One of the primary reasons that fashion runways no longer carry the impact they once did is because of a key market demographic, young adults between the ages of 18 and 35, as a group, aren’t paying attention to runways. Neither are they reading fashion magazines or responding to traditional print advertising. Since this age group spends more on new clothing than any other, they are forcing labels to reconsider and adjust their strategies based on what causes people in this demographic range to respond:
Now, before we go off on a tangent about how demoralizing and destructive an influencer-based economy is, let’s consider that fashion is always depended on the endorsement of influential people, particularly celebrities. Who one wears on any red carpet has always carried influence. Who designs important looks for a First Lady has always carried tremendous marketing weight. Careful wardrobe placement in movies has promoted popular labels since the 1940s. The concept itself is far from being new.
What is new is the level of power influencers now have economically. As a group, influencers sway some $75 billion in consumer spending. This movement is a lot more than Jane Russell promoting Cross-Your-Heart bras for Playtex. The influencer industry has grown so large that a) it’s recognized as an industry, b) it has its own influencer managers, c) has given birth to influencer management software, and d) has become a top-level item in corporate marketing plans. Anyone who is selling to people under the age of 40 needs to be engaged in some form of influencer marketing.
On one hand, using influencers can even help make some runway presentations more relevant. There really is no good reason to cast people like Bella and Gigi Hadid or Kylie Jenner in a runway show outside their influence over a combined 176.4 million Instagram followers (as of this writing). They’re not particularly talented walkers. They don’t fit standard model sizes, requiring specially-made samples, and they come with a truckload of contract riders that other models would never be able to request. Yet, casting just one of them in a runway presentation, and labels such as Versace have been known to cast all three plus additional influencers such as Kaia Gerber, not only brings a lot of attention to the runway but virtually guarantees that whatever the influencers are wearing will sell out in a matter of days.
Consider that American design label Tommy Hilfiger was looking at multiple seasons of declining sales until he partnered with Gigi Hadid, creating the Tommy + Gigi collection, for four seasons. Gigi not only opened and closed all four shows, she had a strong say in what was included in the collection, giving it a SoCal vibe with crop tops and leather jackets galore, and centered heavily in all the brand’s marketing, including her own Instagram account. Hilfiger sales increased $1.1 billion, 22 percent, the first quarter after partnering with Ms. Hadid. Year over year sales increased a whopping 11 percent. The Tommy Hilfiger brand was suddenly relevant once again.
Knowing that influencer marketing works does not necessarily make it any easier, or cheaper, to do. Things such as “losing” merchandise, failing to return loaned garments, mislabeling products in their posts, and failing to return phone calls are just the tip of that iceberg. When designers start offering thousands of dollars (comprehensively) for doing little more than posting a few pictures, a lot of greedy people come out of the woodwork.
Designer Dlang offers some sage advice:
“Look at the ROI (return on investment). Create a strong agreement on exactly what they have to do. Always make sure they hold up their end.”
How does one do that? Dlang has the answers.
- Give smaller influencers clothing at wholesale, not free.
- Tell the influencer exactly what to say, including different social media posts.
- Look for interaction–what are followers saying.
- Use Micro-influencers who can be just as powerful.
Then, there’s the matter of deciding which influencers are best for you to use. Ideally, one wants to use people who already have the eyes and ears of your local target audience. In the Midwest, though, that can be difficult. There are only a handful of fashion influencers who admit to having ties with the Midwest and over half of those actually live in LA or New York. Some designers have tried the so-called Frankenstein method, creating their own influencers, but that endeavor more often than not creates monsters (hence the name). Working through an agency provides more safeguards but the guarantees are limited.
For all the challenges, though, influencer marketing can deliver greater results in a shorter period of time than any other marketing method, and do it in a way that sells clothes at full price. The tactic has been in use long enough to be thoroughly studied and refined to the point that successes are far more frequent now than failures.
Regardless of what method of promotional marketing one chooses to use, whether it’s runways, collaborations, pop-up shops, or influencers, getting one’s fashion label off the ground and recognized on any serious level means a lot of hard work. There are always more options than there is time to pursue them. Designer Nikki Blaine warns: “Narrowing focus is the ultimate challenge.”
Decide what method works best for your label and chase that method to its end. The worst thing an emerging designer can do to their label is spread themselves so thin that there’s not enough time to do anything well.
Over the past four articles, we’ve hopefully provided you with enough suggestions that one can find something that fits their brand and their audience. Don’t be caught up in the romantic allure of thinking one needs to present on the runway. Find where your audience is and go there.