By  : Durba Ghosh

 

Who will design your favourite brand's next line? You! Apparel brands such as Benetton, Wills Lifestyle, Pantaloons and Van Heusen are using Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites as design centres where the end users can play co-creators.


Fashion brands are increasingly using peer-to-peer networks like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Orkut, YouTube and Flickr to spot the latest fashion trends, find out what the youngsters want and just to stay in touch with their target customers.


"Trends change very frequently, so the real time research on these sites (social networks) are really helpful," said Atul Chand, CEO of ITC's lifestyle retail business. "The contribution can wary from colour schemes to textures to designs," he added.


ITC's clothing brand Wills Lifestyle is using Facebook and other sites to identify the latest trends among young members. Its Facebook fans can upload pictures and use discussion forums as the company looks to catch the young fashion vein.


Van Heusen, a US brand marketed by Madura Garments in India, has even launched a new product line, Eco Range, based on inputs received from its community members.


"The range is one such example where we have directly involved our consumers in the development process," said Shital Mehta, COO of Van Huesen.


"We gauged that awareness on eco-friendly products among the youth is phenomenal, so we thought of commercialising it," he added.


Van Heusen is also running a programme called Coffee Mornings, where a team of about 20 online community members interacts with the brand's designing team on weekends.


ITC's Chand said Wills Lifestyle too is looking at directly involving its consumers in product development and designing. The band is also pushing online sales through its member community on Facebook. "It's an additional revenue channel. Online sales are almost equal to business made from one store," he said


Italian apparel brand United Colors of Benetton too has deployed its creative team to spot consumer trends online and has also incorporated few suggestions in its product line like colour scheme and cuts, said Sanjeev Mohanty, its managing director.


He said using social networks to spot fashion trends is an international trend that has spilled out in India too. Creating a presence on these social networking sites is vital to catch the pulse of the target consumers, said Mr Mohanty.


Kishore Biyani-led Pantaloons is currently present on Facebook and it plans to extend it to other popular sites too.


"We regularly track the sites to be in touch with the latest trends," said Rajan Malhotra, president - retail strategy, Future Group that owns Pantaloons. Although the brand is not directly involving the consumers now, Mr Malhotra said it is definitely looking at it. "It has become essential."


Analysts say the trend is here to last. A number of brands are concentrating on 'you' to build their images to woo the new consumer empowered by interactive media.


"It (online presence) offers an informal research, which is real time unlike the earlier times, when retailers had to depend on second-hand research reports," said Pinakiranjan Mishra, retail analyst at Ernst & Young.


With several netizens, particularly the geeks, preferring to shop on the net and also making revelations about their personal tastes without inhibitions, brands can ill afford to ignore the power of the mouse and 'YOU'. All sales are not made on the shopfloor, after all.


Originally published in The Economic Times, Ahmedabad dated: April 13, 2010