Back in November, San Francisco and Merchants Alliance (SFMA) organized one of their monthly workshops, dedicated this time to the oft debated, yet critical, issue of social media and their impact on branding. Fashion + TechSf serves as an open forum for anyone interested in building and growing a fashion business, throughout these different panels knowledge is shared and of course networks are built.
Many prestigious industry insiders from the Bay Area attended, but there were also many aspiring designers, bloggers and entrepreneurs present to learn from the panel. I have to admit, as a proud member of generation Y and a digital native, I doubted I would have anything to learn about the use of social media, but I was proven very wrong.
Brad Carrick , CEO and founder of Solz Shoes, Sabrina Bruning of Internet Savant, Former model Udual Oduak from Lady Brille Magazine, Willo O’Brien from Willo Toons and Vishal Kalia from RAF9 discussed how social media fitted their business models and helped them to expand.
Of course the eternal triumvirate Facebook/Twitter/Youtube were debated, but also upcoming devices such as Instagram, Foursquare and the fresh Google+ entered the conversation. Overall, most of the speakers agreed on the idea of “building a relationship” as a strong principle in the fashion industry. It used to be done mainly in high-end flagship stores with sales assistants building a comfortable and safe space for their costumers. This is still a strategic feature of any luxury store, but today customers expect to be able to access a brand’s universe online - the brands who embraced new technologies of communication the earliest are now the most successful, both in their presence online (the privilege of an early adopter) as well as through actual sales.
Burberry is the ultimate example of this boldness. Christopher Bailey, the young head of the once very classic, Neo-Victorian brand, along with Angela Ahrendts really pushed the brand's online presence, and now customers can order trench coats online as they're presented during London Fashion Week, check the brand's frequently updated Facebook fan page, or shop the sophisticated online store. Clearly the tactic has paid off, as Burberry is one of the few brands consistently beating its semester forecast.
What trends do this overuse of social media reveal? Customization. Burberry has recently launched a store, Burberry Bespoke, which allows customers to create and reappropriate the classic trench, from color to the shape and material of the fur. The openness that social networks enables can, however, lead to a somewhat tricky situation: who has the control over the brand capital?
One last advice which I and most of you Cal students (finals week is coming, just saying) should respect: social networks do indeed help to expand and foster relationships, given that you don’t spend your whole life on it. All of the panelists agreed on the fact that it should always be considered as a tool to build relationship, but not as the main pattern to work on. The same advice applies for the fashion industry - this digital relationship with the customer should never take precedent over the efforts to deliver the best product.