Instagram is a social networking service that provides a photo and video sharing service to its users, who can then share their content across a variety of other social networking platforms. Among the top 4 leading visual social networks, Instagram was at the forefront of yearly growth of monthly active users from January 2011 to January 2013. Keep in mind that Instagram was founded just in October 2010! Here is an infographic that compares the growth of Instagram to that of other visual social networks:
How incredible is that growth of +900%?! Now, here are some statistics to demonstrate the impressive engagement level of its users and which brands are endorsing Instagram to the fullest:
As you can see below, Nike is the most popular brand on Instagram with a following of around 8 million users. According to this comprehensive list of popular brands on Instagram, a majority of them are fashion apparel brands. Here is a screenshot that shows 7 of the top 10 ranking brands being related to the fashion industry:
The fashion sector has embraced Instagram like no other. Thanks to the app’s instantaneous and visual nature, it is not shocking that the also “highly visual, fast-paced fashion industry” (businessoffashion.com) has matched Instagram to be its most ideal application for showcasing new collections, runway shows, models, events, behind-the-scenes activity, etc.
“It does kind of surprise me, but at the same time it makes a lot of sense. If you look at a newsstand, something like two-thirds of the magazines relate to fashion or beauty. I think that Instagram as a visual platform just fits very naturally with how the fashion community communicates its work,” observed Systrom, Co-Founder and CEO of Instagram (businessoffashion.com)
Instagram has been endorsed by mega fashion houses like Gucci, digitally native web retailers like NastyGal, and even go-to fashion chains like Forever 21. The app has an extensive reach in the fashion industry and has readjusted the landscape for many brands. Today, Instagram serves as the motivation for fresh clothing design techniques, innovative show productions, and novel marketing methods. It also makes fashion accessible more than ever. Instagram has “digitally disrupted” traditional practices within the industry, which will be further analyzed with examples.
First, let’s examine how exactly designers are changing the way they produce clothes with the inception of Instagram. Alexander Wang is one designer who created a lot of buzz with his Fall/Winter 2014 collection. In developing this collection, he did something unconventional. He produced the garments in a way that would be tailor-made for Instagram. His Fall/Winter 2014 collection was characterized by models on a rotating platform donning clothes that were thermo-sensitive, changing colors upon blasts of heat.
Imagine the photographs that came out of this show! The shot above is the perfect still for garnering thousands of likes because look how cool it looks. Mr. Wang commented that the picture is “something we always take into deep consideration, even developing a collection. Sometimes, I have to admit, as a designer, you get into this trap of thinking about clothes for a picture rather than what’s going to go into the market or showroom.”
The YouTube video below shows the garments changing color in action. Pretty neat! (Skip to 8:55)
Tiziana Cardini, a contributing editor at Italian Vogue, also observed how bi-dimensional fashion has become. “It’s just flat. I see that designers, especially young designers, are considering the shapes and volumes in a totally different way; the colors, also. I think they pay much more attention to the photogenic value of an outfit” (NYTimes.com).
There are, however, drawbacks of having fashion attending to the two-dimensional appetite. The “intricacies of cut and construction”(NYTimes.com) often fail to catch the eye on-screen. The nuances of design are lost in digital transmission. In regards to couture, Raf Simons complained, “People can’t see what couture is very well on a computer screen” (NYTimes.com). It is especially couture design, with its delicate details, that is diminished the most by bi-dimensional screens.
Not only is Instagram changing the way designers produce clothes, but also the way in which they organize fashion runway shows. Let’s look at Tommy Hilfiger, for example, who hired popular Instagrammers Brian Difeo and Anthony Danielle to orchestrate New York Fashion Week’s first ever runway show InstaMeet. For those unfamiliar, an InstaMeet is an organized event for Instagram users to come together and create photo content.
Brian Difeo and Anthony Danielle publicized the details of the InstaMeet on their own Instagram accounts, who each have a following of more than 100,000. Almost 300 applications were received and 20 average Instagram users were chosen in the end. The select 20 were given backstage access, had spots at the Tommy Hilfiger Women’s Fall 2014 show, and even met the designer himself (time.com). It was the first time in fashion week history that everyday Instagrammers were treated like industry insiders at a major fashion show. Want to know what the atmosphere was like for the chosen 20? Play the short video below to get a glimpse:
Some social media experts argued that Tommy Hilfiger lost significant publicity by selecting average Instagram users for the InstaMeet, instead of selecting fashion influencers like Chiara Ferragni or Aimee Song. However, Hilfiger made up for this loss by featuring users with a “diverse range of perspectives” to share their “view of the designer’s latest duds” to a global audience (fashionweekdaily.com). In an already cluttered social media atmosphere, Hilfiger simply aimed to do something new by inviting Instagrammers with fresh approaches.
Take a look at the slideshow below of the photo content from the Tommy Hilfiger InstaMeet! Select users were asked to include #NYFWInstaMeet and #TommyFall14 in their captions.
[Side note: I believe the 5th photo of the woman in the green coat reading a magazine is stylist, Katie Mossman. I interned for her during my sophomore summer! As I was browsing through the hashtags #NYFWInstaMeet and #TommyFall14, I came across that photo and couldn’t believe it! What a small world. I commented asking if the person who uploaded it knew if it was Ms. Mossman for sure. Still waiting on a response!]
Below is a tweet from Brian Difeo, which includes a video via Racked that discusses how Instagram is changing New York Fashion Week. It wraps up the main points very well
“I see the shows on Instagram now,” said Eva Chen, the editor in chief of Lucky magazine (NYTimes.com).
Speaking of Lucky, the magazine also hosted its own InstaMeet during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Fall 2014.
It asked readers to “post Instagrams of their favorite fashion items, through which a team then selected 15 users to tour Lincoln Center, snag a glimpse of models backstage before a show, and get a close-up look of the BCBG runway post-show” (time.com). Some pictures below from the tour!
Don’t you love how fashion is becoming more democratized? I definitely do. Digital media has definitely “changed the way fashion is reported, consumed and shared. Trade papers and websites that once held court as the home of collection coverage have had their turf invaded by individuals” (NYTimes.com). No longer is the fashion industry solely exclusive to industry elites!
We’ve seen how everyday fashionistas were given access to new collections and behind-the-scenes action, which was never traditionally done before. Thanks to Instagram, that has changed and the barriers to enter and participate in the fashion sector have been much lowered. Two more examples that demonstrate this fact are the proliferation of fashion bloggers and the more direct line of communication that now exists between designers and consumers.
Instagram serves as a platform for fashion bloggers to showcase their styles, and it’s also a tool to easily participate in the industry and gain wide exposure. Who would’ve thought that Aimee Song, an interior designer from California, would be an It Blogger on Instagram with 1.9 million followers?!
She is truly “Instafamous” and many of my female connections on Instagram know and follow her, too. Instagram has readjusted the fashion landscape in a way that has rendered the concept of being a notable fashion blogger to be attainable. It’s also made the concept ubiquitous because who isn’t trying to become an esteemed fashion blogger nowadays? In a way, today’s prominent Instagram fashion bloggers (@songofstyle, @chiaraferragni, @sincerelyjules, @garypeppergirl) attend to “greater” services than just posting photos of their outfits and whereabouts. Each have more than 1 million followers, which is why brands have started to endorse them. These bloggers wield enormous influence in the fashion realm and the industry is shifting its marketing strategies toward accommodating this fact. For example, Aimee Song has collaborated with Macy’s and Michael Kors “to show off the designer’s latest jet-setting styles” (macys.com). This was more of a mutually benefiting relationship than a parasitic one. Aimee got to work with a highly recognized brand, therefore gaining even wider global exposure. At the same time, Michael Kors got to work with one of today’s major fashion influencers who has a vast social media presence, therefore potentially attracting more consumers from the untouched corners of the digital world.
Below are some screenshots of Aimee Song marketing for Michael Kors:
Below is a video that touches upon the new generation of Instagram influencers:
An additional example of how Instagram is reworking the fashion landscape, by lowering the barriers of participation, is the more direct line of communication that exists between designers and consumers today. With Instagram, designers can more easily communicate and connect with their consumers on an incredible scale. Take Diane von Furstenburg:
Furthermore, Marc Jacobs posted a photo of three chain necklaces on his Instagram account and asked “Gold, rose gold or silver?” (NYTImes.com). From there, users casted a vote.
Rebecca Minkoff was more quick to take into consideration user suggestions in her design production.“If a customer tells me, ‘I like a bag with gunmetal hardware, can you include it?’ I might,” Ms. Minkoff said. “If I can get 25 girls to request it, I will do the production” (NYTImes.com).
Susan Scafidi, a professor at the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, expressed that Instagram as a crowd-sourcing model is “a new way to take some of the guesswork out of predicting consumer desires” (NYTImes.com). Mass collaboration between designers and consumers seems to be the answer.
Another way that Instagram has “digitally disrupted” traditional practices within the fashion industry regards model scouting. Before the advent of social media, “getting discovered has always been a bit of a wild card” (thedailybeast.com). Many famous familiar models were discovered by a talent agent just as they were going about their usual days. For today’s aspiring models, do they even have to wonder about being in the right place at the right time? Or is it about popping up on the right phone screen?
Agencies are turning to Instagram to mine for models. All they have to do is browse through Instagram to discover new talent. Luke Simone, an agent of Wilhelmina, commented that “social media is becoming the new norm, specifically Instagram, because it allows the industry and agents like myself an instant, insightful, and efficient way of discovering potential talent” (thedailybeast.com). Although there is the security issue of online fraudulent impersonation, there are still cases of success, such as with Matthew Noszka. Noszka happened to pop up on Simone’s Instagram feed and from there, things positively spiraled. After a few email exchanges with Simone, Noszka made his way to New York and worked with Nike, Blackbook magazine, WWD, Jon magazine, and GQ. Wonder what made Simone so interested to work with Noszka? Click here to see Noszka’s abs and his story in Cosmopolitan magazine.
Lastly, Instagram has had such a profound impact in the fashion industry that The Council of Fashion Designers of America established the Fashion Instagrammer of the Year Award. How awesome is that! There were eight Instagrammers who were nominated for this award and the winner got to attend the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards in June as CFDA’s official Instagram correspondent (cfda.com). The winner was Patrick Janelle (@AGuyNamedPatrick), and it is no surprise he won because he has impeccable style and a natural knack for Instagram. Take a look for yourself:
Despite the fact that Instagram has positively modified traditional aspects of the fashion industry to make it more current with technological trends, to make it more fun and inclusive for the average consumer, and to allow unlimited expression of style online, it does have a… downfall. Now that Instagram has penetrated the fashion world, a negative side to this is how brands are performing on Instagram for “Instabait” purposes. Social media, in general, is already such a cluttered environment. Imagine Instagram during New York Fashion Week and how cluttered that is. With hundreds of thousands of images posted onto Instagram during that week, how can brands make sure that their photos prominently stand out? The answer to that is “creating moments that even hard-to-impress-fashion-week veterans can’t help but click and post” (wsj.com). This is what is called “Instabait.” Let’s take a look at some examples of designers creating such “Instabait” moments:
- Diane Von Furstenburg: Supermodel Naomi Campbell surprised everyone when she walked down the runway to close DVF’s show. Even Jessica Alba couldn’t help but capture the moment on her phone.
- 3.1 Phillip Lim: Got creative by installing a salt crystal runway at his show instead of having a traditional hard and white runway surface. Eva Chen snapped a picture.
- Opening Ceremony: Made a splash at their first fashion week show by having a fleet of luxury cars opening the show by driving up and delivering models to the runway. Cars included a Maserati and a Ferrari.
- Victoria Beckham: Her child, Harper Beckham, was sitting on her father’s lap (David Beckham) with Anna Wintour sitting right beside them. This was a recipe for the perfect picture, which garnered more than 20,000 likes.
The fashion industry is all about the visuals, but so is Instagram. So, naturally, Instagram serves as the ideal platform for those in the fashion industry to express their style, inspiration, and brand awareness.
“The power of visual content is becoming increasingly important for marketers. Studies show that the visual appeal matters in 93% of cases when people go to make a purchase. Visual content is not only easier and faster for the human brain to process, it is a great way to generate more attention and leads. Photos can make or break your marketing strategy and should be considered highly important” (oursocialtimes.com).
Given the statistics above, why do only a mere 28% of marketers use Instagram? (oursocialtimes.com). Especially within the fashion industry, Instagram only shows signs of more positive growth. Today, Instagram functions as a platform for many fashion brands to market themselves and spread brand awareness. Are other industries doing the same and utilizing Instagram in the best way they can? Personally, I hope to see that 28% increase in the coming times since people respond so well to visuals. In fact, the work of The Mobile Media Lab (company co-founded by Brian Difeo) can testify to that reality. The Mobile Media Lab is:
The original creative agency that is shaping the way brands advertise with influencers and their audiences on Instagram.
One example that illustrates the fact that “visual appeal matters in 93% of cases when people go to make a purchase” (oursocialtimes.com) is their Ann Taylor Instagram campaign. Photo below with details:
As you can see, Ann Taylor’s Little Black Dress line turned out to be a huge hit! The engagement level doubled to 4.6.%. This just proves how powerful images really are.
Companies like The Mobile Media Lab are able to exist as a result of the success of social media, and in this specific case, Instagram.
“That’s the power of sharing that imagery. That can inspire entrepreneurs. In some ways, business balanced with art is the world we live in and Instagram is just a mirror representation.” – Kevin Systrom (techcrunch.com)
To wrap up this post, I wanted to end with my email interview with Brian Difeo. In case you forgot who he was, Brian Difeo was hired by Tommy Hilfiger to organize NYFW’s first ever runway show InstaMeet and he also co-founded The Mobile Media Lab. Take a look below at our conversation exchanges!
In Brian’s response to the first question, what stood out to me was when he discussed how fashion brands are embracing consumer conversations on Instagram and being “aware of what people are saying about their products.” This goes back to my point of fashion becoming more and more democratized and how the industry is evolving to open its doors to average consumers, so that a two-way path of communication can exist. As a result, everyday shoppers/fashionistas/bloggers, and not just industry elites, are able to participate in the fashion environment.
Another part that stood out to me was Brian’s response to my third question when he talked about the future of purchasing products directly off images. His opinion on the future of fashion in the age of Instagram is exactly in line with that of Instagram’s co-founder and CEO, Kevin Systrom. They both think that brands are definitely wanting to take Instagram’s capabilities to the next level in order to parallel consumers’ future purchasing methods. Here is what Kevin Systrom had to say about that in his interview with Business of Fashion:
When Systrom was asked if Instagram has plans to experiment with e-commerce, he replied:
“Um, definitely thoughts… But I think Instagram is such a general platform — I mean we have students, cooks and chefs, people who make crafts, photographers — that focusing on a specific retail product feels a little early in our lifecycle. That being said, we see the natural fit for it going forward and I think if there is a way to build products to allow companies to express their products to their consumers, then we are going to end up working on it. But right now there is so much opportunity in branded moments that that is what we are going to focus on.” (businessoffashion.com)
No one knows exactly what the future will entail, but since online is the premier destination for consumers already, perhaps we will start to see the rise of shoppable digital media given the right tweaking? Brands, however, must be aware of the division between the artistic and commercial use of imagery.
“I don’t think it’s so much a boundary as it is a balance. If Instagram were full of commerce and there were ‘Buy now!’ links everywhere and that’s all you ever had, I don’t think it would get to the true spirit of communication.” – Kevin Systrom (techcrunch.com)
Even though there are apps (Soldsie, Chirpify) out there that help make Instagram shoppable, they don’t exactly make the process direct or elegant, but rather circuitous. It is through a separate platform that users must go through in order to shop an item seen on Instagram. Who knows, maybe one day we will have an update on our iPhones telling us that we are now able to shop directly off Instagram images. Forget trekking to brick-and-mortar stores… shopping and looking fashionable will be effortless more than ever!
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Coco Chanel
Mhm… Coco Chanel couldn’t be any more accurate. In an age where we eat, breathe, and live digital technology and social media, it is only natural that fashion is following this function. All in all, it’s Instagram’s world and fashion is just living in it.