As someone who works in a digital agency by day and blogs about fashion by night, I can’t not comment on this season’s fashion weeks, arguably the most ‘digital’ yet.
On the one hand, this is exciting and something to applaud – I’ve been banging on about fashion and digital technology being natural bedfellows for some time. They’re both highly creative, fast-moving and innovative and although many fashionistas would be horrified at the thought, their love of all things glossy and new isn’t too dissimilar to the technology geeks’ love of shiny metal objects.
This season, even the fashion editors from the most traditional of papers have felt compelled to write about the use of digital by fashion labels, indicating how mainstream the idea of adding an interactive element to a show has become. It seems every label – from the youthful Topshop Unique to the classic Diane Von Furstenberg – is trying to ‘do a Burberry.’ And for the time being, this is still enough to grab the attention of the media.
But what happens next season when simply trying out some cool digital stuff isn’t PR-worthy anymore?
And herein lies the problem.
Burberry aside, I would question what are the business and brand objectives behind many of these digital activities? Burberry – as the innovator in this space – was smart enough to make its investment in digital part of its brand DNA way ahead of its competitors. So much so that even if not all of Burberry’s digital ideas are good ones (and I’m not convinced they are), it doesn’t matter as they have positioned themselves as experimenters and pioneers.
Digital is now so integrated into the Burberry business, they make everyone else look like they’re playing catch up. And since few can match Burberry in terms of investment in this area, it’s never going to be a very fair or interesting race.
From what I’ve seen at fashion week, many of the labels that are using new technology seem to be taking a scattergun approach, trying out whatever technology they can get their hands on or whatever technology company approaches them first.
It feels a bit like the fashion world is going into “sample sale” mode, grabbing any and every piece of new technology just because it is there for the taking (I’m hoping this analogy may be enough to horrify some labels into thinking about their digital strategy!).
Now, this is all very disappointing as I strongly believe that integrating more digital technology into the fashion industry has the potential to grow the kind of businesses that are set to thrive in the future.
But this can only happen if fashion labels take it as seriously as they would their new collection. Imagine for a minute if fashion labels asked the same questions about their digital technology as they do about their collections?
- What do these clothes communicate about the brand?
- Which of these clothes will my customers really want to wear?
- How do my clothes answer a customer need or desire?
- Which piece of clothing is going to be the stand out piece that will make the label famous?
Just replace the word ‘clothes’ with technology and you have the starting point of a more business-centred, rather than column inches driven, digital strategy.
It would be wonderful to see more fashion labels using digital technology to service and communicate with their customers better; being more thoughtful about what they share rather simply setting up a live stream of their show, as seems to be the default digital activity du jour.
Indeed, who really has time to watch these live streams other than those that work in fashion for a living? Wouldn’t it be better if designers created online content that felt a bit more personal and a bit easier to digest for their fans? Simple stuff that is thoughtful and centred on what it is about the brand that makes it so special.
I, for one, would trade a grainy live stream any day for some ‘making of’ content from designers like the Mary Katrantzou and Erdem. Revealing the amount of work that goes into creating those prints and that embellishment would surely be more brand-building that simply live-streaming a show just like everyone else?
Injecting some personality into digital activities is equally vital for these brands. I’ve bemoaned the lack of personality in the Stella McCartney twitter feed before but it really bothers me. It’s a missed opportunity for a brand whose designer is such a strong personality to use twitter merely as a bland PR stream. They could learn a lot from Victoria Beckham who uses Twitter to show her sense of humour, her unquestionable love of fashion, and her own fabulous lifestyle. Yes it is vain and self-indulgent but that’s what brand Beckham is about. So it works.
Anyway, this post is fast becoming an essay but I’ll be looking more into this area. So watch this space and I’d love to hear your thoughts too!
A slightly reworked version of this post also featured on The Guardian media network hub here.