State of the Industry: Fashion Innovation, Part I

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.– Coco ChanelIt’s hard to believe that one of the most dynamic industries in the world – one known for its insatiable pursuit of innovation – is in the midst of a drastic transformation.

By Kimberly Reyes (@CommDuCoeur)

Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.

– Coco Chanel

It’s hard to believe that one of the most dynamic industries in the world – one known for its insatiable pursuit of innovation – is in the midst of a drastic transformation. For nearly a century, the fashion industry told people what to wear, when to wear it, and how to wear it. Fashion is one of the most creative, culture-shaping industries in the world; but this creativity belonged almost exclusively to product design. Built on prestige, the attitude was largely akin to “if you build it, they will come.” This unidrectional dialogue with consumers, combined with product-centric marketing strategy, yielded celebrity-laden print ads and billboards that represented or reflected the brand aesthetic. And when it came to retail, the magic was still in the merchandising.

These days, the tables have turned, and a collective style consciousness has emerged. This revolutionary collaboration between consumers and designer labels would not have been possible without the social web, which has turned local, anonymous trendspotters into Internet celebrities.

Power to the Bloggers

Little Tavi Gavinson was just like any 11-year-old girl. She liked playing with her friends, eating junk food, lamented doing her homework, and loved playing dress-up…so much so, that she started a blog called Style Rookie where she posted photos of herself and her friends in their favorite outfits. Eventually, the pre-teen’s affinity for eclectic vintage and impressive grasp of industry lingo caught the eye of a New York Times style editor, and it wasn’t long before tiny Tavi from the suburbs of Chicago found herself in Bryant Park for New York Fashion Week and right in front of the legendary Anna Wintour.

Earning over 1.5 million hits a month, Tavi and her blog demonstrates a tidal wave of influence that’s quickly sweeping the runways. Fashion bloggers like Tavi, Bryan Boy, Alix Bancourt of The Cherry Blossom Girl, Susie Lau of Style Bubble, and Jessica Quirk of What I Wore are disrupting the fashion hierarchy. They infuse designer pieces with personality, context, and accessibility – meaning that they’ve stripped away the exclusivity of fashion that sometimes acted as a wall between the consumer and the product.

Street Style

In the democratization of fashion, influence doesn’t just belong to the blogging elite. Photographer Scott Schuman finds style inspiration from random passersby on the street, donning a particularly striking outfit, a quirky detail, or just carrying themselves with a certain swagger. His photographs, captured and published on The Sartorialist, is the digital reincarnation of the French flaneur. Schuman’s keen eye and knack for storytelling captures stylish little slices of metropolitan life: an elegant older woman walking her dog, a young girl reading a book on the library steps, a handsome gentleman in a sharp suit waiting at a bus stop. A journey that began with the launch of a simple photography site in 2005 eventually made Scott Schuman one of TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Design Influencers.

While the chances of being shot by Schuman’s Canon EOS 5D Mark II might be slim (he often bounces from city to city without finding subjects), fashionistas can flaunt their carefully assembled outfits on, a constantly updated repository for street style. With over 3.5 million unique visitors per month and over 200,000 total registered members, the 2-year-old community gallery “[offers] something print fashion magazines still find challenging: bringing fashion from the runway to the real-world” (Metro News, Style Bloggers Bring Fashion to the Masses).

Video en Vogue

On a different social publishing platform, user-generated content takes a decidedly different approach. YouTube is ripe with young talent, particularly those in the beauty department. Makeup experts like Michelle Phan share detailed tutorials on how to execute a variety of looks, from celebrity-inspired palettes to the perfect smoky eye. At over 1.3 million subscribers, Michelle Phan’s YouTube Channel easily has the largest following of any beauty brand or professional makeup artist online, making her the #1 beauty guru on the popular video hosting site. Michelle’s high production quality, honesty and transparency regarding sponsored material, and ability to reach the much-neglected Asian demographic (although her advice is for makeup enthusiasts of all colors) have earned her a gig as the official spokesperson for Lancôme cosmetics. Michelle was also afforded the opportunity to do the makeup for Michale Kors’ Spring/Summer 2010 presentation.

On a much more local stage, “fashion hauls” have gained the undivided attention of avid shoppers online. These haul videos are an opportunity for shoppers to brag about their purchases, often name-dropping the brand, store, and price, with a heavy emphasis on value. Haul videos are especially influential to a younger demographic, wishing to express their individual style on a minimal budget. While the price points are low, the haul sensation is an extremely lucrative trend, as they are marching orders that send consumers directly to the store to purchase outfits in bulk. “We have some haul videos that compare to major cable channels in views,” says Shishir Mehrotra, director of Product Management at YouTube (via ABC News) The top-performing vloggers get offered partnerships with brands, getting compensated enough to make a living out of their content.

Content Curation

Another form of user-generated content that is taking over the industry is the act of curation. With a following of 6.5 million influential fashion tastemakers, Polyvore has revolutionized retail on the Web.  Started by a team of former Yahoo! engineers, Polyvore lets users capture individual products from their favorite e-commerce site with Polyvore’s ingenious clipper tool, and put together outfits in the site’s mini editor.  After publishing their sets to a personal profile, the creator can go on to share them via social media, embed them on their blogs, discover and vote on others’ sets.  What’s more, Polyvore maintains links from the products back to the retailer’s site, delivering the ultimate marriage between commerce and content. Polyvore’s users have become the new fashion editors, pulling in background images, supporting graphics, and celebrity photos to make interactive moodboards that double as fashion spreads, with a simple click-to-buy interface.

After witnessing Polyvore’s success, a number of other developers followed suit. The highly effective shopping search engine ShopStyle developed My Stylebook for registered users to collect favorite items and assemble them, scrapbook style, into outfits. Last year, Google launched, where celebrities and style icons create custom online “boutiques” filled with the lust-worthy items on their wish lists. Users can shop celebrity boutiques or scour the web for fashion finds and create their own.

The effectiveness of fashion curation lies in its ability to help users navigate through the increasingly fragmented fashion landscape (more on this later). As new brands and emerge and retailers begin adopting “fast fashion” merchandising strategies, shoppers become overwhelmed with choices and turn to each other for help honing in on the most covetable items.

The development of the community style consciousness is but one facet of the new fashion economy, albeit one of the most disruptive. In future installments in this series, I’ll address how digital has influenced the “fast fashion movement,” what fashion brands are doing to reach out to the new niches, and the question that’s on everyone’s mind: does luxury need to go digital? Stay tuned, and feel free to write your comments and questions to me below!