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April 10, 2018

Byte-Sized Revolution: How Social Media Is Changing Fashion

Text by Saumya Sinha. Illustration by Tanya Eden

At a time when Twitteratis and Instagrammers play a prominent role in driving thoughts and tastes, we examine how social media has reinvented the fashion industry and changed it forever

Earlier this year, I made the conscious decision to try and streamline the time I spend scrolling endlessly through blurry images of street style, catwalks, editorial shoots and make-up tutorials on my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I had to do this to preserve my sanity, get my internet FOMO in check and avoid being stereotyped as the ‘typical millennial’ who eats and breathes social media. Most importantly however, I wanted to now catch up on my daily dose of news and inspiration I get through the ’gram, Twitter, Pinterest and the whole shebang in the time span of two cab rides and a tea break! For someone who is glued to the screen in an almost hypnotic manner, this wasn’t just a disastrous resolution to begin with but, as many may argue, an unnecessary one. In less than a month of desisting, it was crystal clear that I could not run away from the internet, but that I would have to find my pace and run along with it. I, along with millions of people out there, have debated the pros and cons of social media and come to the conclusion that it is not our future but already an indispensable part of our realities, and we’re not complaining. While it is swiftly redefining brands and restructuring businesses, what it has primarily done to the fashion industry is that it has turned the traditional hierarchy on its head. Here, Facebook is the battlefront for consumer involvement, Instagram is the supreme platform for innovative storytelling and Twitter is the master of curated news bulletins and ICYMIs. What once was private and accessible to the elite is now accessible to a teenager from the comfort of his or her couch.

In 2016, when Burberry announced that it was changing its fashion calendar to enter the see-now, buy-now collection model, a coterie of brands followed suit. The fashion world was abuzz with excitement. Earlier, collections were only made available to buyers and a few gatekeepers but the internet has changed this, especially Instagram. Today, one can view, like, share and buy while the items are fresh in one’s mind, rather than getting a quick glimpse of an ensemble and having to wait for months for it to hit the outlets.

Tagged the voice of Generation Z, bloggers and influencers are arguably the most impressive examples of the growing power of social media champions, and while some names might not be familiar to some of you, their 5 million Instagram followers, front-row seats and exclusive content cement their status as the new gatekeepers of the industry. Today, the influencer economy of Instagram alone is said to be valued at 1 billion dollars. Bloggers like Susie Lau and Caroline Daur have built their own empires through their social media channels and unique USPs. Chiara Ferragni, of The Blonde Salad, is a 30-year-old Instagrammer who globe-trots in luxury clobber, is the subject of a Harvard Business School study and has been featured on the covers of over 50 magazines. Back home, Shereen Sikka Bharwani of Love and Other Bugs and Kayaan Shiraz Contractor of ShapeShifter take the cake when it comes to designer collaborations and exclusive Insta content.

Social media is also winning the shopping race with haute couture and luxury fashion. Brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton realise the power of 280 characters, live-streaming and aesthetically pleasing or provoking photo grids. For these brands aiming to target the fashion market that is obsessed with selfies, #OOTDs, #WhatAreThose or anything with a hashtag attached to it, social media is the single most effective tool for brand transformation. Another notable example is the French fashion powerhouse, Chanel that creates the most Instagrammable sets every season.

Two years ago, when the news of Brooklyn Beckham shooting an ad campaign for Burberry broke (through an Insta post, no less), it was met with a lot of criticism in the name of nepotism but the arguments fell pale in comparison to Beckham’s then 5.9 million Instagram followers. Super models like Karlie Kloss and Gigi Hadid are masters of the social media game with their feeds that are always en pointe which in turn helps the businesses of brands that they actively promote as ambassadors or are spotted sporting at their exotic vacays. Likewise, when a 20-something influencer is seen FROWing with editors and journalists who’ve been in the trade for decades, it is not because the former is privileged but because the internet has made inclusion easier. Social media gets us out of our house without making us go anywhere. In its name, we stretch out our horizons and intermingle unguardedly with fellow virtual socialisers. We expand our interests and our reference points, heading into unknown precincts, one url after another. Would a greater part of the fashion economy be meaningless without social media as a driving force? The mad energy of the fashion weeks with fingers tapping and iPhones buzzing, the Kardashians breaking the internet or the Diet Prada (and Diet Sabya) reveals of fashion copycats — what are all these for if not for middle-aged women in Ludhiana and 15-year-olds in London and for helping drive the sales of the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Prada.

For better or for worse, fashion is fast changing and becoming more and more dependent on technology. Social media is constantly redefining the way we wear, watch, sell and see merchandise and it is impossible to ignore the transformation the industry has undergone in the last five years. As boundaries are being erased in the fashion universe, the opportunities for buying and selling are multiplying. The business of fashion has moved beyond the four walls of a brick-and mortar store to the infinite web…to the picture-perfect Instagram posts that always give a notion of spontaneity but in reality are everything but.

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