Essay: How has social media impacted the fashion industry?

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  • How has social media impacted the fashion industry?
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Social media and technology play a significant role in everybody’s lives. It has revolutionised the world we live in, in many ways. One being the fashion industry. This has been impacted by the rise of bloggers and social media influencers who have made social media a career and marketing strategy. One major platform is Instagram. This has helped brands and bloggers promote products and lifestyles that will appeal to a wide audience and entice customers which not only benefits the brand but also the “business” of the blogger. Social media has had a direct impact on digital labour and consumer culture as it has provided a platform to see what is desired by an audience and what there are gaps in the market for. There has also been a development in body image and how bodies that differentiate from the norm is not scrutinized anymore but is accepted and praised. For women, the stick thin barbie doll body type is not the trend anymore and curvy bodies are more realistic and common in contemporary western society. Social media has provided a feel-good service for society as people feel more accepted and confident for who they are. I will be looking into how much of an impact social media has really had on many different aspects of the fashion industry including body image, marketing, acceptance within society and the rise of bloggers and influencers. I decided to investigate a high-street brand and a high-street, online retailer to see if how they utilised social media differed. The high-end brand I chose was Burberry as they are heavily advertised by celebrities throughout their campaigns. I then chose to research Pretty Little Thing as my high-street brand as they use social media influencers and bloggers to promote their products a lot in their brand. I chose both brands because although their products and consumers may be very different, they still have similarities in the way they work.

The purpose of this study is to explore the impact that social media is having on the fashion industry. The reason for my interest in this topic is that I have grown up with the development of social media and have always been very interested in fashion, therefore I wanted to see how the two impacted each other. I will look into any evidence I find to see if there have been many direct effects on the fashion industry. In terms of the range of material that I managed to find, there is several articles and scholarly sources that have looked in to the changes that social media has had on the fashion industry. The data in these sources was collected by theorists and sociologists who have done their own primary research on these social media platforms and have gathered the findings themselves. This is the same for the articles that I found as they had made their own observations on what is on social media. These studies do not all give direct evidence, but all relate to the themes that I am looking into and allow room for assumptions. I explored the main themes that I identified when doing my research: marketing and social media, body image and bloggers which can all relate to the impact that social media has had on the fashion industry. The evidence that I found in these sources coincides well with what I found when doing my own investigation of social media and different brands profiles. The only limitations that some of the evidence may have are that they are based on personal opinion rather than fact. For further research I would like to find more figures to solidify and confirm the findings about social media.

CHAPTER ONE: Social Media.

Instagram is one of the most used and influential social media platforms in everyday life and in the fashion industry. It is an app where people can upload their own pictures and choose to follow friends, trends, influencers and even brands. This app has been researched by many people in terms of how it is used for marketing and the effects it has on body image. The impact it has had has been massive as “Recent figures show that Instagram alone has a significant share of posts that belong to the fashion category.” (Khamhampati, 2014), the rise of society’s interest in other people’s lives has helped brands because they operate by dispersing the work of creating and engaging with images into consumers everyday lives.

The up rise of the fashion blogger and social influencer as a job and career has had a major impact on fashion and the industry in general. The influencers have brought a new aspect to social media where people want to see what people are doing, what they are wearing and what make-up they should be using right now. Social media is now very popular. Fashion blogs have become a huge influence on today’s youth and the fashion industry. In more recent years YouTube has grown and ‘vlogging’ has become more popular. “The increasing pervasiveness of social media and digital technology has had a dramatic impact on the fashion industry and labour within fashion.” (Arriagada, 2016.) One impact that social media has had on the fashion industry is that social influencers haven been able to promote brands and make them more popular by appealing to their audience, allowing trends, brands and even activities to be promoted over a wider audience. Blogs are the new editors and Instagram is seen as the new runways where people will go to find fashion inspiration on a daily basis. Wessingers (2007) found that “before Instagram had dedicated advertising tools they worked with influencers and consumers to circulate images of their bodies, lives and cultural practices.” therefore before blogging and vlogging became a job these images and posts where part of the digital labour that occurs on social media as these influencers would not have been getting paid but would have still been promoting brands and their products. This highlights how blogging and social media have changed in recent years.

YouTubers such as Shani Grimmond, Lydia Elise Millen, Sophia Tuxford and Cinzia Zullo are having a great impact on young girls and educating them about all the current must haves and even standing in as the kind of ‘big sister’ on the internet for lots of young people. The vloggers show their lavish lifestyles with all the best products, clothes and holidays. “A new segment of entrepreneurs- fashion bloggers- is utilizing the digital technologies, such as blogs and social media, to transform their personal lives and style into online businesses.” (Findlay, 2015.) The development of a career on Instagram has showed how important social media can be for brands when it comes to advertising and attracting customers. Using these influencers who relate to an audience make the brand seem relatable and make the blogger lifestyle seem achievable if you buy the products of the brand. Another development for social media influencers is the free trips away that they are taken on for new product releases or promotions. Recently high street and high-end brands have been taking these influencers on luxury trips, which can include the Maldives, Ibiza and Coachella festival in LA. These trips are a good way for brands to promote their new products and show that all the best and popular bloggers are using and supporting them.
The fashion industry must overcome many challenges all the time, but a recent challenge is technology and keeping up with the constant demand of social media platforms. Online retailers and fast fashion have resulted in the constant worry for brands making sure they are always communicating their new ideas correctly to ensure that the audience is interested and engaged. Burt and Sparks (2003) found that “as a continually evolving market, the widening of consumer demand and changing consumer expectations has intensified this process, meaning retailers should be encouraged to think outside the traditional boxes in meeting the changes of consumers’ behaviour that these shifts have brought”. For these brands to ensure that they are attracting their audience and customers they must partake in research to see what a certain audience’s interests are and what appeals to them, so they can supply the products they want and desire. In terms of audience labour, it plays a huge role in being able to sell no matter how big or small a brand is. “any attempt to put activities of cultural consumption into political economy should be done with the intent of avoiding the dead ends of those past debates” (Schiller,1996; Peck 2006). This shows that the supply and demand theory need to be met in order to have a successful brand, so creating products that will be used by these influencers and then advertised to an audience will prove to be successful. “Social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter provide online advertisers with new ways to build long-term relationships with consumers in a way that is engaging and targeted.” (Chen and Haley, 2010.) The importance of building a relationship with a target audience is so that they can remain loyal and always be interested in the latest products that are available. The audience will feel a personal connection to the brand and will feel as though the brand is coming up with products that will benefit the audience and will fill the desired gap in the market.

Social media has many ways of aiding brands with advertisement and one way would be through the involvement of the audience. This is referred to as audience labour which is when an audience is seen as workers rather than consumers. This theory is successful because the audience will promote brands that they like through features on social media platforms like hashtags or tags. These features are a benefit for brands because it is free labour and advertising, meaning that if they produce what a market wants then it will naturally be promoted and shared to the right audience. The joy of brands and fashion houses having social media accounts is that the consumers will be able to see the behind the scenes and see what goes into making these popular brands. The effect that this has on the consumer is that they will feel a connection and a sense of loyalty to a brand because they feel as though they are included within process. Platforms like Instagram can give this kind of behind the scenes services that make the consumer feel as though they are getting exclusive news and information, allowing them to feel more connected. Austin (2013) backs up this theory by stating “when it comes to Instagram, followers want to see behind-the-scenes images from their favourite companies that they would not normally be able to through traditional media.” By having the control over the marketing process, brands can pick and choose who they want to promote the products and think about who will appeal most to a target audience. By doing this the brand are also able to control opinion and perception meaning that by showing the best parts of the brand and its products it will mean that more people will want to not only purchase the products but also support the brand. “With the consumers’ increased use of retailers’ Internet Websites for searching out product information and purchasing, the websites have become key tools for retailers to communicate with current and prospective customers and the attributes of a retailer’s website are crucial for attracting shoppers to the site and convincing them to become or remain customers” (Seock & Norton 2008).

It is important that a brand can fulfill the needs of its audience to ensure that they have returning customers. Instagram and other social media platforms are an easy way for brands to monitor what is selling, what is popular and what bloggers and influencers are in the spotlight at that moment. “Most of the products being sold in the market today are identified by their names. The name which helps the buyers in recalling the product instantly is known as brand name. It is for the purpose of identification of product, it becomes more crucial in the consumer durable market where buying decisions of the consumers are based on the brand perception.” (Gowri, 2012). Therefore, it is clear that social media is extremely powerful when it comes to the fashion industry, especially when it comes to finding new ways for brands to connect with consumers. The fashion industry has embraced new media and moved away from traditional media to create a new form of marketing which has revolutionised advertisement and promotion.

Overall, social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube have introduced a new and modern way of approaching the fashion industry and has shown how important it is to build a relationship with consumers by using influencers to make a brand more desirable and be something that is a necessity. Social media has also shown how people like to be in the know and be able to feel a personal connection to a brand. In the next chapter I will be looking at how the high-end brand Burberry uses social media on regards to the topics I investigated and discussed in this chapter.

CHAPTER 2: Burberry

For my research I decided to analyse how high-end and high-street brands use social media and influencers to benefit their businesses. I will look at marketing strategies, how they interact with their audiences and how they approach body image.

Burberry is a well-known British brand that captures the quintessential style of Britain. They are known for their classic designs and timeless silhouettes that are sentimental to British history. Burberry may appeal more to an older audience but in recent years they have become more desirable to a younger audience due to influencers advertising the brand. In terms of the market this strategy this will increase sales to the brands target audience, social media helps this happen because they can approach the right people. An example of Burberry doing this is sharing pictures of celebrities like Stormzy (fig.1) who are relatable and is someone that an audience has watched grow to the point where he is able to wear a luxury brand like Burberry. Using someone like Stormzy also shows that Burberry have a sense of diversity and that anyone from any background can wear and use their products. This helps with marketing because Stormzy’s audience and followers will want to investigate the brand and see it as something they would want to wear.

In terms of Burberry and their way of portraying body image, they use celebrities indirectly to show all shapes and sizes are accepted and can shop at Burberry. An example of this is the repost of James Corden (picture) wearing a Burberry suit and a red-carpet event. This is another example of attracting a different audience, due to James Corden being known for his comedic and not so glamorous role in the TV series ‘Gavin And Stacey’. Corden’s audience will consist of younger and more realistic people, therefore this advertisement will show that anyone can buy Burberry and that like Stormzy it is achievable for ordinary people to wear a luxury brand and feel supported by them, no matter what their body type.

Another example would be the singer Adele and her contribution to the plus size fashion industry. Adele has been seen numerous times wearing Burberry at red carpet events and her own shows. This is important for the growth of a brand because if people feel at all excluded then they will not support a brand. Therefore, the use of a curvy woman on Burberry’s social media platforms will appeal to plus size women. Moreover, in terms of empowering women, social media and the blogging world have been a positive for the plus size industry, curvy girls have been able to express themselves and their views on the ideal body. Social media is constantly covered with slim body types and thin models; this is one of the main reasons for people feeling dissatisfied with their bodies. Bailey and Ricciardelli (2010) found that “upward comparisons are one of the strongest reasons for body dissatisfaction. Women who are heavy viewers of television – particularly of thin – ideal media – are presented with a multitude of thin actresses and models to which they can compare themselves.” Social media platforms such as Instagram have allowed plus sized girls and models to show that there is no ideal body and that all body types should be accepted and deemed as ‘normal’.

In terms of Burberrys campaigns throughout the years, there are always two common factors; the classic check and a famous face. Celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Cara Delevingne, Rihanna and Beyoncé are just some of the names that are associated with Burberry. Including well-known names and faces in campaigns will draw the right kind of attention to the brand because people like Kendall Jenner who have millions of followers and supporters will be and easily recognisable face and will attract her audience to the brand. Although these audiences may not be the typical clientele for Burberry shoppers as many of the supporters who follows these young women will be young women themselves who may not necessarily be able to afford to dress head to toe in Burberry, they would still aspire to be like these influencers or try and live the lavish lifestyle they have by wanting to own something from the brand whether that be the classic trench or the perfume. A lot of this strategy comes from people wanting to feel included and like they are on trend with these beautiful and successful young women. People will follow trends and use of products to fit in with society and feel accepted. Sheldon et al (2011) found that although social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are there as a way of communicating “humans are designed to connect with others as well as to feel accepted by them. Facebook has been found to promote connections in two steps.” This feeling will drive people to use the platforms to avoid feeling alone and detached from society and will therefore use these platforms to build a sense of belonging for themselves.

A recent campaign with Cara Delevingne for the Burberry Her fragrance which captures Cara Delevingne in her hometown wearing the Burberry check and going around all the main hot spots in London. The concept behind this campaign was to reinforce how the perfume was influenced by London and its surroundings. Burberry described the perfume as ‘beautiful, bustling, creative metropolis, electric and full of life’. Therefore, it was essential to use a personality like Cara Delevingne because not only does she have a huge following but is also seen as a London ‘It Girl’ as she is someone who has grown up and become very successful in this city. Something else that Cara Delevingne stands for is being yourself and unique no matter what anyone thinks. She has been known in the past to talk openly about her style, sexuality and choices. As a spokeswoman and face for Burberry she is showing the audience that the brand does not discriminate and is also open to people interpreting their products in their own way. This highlights the importance that social media has when thinking about inclusion, acceptance and confidence within society. Mehta (2012) states that “two new studies have found that the social network satisfies basic human desires, both body and soul.” People rely on social media platforms such as Facebook to show off what they have and are doing and also what they are currently wearing or own. The main reason people want to show off is for reasons linked to vanity. They rely on likes and comments to boost their confidence and to create a feel-good state of mind. “The second social motivation Facebook responds to is self-presentation, in which users fashion idea –rather than accurate- versions of themselves through their profiles.” (Mehta, 2012). People want to make sure they look good and create a persona that isn’t necessarily an accurate perception of them. Zhao et al (2008) would also agree and state, “Facebook personas that are presented online may be a more socially appealing ‘self’ that is aspired to in reality.”

Although using influencers, celebrities and social media to advertise a brand is very popular and highly used in the modern day, Burberry have received some criticism for who they have used and how they have chosen to do certain campaigns. In 2016 Burberry chose Brooklyn Beckham to photograph a campaign for one of their fragrances as he had shown an interest in taking photography seriously as a career in the future. This had a mixed review of opinions, which mainly started with people saying that he had been chosen to do this because of who his parents were and if he was just a regular, then 16-year-old, that he wouldn’t have received the chance in a million years. Other people also commented and said that it was insulting and disrespectful to anyone else who is in the artist community. Finally, people started to realise that it may have been his almost 6 million Instagram following that was the reason why Burberry decided to go with him as they knew the campaign would get a lot more attention if it was published all over his social media platforms. This highlights that brands have realised how important social media is for marketing and for the fashion industry in general in modern day and therefore must utilise all contacts they may have with huge followings. In an article from the BBC by Kate Hope (2016), it is made clear that “it is now the number of followers on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter rather than your experience that can secure you a top job”. It has become clear that there is a clear link between a social media campaign for a brand that has high levels of engagement securing more sales which is allowing their brand to grow and develop.

Overall, high-end brands have also realised the importance of connecting with influential people in order to relate to their audience in a personal way. The only difference is that high-end brands like Burberry use relatable celebrities rather than bloggers and social media influencers. I will now be comparing the use of social media with a high-end brand and a high-street brand, in this chapter, to see how they are similar or what differences there are.

CHAPTER 3: Pretty Little Thing.

Pretty little thing is an online clothing website that is known for its affordable and fashionable clothing. The site is known for its fast fashion and trend capturing clothes, they are always seen to be the first to recreate a celebrity look but for a suitable price for its audience. The brand is also recognised as one which works closely with fashion bloggers and social media influencers. This is where the brand is different to Burberry as although they do have celebrity appearances they focus more on the realistic and more relatable bloggers and influencers. Over the past couple of years, I would say that brands and fashion houses have realized the impact and importance of social media when advertising their brand and products. Therefore, brands utilise the connections they have with reality stars, bloggers and social influencers and use it to their advantage by using them to promote the products and almost make them the fact of their brand. “The importance of fashion branding on social media is becoming even more pronounced as networks like Instagram are revolutionising this field.” (Carter-Marley, 2015.) In terms of the market this strategy this will increase sales to the brands target audience, social media helps this happen because they can approach the right people. An example of this happening recently is after the ITV program ‘Love Island’ where everyone who was on the program came out with a huge following and were not long after, seen to be promoting all sorts of brands all over their Instagram. The importance of building relationships with a target audience is so that they can remain loyal and will always be interested in the latest products that are available. Using the participants from a program like love island to promote products is a clever idea because they know that the fame will be quick and the attention will come all at once for a short period of time, meaning a lot of people will see the brand quickly.

Pretty Little Thing as they are constantly using influencers and bloggers to promote and wear their clothes, as they know that their audience is young and fashion forward. This also means that they are constantly bringing out clothes that are very much on trend and ‘the in thing’ to wear. Another tactic used by these online brands is to give these influencers discount codes for their audiences as a way of enticing people to shop on their website. “Social media is an incredible tool at the fashion industry’s disposal for marketing. By leveraging social media brands can take control of public perception which is one among the many important factors in fashion marketing.” (Recklies, 2006). By having the control over the marketing process, brands can pick and choose who they want to promote the products and think about who will appeal most to a target audience. By doing this the brand are also able to control opinion and perception meaning that by showing the best parts of the brand and its products it will mean that more people will want to not only purchase the products but also support the brand. Some may say that the industry is manipulative and encourages conspicuous consumption by doing this.

Pretty Little Thing promotes several different influencers and bloggers on their Instagram. A reoccurring face would be the ever-growing fashion influencer, Emily Shak. She has a platform where she shows off her never-ending amount of clothes and her desirable style. Emily Shak has been known to collaborate with many brands and has even had a few of her own collections with some of them. Her Instagram has a mixture of high end and high street brands all over it, from Balenciaga to Pretty Little Thing therefore using someone like Emily Shak to promote their brand will influence her audience to shop there in a bid to achiever her lifestyle. Although someone like Emily Shak is a Slim and attractive woman Pretty Little Thing is also very keen on promoting body confidence and showing that not all girls have to be super model skinny to be beautiful, they also use influencers with non-normative body types and a diverse range of beauty.

Pretty Little Thing have recently introduced a new feature on their website where they now include images of most of the clothes being modelled on two different body types; size 8 and size 16, this highlights the fact that there should not be a divide or rules when it comes to who can wear what when it comes to body types and weight. Pretty Little Thing also collaborated with the famous plus size model Ashley Graham, which is very important because she is showing that even though she is a plus size women she is still very beautiful and an extremely successful woman in the fashion and beauty industry. According to Washington University, ‘78% of girls age 17 were unhappy with the way they looked’. Although platforms like Instagram can be the reason for this unhappiness due to the ideal body being plastered all over the media, it is also important for young girls to have these accounts to see plus size women such as Ashley Graham, who is a plus size model, accept and flaunt what they have and how look. Ashley Graham posts all pictures unedited and often in swimwear or underwear which shows off her curvaceous silhouette. Therefore, if more girls were seeing and being influenced by women like Ashley Graham then maybe what is perceived as a ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ body type will challenge dominant ideals of feminine beauty and adapt more to today’s society.

In addition to that, Pretty Little Thing also show their support for women who may have disabilities but still want to look and feel as confident as any other woman. A fashion blogger who is constantly being reposted onto Pretty Little Thing’s Instagram is Tess Daly who has 147,000 followers on Instagram and is known for her style and passion for makeup. Tess Daly was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at a young age but has not let being in a wheel chair stop her from embracing and showing off her beauty. Pretty Little Thing often repost when Tess Daly uploads a post wearing their products and always praise her for looking beautiful. This gives off a valuable message to anyone who isn’t necessarily confident in themselves to accept their differences and embrace who they are whether it be through makeup or clothes. Although there has been development in diversity within the fashion industry, disability is something that is not represented enough. Disabled models are rarely seen on runways, adverts or in magazines. Reichart Smith and Sanderson (2015), have developed on the discussion of “the opportunities provided by social media platforms that empower women to counter mainstream stereotypes directed at the female body and subvert conventional forms of the gaze through the use of the selfie, and self-present outside traditional gender norms”. This shows how women, no matter their sexuality, gender or body type can use social media platforms to post non-normative selfies to challenge dominant ideals of feminine beauty. The benefit of Pretty Little Thing promoting all types of people is that no one will feel discriminated against and will feel as though they can be accepted by the brand, making them want to buy the products and even promote them.

Blogging has been a way of empowering women and allowing them to use their interests, hobbies and skills to create a career for them and be independent. “Popular discourses about the role these platforms play in economically empowering women can be ascribed to assumptions about the merits of highly individualized, flexible employment conditions, especially for female workers aspiring to combine professional and domestic responsibilities. Although findings about the persistence of gender inequalities in digital media industries have productively challenged to be valorized through such hybrid neologisms as mom-preneur, etsy-preneur and blogger-preneur. “(Gill, 2008.) These jobs give all women huge opportunities to show who they are and what lifestyles they lead. This could be from a single mother to a student, which shows that blogging can appeal to all ages and bring new openings to all women. Therefore, by Pretty Little Thing using these women to promote their brand they are encouraging and empowering these women to carry on doing what they do and showing society that women can be independent and powerful, especially through fashion.

Overall, social media has allowed brands like Pretty Little Thing to develop and make the brand exactly what they wanted it to be. Social media has also given high-street brands a opportunity to open up the fashion industry to a different kind of person. This person is a realistic perception of your everyday girl no matter what your views, sexuality or body type. Furthermore, bloggers and social media influencers have shown a whole new side to the brand as they allow the brand to capture the wants and needs of their target audience directly through what sells and what is seen as popular from these bloggers’ promotions and advertisements.

CHAPTER 4: Conclusion.

To conclude, social media has many different effects on the fashion industry in many different areas. New media will continue to revolutionise and benefit the industry. In my research for of social media platforms it has become evident that at this current time, it plays a massive role in marketing and consumer culture, the views on body image and the importance of bloggers, influencers and celebrities. Mostly it is all positive that has come from the use of social media in the industry, some include the impact it has had on how body image is viewed amongst society. The body type that has been considered ‘the norm’ for years has now been challenged and now the media is open to showing that whether you are plus-size, slim, short or tall, you can still be beautiful. Moreover, the empowerment of women is also something that has had major development thanks to social media. The rise of the blogger and influencer has allowed women to show success and independence through beauty, fashion and make-up. These young people have managed to grow their own businesses by sharing brands and their style with their large followings. In terms of marketing for brands, whether it be high-street or high-end, social media has allowed a massive growth of advertising and sales through the use of influential young people. They have opened brands to a more personal approach of marketing which allows them to really get to know their audience and produce what they want and need. On the contrary, some may view it completely different and argue that social media has created a manipulative side of the fashion industry which encourages conspicuous consumption. However, for the most social media has had a positive impact on the fashion industry and has allowed it to progress with technology and develop with the modern times.

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