The Influence of Web 2.0 on the Fashion Industry

Camryn Giles

“The fashion industry has used the press far more than the film industry has; because it has nothing more to sell except for the image. The image is everything” (Macpherson, 2010)

 

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(Source: Dhillon, 2015)

One of the most internationally influential, diverse and dominating industries within the world is that of the fashion industry. An industry in which has typically dictated and implicated trends, with designers controlling and influencing the iconic styles that imprinted upon decades (Macpherson, 2010). Unlike some other industries, the Fashion Industry has always withheld a global reach; with the trends which first emerged on Parisian runways, eventually finding themselves worn far away on the streets of Australia. Despite this, the global emergence of Web 2.0, and social media has proved to have a highly significant impact upon the industry and it’s structure. Traditionally, fashion has not only provided an outlet for individuals to express themselves uniquely through style, but also a way for individuals to participate in trends and establish a sense of inclusion (Akahoshi, 2012, pp.11). With Web 2.0 now providing individuals with enhanced communication abilities and a sense of individualism like never before, the fashion industry and it use of public relations is completely transforming from traditional methods in order to survive. This essay will not only analyse how the emergence of Web 2.0 has transformed the structure of the fashion industry, but will also analyse the implications of this transformation for society and those operating within the industry.

The emergence of Web 2.0 has completely revolutionised the way we communicate, with Biagi referring to Web 2.0 as ’ .. a nonstop news and information machine, targeted to individual needs” (Biagi, 2005, pp.241). In  particular, the prominence of social media has modified the dynamics of the public sphere, with audiences once seen solely as consumers of content, now having the ability to contribute and disperse content themselves  (Keen, 2007, pp.34). With this, audiences now presume that they possess the power to influence the content that they see. Andrew Keen (2007, pp.34) refers to this as shift the ‘Information Age’, implying that Web 2.0 is controlled by ‘the traditional consumers’. Subsequently, the information age has also  transformed the dynamics of the fashion industry, revolutionising it from traditional means.

Traditionally, the fashion industry stood on a pedestal, possessing an exclusivity which encouraged product output to be produced privately behind closed doors by the industries most elite,  and then immersed into societal culture when debuted seasonally (Akahoshi, 2012, pp.11). This structure stipulated a clear assembly line of creativity, beginning solely with elite brands and designers, and ending with the consumer. Designers, regarded as industry elite, dictated the output and consumers were strictly the receivers. However, social media, and the rise of self- proclaimed fashion bloggers, has facilitated the emergence of “social fashion”. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook now provide access to international audiences for bloggers and stylists who have acquired a substantial following. With a single post, social media influencers can reach up to millions of viewers instantly, igniting new fashion trends globally in moments. Fournier & Lee (2009, p.109) describe social media influencers as ‘opinion leaders’, who maintain their significance in the way that they “spread information, influence consumer decisions and help new ideas gain traction”. Social media influencers exemplify participatory culture, in the way that they defy traditional consumer culture through contributing, creating and distributing their own content relating to the industry (Jenkins, 2006, pp.3).  They fill the shoes of fashion editorial giants such as Vogue and Marie, as the new fashion content distributors; influencing the diffusion and acceptability of emerging styles and fashion trends (Lee, 2009). Consequently, social media influencers are rapidly becoming established brands most valuable public relations asset, with the majority straying from traditional marketing methods and acknowledging the influence provided by bloggers. This is evident in the way that social media influencers are now receiving front row seats to international fashion week, in conjunction with being invited to collaborate with highly regarded designers (Lee, 2009). Additionally, it has become common practice for brands to offer paid product promotion to influencers, in the hopes that their audiences will identify them with the brand and subsequently, feel more inclined to purchase (Fournier & Lee, 2009, p.109). According to the Lee (2009), Web 2.0, inconjunctions with participatory culture, has removed the boundaries of an industry once significantly difficult to infiltrate, creating a whole new potential career path for aspiring style experts.

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Social media influencers front row at International Fashion Week 2015 (Master, 2015)

With social media emphasising societal focus on individualism, and preservation of one’s networked identity, Akahoshi’s (2009, pp.14) findings suggest that consumers are increasingly striving to only affiliate with trends and brands that align them with their online persona. Rather than referring to the pages of Vogue, consumers now refer to fashion bloggers to determine which trends they wish to associate with, in order to create and protect their self concept. In fact, Bourne (2010) suggests that the closeness social media has facilitated between consumers and designers, has transformed the entire dynamic. Consumers, now accustomed to participatory culture, expect and demand input, and an opinion on the products provided to them . This exemplifies produsage, in the way consumers are now creating, distributing and circulating their own  fashion related content, blurring the boundaries between producer and consumer. Consequently, the structure has altered, with the consumers now creating and dictating trends; leaving brands and designers having to cater to these demands in order to maintain revenue.

With Web 2.0 and online retailers opening up the accessibility of products internationally, the pace of the fashion industry has rapidly increased in order to keep up with consumerism and international demand (DiMauro, 2011). Where trends once took 6 months to establish and emerge internationally, they are now emerging within days, perpetuating a culture of ‘fast fashion’. An international brand that demonstrates fast fashion is Spanish clothing company Zara. Zara are renown ‘fashion imitators’, imitating products seen on elite runways and dispersing them within their stores in the immediate weeks following (DiMauro, 2011). As a result, more consumers are opting to purchase cheaper imitation products, rather than the authentic original designer pieces; causing a shift of power from the designers to the chain-store brands. Although fast fashion allows consumers immediate access to new trends, it doesn’t come at a low ethical cost. In order to conform to increasing demands of urgency and lower pricing while maximising profit, well established corporations have begun sourcing production of their goods in low wage environments. This involves manufacturing in foreign ‘sweatshops’, in which severe exploitation is commonplace and employees renumeration consists of prices as low as 23 cents per hour (Rabine, 2014). Moreover, Web 2.0 has accelerated the pace of consumption of fashion, which not only restructures the industry and key stakeholders, but also presents a multitude of ethical issues.

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Source: (Crocker, 2015)

Traditionally, print magazines dominated the industry’s media content, being everyday consumers main source of trend and styling guidance. Contenders such as Vogue and Marie Claire were renown internationally, dominating the market unprecedentedly in terms of fashion related media. However, the prevalence of social media influencers and Web 2.0 now provides consumers with countless avenues to absorb information of current fashion trends, for no cost. Rather than flip through the pages of Vogue, upcoming generations are scrolling through Facebook or the posts of their most idolised fashion bloggers to determine what the latest on trend products are. Convergence of media has lead to magazine publications transferring to online outlets in order to evolve and survive in what is now a very diluted market. Noricks (2010) suggests that print magazines not longer regard online media outlets as just as extension, but rather as an interactive application for continuous fashion coverage.

While fashion remains to be one of the most influential and internationally prominent industries, the emergence of Web 2.0 has transformed the structure of the industry and how media publications operate within it. However, like fashion trends, the industry it self continuous to evolve, ever embracing the new without hesitation. For this reason, though the emergence of Web 2.0  many implications for the industry,  it has also provided an avenue for consumers to involve themselves in the trends,  and expanded the industry’s global access more than ever.

References 

Akahoshi, T. (2012). Social Media in the Public Relations Profession. In Akahoshi, Transparency in the Fashion Industry: Social Media Use in Public Relations Strategies. New York, USA. NYU Press.

Biagi, S. (2005). Chapter 12, News and Information ; Getting Personal In Biagi, Shirley Media Impact, an Introduction to Mass Media. (pp. 241). Belmont USA; Thomson Higher Education.

Crocker, L. (2015). Why Vogue Declared War on Fashion Bloggers. Retrieved on the 31st March 2017 from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/09/28/why-vogue-declared-war-on-fashion-bloggers.html

Dhillon, K. (2015). How Did Social Media Change Fashion Consumption? Retrieved on the 31st March 2017 from https://www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/how-did-social-media-change-fashion-consumption

Fournier. H & Lee. T. (2009). Bloggers as Opinion Leaders. Retrieved on the 31st March 2017 from https://marketing.conference-services.net/resources/327/2958/pdf/AM2012_0224_paper.pdf

Lee, T. (2009). The Influence of Fashion Blogs on Consumers. Retrieved on the 31st March 2017 from https://marketing.conference-services.net/resources/327/2958/pdf/AM2012_0224_paper.pdf

Jenkins, H. (2006) pp.3). Introduction: Confessions of a Fan.  In  Jenkins, Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture (pp.2-6). New York, USA. NYU Press.

Keen, A. (2007). Chapter 1 : The Great Seduction. In Keen, Andrew, The cult of the amateur : how today’s internet is killing our culture and assaulting our economy, (pp. 34). London: Nicholas Breasley.

Macpherson, E. (2010). Fashion Industry Quotes. Retrieved on the 31st March 2017 from https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/fashion_industry.html

Master, L. M. (2015). London Fashion Week’s Social Media Takeover. Retrieved on the 31st March 2017 from http://wersm.com/london-fashion-weeks-social-media-takeover/

Rabine, L.W. (2014). Globalization and the Fashion Industry. Retrieved on the 31st March 2017 from http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-clothing-industry/globalization-fashion-industry

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