There is no doubt that social media has revolutionized the fashion industry - but has its impact been positive? We continue our ongoing Debates series by asking if social media has changed fashion for better or for worse.
Social media has completely changed almost every facet of modern living - from the way we listen to music to our eating habits - and the fashion industry is no exception. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram's all-encompassing takeover has seen the fashion status quo upended, as bloggers rival editors in influence, Instagram looks set to replace the catwalk as the first place to look for new fashion, and brands' marketers have added "reach" and "viral" to their buzzword vocabulary.
But has it been a good thing? Certainly, the impact of social media on our beloved fashion industry has been vast - but with new revolutions comes new challenges and new hierarchies. With all of this in mind, we continue Highsnobiety's Debates series by asking:
Has social media had a positive impact on the fashion industry?
No - Fashion is Socially Connected, but More Disconnected than Ever
With the dissolution of Myspace and its “Top 8” friending, I naively believed we would bid farewell to a roll call of popularity, in preference order. Instead what we have now is a variety of mediums that have bullied an industry into indoctrinating those in cahoots with the bully. That is, so many of the major players in fashion now are the ones most adept at social media, not the ones necessarily with the most talent.
The internet is now so crowded that the best way to scramble to the top in order to get your content seen and liked is really no dissimilar to a traditional way of networking. The well-connected and the wealthy are those who are set to garner the most social attention, in large part because of our voyeuristic tendency to pursue and appreciate them. Our puerile impulse to follow the famous is wildly exacerbated when we have access to what falsely appears to be a genuine window into their worlds, and fashion bloggers are making millions off it.
All due respect to those who are managing to cash in on the recent phenomenon of social media’s sway, as they’re essentially making careers out of doing nothing. Following the Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Snapchat accounts of those on the front row of almost every Spring/Summer 2015 show at Paris Fashion Week gives us the impression we’re privy to a never-seen-before view into the shows. We’re not, we’re just seeing things from a slightly different angle.
Yet this exposure has become fertile ground for opportunists to contribute to the fashion world, and there’s two ways in which this happens. Bloggers such as Chiara Ferragni aka The Blonde Salad has a slew of collaborations and capsule collections built solely off the back of her blogging infamy. Modern marvel Ian Connor has branded himself through various social medias as an elusive stylist/creative director known primarily for who he knows, not what he knows, and whose style is now reproduced by many of his avid followers. And that’s a problem. There’s an instant proliferation of trends born out of almost nothing substantial, unlike the foundations of trends the fashion industry is built on, which can be attributed to subcultural movements or thoroughly thought-out fashion statements. When trends are born out of sheer abundance instead of adhering to the chain of influencer - early adopter - late adopter, the cycle of trends is completely altered, and without that, what is fashion?
It’s easy to argue that the advent of social media has provided a window of opportunity to plenty of creatives, who without the traditional education or network of somebodies would never have had the chance. The industry has been democratized. But if those people are determined, passionate and most importantly talented enough to bring their goods to the fashion forefront then they will find a way. Instead, everybody looks the same and believes they’re deserving of our attention, and more importantly - our likes. Fashion is now completely socially connected, but more disconnected than ever before.
Yes - The Floodgates have been Opened for a New Generation
In 1870, clothier Charles Frederick Worth was pay-rolling over 1,000 employees, and was manufacturing several hundred garments to be sold each week. Commonly regarded as the founder of haute couture, the hard-toiling Englishman was the first recorded individual to sew his own label in each garment, thereby constituting the earliest form of a clothing brand. Worth’s marketing strategy was built around word-of-mouth, there were no sponsored tweets or Google smart ads that brands of today benefit from. Worth was also known for preparing several designs for each season, which were shown off by live models to select clients of the Worth brand. These were formative times for the fashion industry as we know it, and examining practices of the late 18th century allows us to understand how social media has positively impacted the modern industry.
Maybe Charles didn’t realize it at the time, but if we fast-forward to 2015, branding and marketing practices have become indispensable tools, further bolstered by platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Social media has provided a complete revolution in the way that the fashion industry operates. Chances are, you will read about a brand 10 times on social media before you ever discuss it with another person. You might know the name, but you probably can’t pronounce it. Ball-mayne? Boll-man? Due to expedited manners of communication and sharing of information, social media at its core allows brands to engage customers more effectively than ever. If he were alive today, what would Charles Frederick Worth think of Instagram? As the first guy ever to start a personal brand, he would probably be getting Kim Kardashian-level likes.
Within the pre-social media landscape, fashion show attendees were strictly limited to editors, stylists, designers and other fashion insiders. Social media platforms have altered the required credentials for those wishing to enter the fashion industry, broadening them to extremes, and subsequently creating a gamut of new roles along the course; the most elusive and muddily defined of which is arguably the fashion “influencer.” Yes, we see them in lookbooks here and there, however few can truly pinpoint what the Ian Connors and Luka Sabbats do to sustain themselves, or what role they serve, yet these personal brands have been lofted up within the fashion community as one of the most important and valuable. These irreverent and mysterious characters are a bi-product of social media, and they have become innately linked to fashion. Now these web-era influencers sit alongside style bloggers and Instagram celebrities in the front row. In short, social media provides opportunities to the masses through a voice that was conventionally reserved for those with a fashion school diploma. You don’t need to be a graduate of Central Saint Martins, you just need to have a degree of personal style and an Instagram. Elitism within fashion has been hugely eroded, and this is for the best. The floodgates have been opened to a new generation - young creatives of multifaceted and sometimes-obscure talents that challenge preconceptions and laugh at convention.
One instance that is central to this argument - Nike’s rollout of the Air Yeezy II “Red October," when the Beaverton-based athletics company tweeted a buy link without any prior notice. This sales policy provided equal opportunity for any and all to obtain a pair of the highly coveted sneakers, which was fundamentally a democratic strategy. In a number of ways, we can clearly see that the fashion industry is now more democratic than ever. Elections are ongoing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We cast our votes daily through likes and retweets. Delegates range from bedroom designers to fashion school graduates. The internet is the House of Congress, where bills of style are raised, debated and passed.
Want more in-depth discussions of contentious fashion topics? Dive into the rest of Highsnobiety's Debates series.