Social media has been a boon in many ways to the fashion industry, helping it grow and bring to the frontline many new and interesting designers and trends from around the world. Supriya Ghurye, fashion designer and brand consultant with Fuel4Fashion, writes on whether that boom has led to an irresponsible and unsustainable growth that affects the long term viability of the fashion industry?
When social media became a key communication platform for people to network, brands immediately began to realize their value to showcase their products and reach out to their audience. Few have done it more effectively than fashion brands, which realize their primary marketing impact is through the visual medium. For decades, print and television have been the mainstay of fashion marketing, evolving into various forms of expression, from the fashion trends published by popular fashion magazines to live broadcasts of the prominent fashion weeks in London, Milan, Paris and New York. With the advent of the Internet and social media, the ability to share and convey brand imagery exploded, leading to even niche brands and upcoming designers getting much greater exposure and visibility. This was seen as a boon for the fashion industry. With the increasing use of web and social analytics, designers are also able to predict style trends better, leading to a faster cycle of creation, and giving birth to the concept of fast fashion.
Another important aspect of social media was the advent of the fashion bloggers, who express their opinions on fashion and industry trends on the Internet and social media, moving fashion commentary out of the realm of the experienced and elite fashion editors to teenagers and twenty-something young adults with hundreds of thousands of followers. As the industry realized the impact of the voice that this new tribe carried, it actively engaged them to promote their brands, enhancing their celebrity status further. Brands are unanimous in saying that these bloggers are helping them cover a much wider audience, leading to creation of new sales opportunities.
Social media platforms have also provided an opportunity for all to showcase their own sense of style, clothing and fashion outlook. However, the flip side of this has been the reduction in the number of times a garment is worn. Once it is clicked and posted on social media, people do not want to be seen in the same outfit, therefore reducing the likelihood that it will be worn again. This in turn has led to the explosive growth of fast fashion as customers scan clothes more frequently. While this may lead people to think the fashion industry is doing well, the picture is not so rosy.
People are now opting for cheaper clothes that look stylish and look well in photographs, but are not necessarily durable and can be discarded after a couple of uses. This in turn creates pressure to manufacture at lower costs, using materials that are cheaper and not necessarily environment-friendly, dramatically increasing the carbon footprint of the industry. The industry is witnessing the impact of this tremendous growth of fast fashion in form of increasing pollution caused by the manufacturers and frequently discarded clothes. The current ecosystem cannot sustain the recycling of clothing at these volumes and steps need to be taken to improve peoples' attitude towards the use and recycling of clothing. While several brands are taking steps to reduce the impact of synthetics on the environment, such as the use of recycled PET fabric in denims and sportswear, this effort is miniscule compared to the size of the problem.
So while on one hand, the growth of social media has spurred the growth of fashion, it has also created a larger problem that needs to be tackled urgently. Sustainable fashion needs to be supported to counter the impact of fast fashion arising out of the growth of social media, and the best way to drive awareness about the problem is through the very medium that helped create it. Educating customers about the need to adopt sustainable practices, recycle clothing and wear it for longer, as well as look at ways to restyle their existing wardrobe is a priority and it can be driven by the industry, given the reach and impact it has on customers. Prominent fashion brands, designers and retail chains can help support this effort through the use of their own social media voice as well as that of their followers.
It is easy to conclude that social media for fashion is a double-edged sword. But even after the long term impact is considered, it still represents a significant catalyst for the growth of the industry, and can be one for the nurturing of the industry as well. With the use of social media platforms, new designers and talent are being discovered every day across continents, new ideas are being shared and a truly global fashion outlook has developed. This will help fashion reach every segment of the population in the long run.