of pants on its face book site, the company responded by posting new photos of employees of a range of sizes wearing the product. The feedback from customers was remarkably positive.

It is not just big fashion houses and retailers, who are utilising the internet and social media to sell fashion. The internet and viral marketing using sites such as Face book and Twitter has made it cheaper and easier for small independent fashion retailers to sell their products and to get customer feedback without having to pay for costly professional market research. Leading the way, ASOS marketplace is now accepting applications to open boutiques in the Marketplace from Fashion designers, Independent labels, and Vintage resellers. More choice for the consumer means more opportunity to make their own decisions about what sort of fashions they want including the ethical trend for recycling clothes. Fashion is no longer about buying all the right labels but producing a stylish mix of high and low pieces and the move towards a more democratic Fashion industry is part of this trend.

In keeping with the move to a more democratic industry, it seems the size zero vs real women debate is starting to be taken more seriously. Online plus size mall One Stop Plus made history this year as September saw the first ever "plus-size only" show showcased during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York.

However, it is one thing listening to your customer's opinions to try and improve business, but one designer has taken it a step further. British fashion designer Katie Eary has launched the first ever fan-funded clothing. All of the shares for the collection have sold out which has created fashion history! The Katie Eary collection at Catwalk Genius went on sale in September. With investments from as little as £11, part ownership of a collection by a designer you like seems the ultimate way to influence the fashion industry!

Whether this move towards fashion democracy is permanent remains to be seen but with the advent of social media and the internet, it seems unlikely to change. Customers are, at last, able to make themselves heard and any business would be stupid to ignore them.

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