The effect of digital media on retail, fashion and runway: 3 perspectives

April 25, 2016

The last decade has seen a significant shift in the fashion industry. The move towards digital came in waves: first, there were online boutiques; then, came the online versions of print magazines; blogs started shortly thereafter; and purely digital fashion magazines followed in mid 2000s. At around the same time, Facebook started to build traction, followed by Twitter, which originally attracted mostly the business and news crowd, but quickly expanded beyond. Arguably, it all took a whole new turn in 2010 with the launch of Instagram.

It’s hard to believe that Instagram has only been around for less than six years. It gave the fashion and beauty industry a completely different twist, by launching careers of many digital influencers and changing the way runway shows are presented, covered and promoted — pre-, during and post- each show. It has also helped many people and brands generate astounding revenues, by helping sell products and services.

But with various news outlets constantly reporting that digital is changing the fashion sector, the common question is: How exactly? What are the specific examples? In what ways has this changed over time?

With another season of key fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris, Milan, Toronto and Moscow wrapped up, we take a closer look at what the digital world looks like today in Canada, by speaking to three experts and reviewing the industry from their perspectives on fashion week and the fashion sector: backstage at runway shows, retail environment and the public relations landscape.

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Caitlin Power, spring/summer 2015 at Toronto Fashion Week.

The backstage perspective

Rita Remark is essie Canada‘s lead nail artist and global lead educator. She recently wrapped up her eighth season of working backstage at Toronto Fashion Week.

“My first fashion show was before Instagram, six years ago,” she says. “It felt extremely exclusive and more of a workplace than a ‘hive.’ It’s still exciting now, but back then it was all very calm.”

She fast-forwards two years to 2012. “This is when you started seeing signs everywhere that said: ‘Do not post on Instagram.’ People were trying to keep it sacred. I would tell my team: ‘Take a picture, but if you post it, you are out of here.'”

So what is the environment like now? “It’s become very ‘inclusive.’ Designers are providing teasers about their fashion shows. I see at least five photos of my work posted before the show. It almost makes the trends more fluid. People won’t wait until September to replicate a nail look.”

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And what does it mean that everything is becoming more inclusive? Remark says that anyone can access the looks now. Everything is public and online, for anyone to see.

“When you gain accessibility, you lose the mystery,” she adds. “It’s a bit more like a work day. Backstage, I’m not just doing the nails anymore — I’m doing social media, I’m on Flipagram, I’m putting together trend reports, I’m live on Periscope and Snapchat, I’m doing Instagram takeovers.

“It’s a big social media bubble. To be honest, I talk about the designs more than doing them — my team mostly does that now.

“I think that in the next couple of years, a lot will change. Trends are more instant. It’s like a change in technology — you have to say bye to all the old things and move forward.”

The retail perspective

Craig Flannagan is the vice-president of consumer marketing at Cadillac Fairview, one of North America’s largest owners, operators and developers of commercial real estate. Among their properties are close to 20 major retail facilities in Canada, across six provinces, including Toronto Eaton Centre, Shops at Don Mills and the Rideau Centre.

Brands that can be found at their properties range from very high-end ones (e.g. Sephora, Swarovski) to mid-level (e.g. BCBGMAXAZRIA, Kate Spade) to fast fashion (e.g. Zara, H&M). The work of many Canadian designers is also available within CF properties at select retailers. This includes Sid Neigum, Bustle, David Dixon and Mikhael Kale.

Mikhael Kale's fall/winter 2015 runway presentation at Toronto Fashion Week.

Mikhael Kale’s fall/winter 2015 runway presentation at Toronto Fashion Week.

Flannagan says that on the “receiving” end, the way the consumer perceives fashion trends has also been speedily changing in the last few years, especially with Instagram’s influence.

“Our shoppers want to be inspired by what’s new and trending,” he explains. “They also want it to be efficient and their approach often is: I’m busy, help me find what I want quickly. They want to see how the runway trends transform into what’s in stores.”

He adds that the visual element is another advantage of social media for the retail sector.

“Fashion is a very picture-driven medium, so Instagram, specifically, has helped people to have quicker conversations about it.”

Flannagan says that CF’s digital buy is about 30 per cent, and that it will shift further towards online in the next six months.

The public relations perspective

Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski is the president and founder of rock-it promotions. One of her key clients is Toronto Fashion Week, and this spring she wrapped up her 20th season of working on the shows.

Sadowski poses at fashion week in early 2014.

Sadowski poses at fashion week in early 2014.

In late 2014, Goldblatt-Sadowski also began advising and representing a small group of Canadian bloggers and digital innovators. This grew organically and resulted in a launch of the company’s new social influencer management division in March this year.

A lot has changed in 10 years and 20 runway seasons.

“When we started, there was no Twitter or Instagram,” Goldblatt-Sadowski remembers. “We relied on traditional media. But as bloggers joined the scene, it became much bigger and I don’t see that stopping.”

She agrees with Remark that prior to digital media there used to be “perhaps more mystery in the room.” But she also sees many advantages to the changing landscape of fashion.

“You don’t have to be an insider anymore to see the shows,” she explains. “You can be at home, subscribed to different channels or feeds, and you can see and feel it as it happens. Designers can share their work through this medium and this has made things immediate, which means that you don’t necessarily want to wait anymore. That’s why I feel that so many designers are letting you pre-shop their collections. If everybody’s already seeing it, why wouldn’t you make it available to the consumer now?”

She adds that Twitter started the interactive trend by letting people share thoughts and words, but Instagram took it to a new level by letting them create stories with pictures and see immediate reactions from others.

The personal touch of the medium continues to be an essential component of how fashion brands and influencers build their following. “Instagram has become almost like an extension of a reality show. It’s like America’s Next Top Model or Survivor: you feel like you are getting to know somebody through their channels. Everything is becoming more transparent. There is nothing to hide anymore.”

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Looking and moving forward

In this time of change, certain social media trends are slowly emerging in the industry.

In its recent Total Retail global report, PwC says that last year was the first where significant change in the global retail behaviour was felt, specifically related to social media influence. “The ubiquity of social media … has for some time led many to assume that social media platforms must be highly robust vehicles for shopping, or at least for communication between retailers and consumers. Since PwC’s first online global shopper survey [six] years ago, our findings have not quite borne this out—until now … When asked if their interactions on social media had led them to buy more, a total of 62% of our respondents answered either “Yes in most cases” (19%), or “Yes in some cases” (43%).

“[In addition], an overwhelming majority (68%) of consumers in our study … have some relationship with their favorite brands on social media.”

PwC’s other report, which was also published in 2015 and is focused specifically on Canada, stated that “of the Canadians surveyed, 60% have interacted with products and brands through social media. Of these, 46% say such interactions have led them to make more purchases.”

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Narces, fall/winter 2016, at Toronto Fashion Week.

Conclusion for designers and retailers? “Recognize that your customer will drive the conversation,” the report says. “If you focus all of your messaging around your brand or products, your social media initiatives will likely fail. If you make the dialogue honestly about them, you have the chance to build trust that will influence your consumers to talk about you.”

Food for thought.

Feature image: Mackage, fall/winter 2014.

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By Hannah Yakobi
Photography by Aleyah Solomon/Kareen Mallon/Tara West/Hannah Yakobi from FAJO’s archives and essie Canada

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