In the wake of Instagram receiving a CFDA Media Award at the fashion industry’s annual accolades, we argue that the platform’s importance in the fashion world is vastly overrated.
Among the sartorial glitterati honored in last night’s 2015 CFDA Awards was Instagram, whose founder Kevin Systrom received the Media award, putting the image sharing platform right up there with Tom Ford and Shayne Oliver as those honored in the fashion industry’s most prestigious accolades.
As Instagram’s popularity skyrocketed since its launch in 2010, the site simultaneously became a seemingly vital marketing tool for fashion brands, who today spend a combined billion dollars annually on sponsored posts from the platform’s scores of influencers, bloggers and the like – some of whom are rumored to charge upward of $100,000 for a single post. And that’s not to mention the countless teasers, behind the scenes images and product shots that labels share in the hopes of attracting an army of loyal followers to (in theory) help them in their quest for success.
Marketing on Instagram is seen as utterly indispensable – as important as pattern cutting and sourcing fabrics – and real world success is deemed impossible without success on the platform. But do brands really need it? Would the fashion world really lose anything if the seemingly never-ending stream of images stopped over night? Probably not.
Like any social platform, marketing strategy or advertising campaign, Instagram is not the be all and end all of a clothing label. It is one of countless ways of communicating a story. Whether it’s through outspoken interviews, recklessly destructive videos or a bonafide print magazine, there are infinite ways for brands to reach out to followers and the unconverted alike – not to mention just sitting back and letting the silhouettes, the fabrics, the palettes – the ideas – do the talking.
Case in point is Supreme, who have remained at the forefront of the streetwear conversation for 20 years despite maintaining a staunchly DIY, word-of-mouth marketing ethic that, until last year, didn’t even extend to social media. Granted, Instagram didn’t exist for the first 16 years of the brand’s existence, but a constant barrage of easily-accessible imagery wasn’t needed when Supreme were releasing collection after collection packed with witty pop culture references and mischievous anti-authoritianism. “Instead of putting time and effort speaking on the process of how we get the collection done, our energy goes into presentation,” the brand’s founder James Jebbia stated in an interview for HYPEBEAST. “A lot more can be said through good visuals.”
The same can be said of Martin Margiela, who from 1989 to 2009 helmed one of fashion’s most talked-about labels despite only one photo ever existing of him. There’s a lot to be said from maintaining an air of mystery, particularly in a world that relies so heavily on fantasy and escapism as high fashion.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, LA streetwear label The Hundreds attracted an army of followers thanks in no part to the tireless blogging of their co-founder Bobby Hundreds, who shared countless personal stories, photos, interviews and anecdotes on the brand’s website, all of which brought the company’s deeply personal narrative to life more than social media ever could. The man himself recently took to his blog to warn of the perils of relying too much on online noise, stating “Followers and Likes don’t necessarily equate to dollars or success. Nor does it mean that anybody actually follows or likes you.”
Constricting a label’s narrative to easily digestible square photos does not guarantee success any more than using a particular model or photographer does. Moreover, putting too much time and effort into the photo-stream echo chamber encourages sameness, herd-thinking and monotony. If there’s one thing the fashion world does not need it’s more photos of sneakers dangling off buildings and artfully-composed outfit grids.
Instagram may have birthed the careers of countless models, bloggers and what-do-they-actually-do? internet personalities, but its importance in the fashion world is vastly overrated. While Follows and Likes may help propel brands to the forefront of the fashion conversation, without ideas, narrative and a compelling foundation they will not have more than two minutes of fame.