Is Social Media Killing the Fashion Industry?

Last week, I attended the Social Media Week London event: Data Driven Fashion and The Death of Trends. While I expected to be met by lots of impeccably dressed people and to learn tips for forecasting trends for Spring/Summer 2020, there was a lot more to it.

Lucy Norris, Founder & Creative Director, Pret-A-Rever posed the question “Is social media killing the fashion industry?” According to Norris, social media has made fashion more accessible than ever before; and as a result, designer labels are now battling ‘Pre-commerce’ and ‘Seasonal Confusion Disorder.’ Both terms refer to a consumer who has been overexposed to catwalk images and commentary at the time of show and now wants immediate access to a clothing line that wasn’t meant to be available for months.

Even worse, Norris believes that once these lines are finally accessible, the consumer has suffered trend fatigue at the hands of social media and has lost all traces of interest. Designers Donna Karen and Tom Ford have consequently either limited or banned all press and photography from their recent catwalk shows and Burberry now have a day of runway retail. In a further blow to the validity of social media for the fashion industry, Natalie Thng, Head of Ecommerce at Temperley London, doubted its universality. For luxury brands, Thng believes that not everything about a brand should be seen or accessible in order to maintain a sense of exclusivity.

While both arguments were well founded, data shared by Mintel on the day showed that fashion has found a new lease on life online and at the hands of social media:

  • 61% of 16-24 year olds have bought clothes in the last 3 months
  • 75% of consumers have bought clothing online in 2012
  • Facebook is the platform most used for sharing thoughts and ideas about fashion
  • 50% of 16-24 year olds have expressed thoughts about new clothing on Facebook, 17% have done so on Twitter
  • 36% of 25-34 year olds have expressed thoughts about new clothing on Facebook
  • 47% of 16-24 year olds like a brand on Facebook if they have a positive feeling towards the brand
  • 20% of 16-24 year olds would unlike a brand if they start to feel negatively about it
  • 27% of 16-24 year olds would post a status update about brand if they have a positive experience with it
  • 26% of 16-24 year olds would post a status update about a brand if they have a negative experience with it
  • 41% of 16-24 year olds like a brand on Facebook to find out about special offers/promotions
  • 36% of 16-24 year olds like a brand to be publicly affiliated with the brand
  • Online shopping is expected to grow by 1/3 by 2014

Molly Flat, from 1000 Heads, said “Social media is able to create real loyalty for brands by providing consumers with snippets of the design process and history of the brand.”  This reminded the audience of just what social media can do for a brand. By giving a brand more transparency and personality, social media can generate a level of consumer loyalty that simply wasn’t possible before.

While social media has undoubtedly breathed air in to the fashion industry, it seems as though the luxury fashion design world feels a victim. I believe Flat confuses loyalty with aspiration, and while aspiration can bring about a sales conversion, the high-end labels – unlike high street – may see little profit from social media.

Joined Ketchum Pleon London as an Account Co-coordinator on the James Maxwell Graduate programme, working in both Digital and Brand. PR enthusiast and Irish expat who has worked for clients from tech to government to consumer goods. All views are my own.