OPINION: American fashion designer Marc Jacobs said “the customer is the final filter” and Topshop just learnt that the hard way, announcing last week that its New Zealand stores were going into receivership.
Commentators are claiming Topshop’s demise was due to them trying to hock off things that didn’t sell in the United Kingdom, in New Zealand shops – and we were not having it.
While a disappointment for some, the news is nothing more than a minor “oops” in the booming “fast fashion” industry.
Bricks and mortar stores are great for brand presence and a quick try on for size, but the real business for this market is happening online.
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The fast fashion industry has grown out of the “see it, want it, get it generation” who are not interested in waiting for the hype of the new season’s release, but want a constant churn of new designs.
And they are wanting value in a different way from previous generations.
This largest consumer group does not want quality clothes that last a life time – they are looking for something they can afford to toss out after five or six wears and move on to the next trend.
If a fashion designer is thinking it, they want to be wearing it, pronto. Spanish label Zara promises it takes only 15 days for a garment to go from concept to completion.
But what has really accelerated the fast fashion industry is the marriage-made-in-heaven of fashion and digital.
The social media world has not just given the fashion industry a greater opportunity to speak to its audience, it has entirely transformed consumer behaviour towards fashion.
Remember when fashion media would talk about quality “investment” pieces and we would be urged to spend more on certain staple items?
Then you could wear the same thing at different places and it would look as good as new because it was not being seen by the same people.
But now we post pictures of ourselves weekly, daily or even hourly, and being seen wearing the same thing is evidently shameful.
So social media has been a God-send for the fashion industry because it encourages you to believe that once an outfit or item is shared publicly, it can never be worn again.
Of course, who can afford that level of churn of clothing if you are buying at the high-end? Enter stage left: Zara, H& M and Topshop to solve that problem.
Social media, especially Instagram, is a perfect medium to provide you fashion advice on screen.
Now we don’t walk into a retail store to find the next look. Instead, we are social-proofing by turning to social media feeds to see what friends or celebrities are wearing.
Once upon a time you would ask your partner, “Does my bum look fat in this?” Now you can turn to your entire social media network to seek approval, ask advice or show off your latest buy.
Fashion brands are fully leveraging off this desire for advice and endorsement, filling social media pages with fashion content that advises, entertains and links, oh so conveniently, to online shopping.
Fashion label Missguided has even incorporated a Tinder-style approach, with a ‘swipe to hype’ feature, where shoppers can dislike or like products to create their own wishlists.
With the fast fashion industry growing at around 20 per cent a year, those who invested in Topshop New Zealand and Australia will be kicking themselves for going so wrong.
Thanks to social media, business is booming in fast fashion. Only a massive change in the relationship between social media and fashion is likely to alter that, and no one is forecasting that any time soon.
Cas Carter is a marketing and communications specialist.