The New Social Media-Fueled Fashion Democracy

Have you ever looked at the latest fashions coming off the catwalk and heaved a sigh of dismay, wondering why they can’t design fashions for people like you? Things are changing – no longer can an elite group of couture designers shape and dictate fashion for everyone. A revolution is happening. Fashion is becoming more democratic, thanks in no small part to social media such as Face book and Twitter and the rise of independent fashion bloggers, who are becoming a force to be reckoned with. An increasing recognition of ethical fashion and the need for more plus size fashion has undoubtedly been consumer led.

At the forefront of this trend is The Shopping Forecast, a unique forum which allows consumers to see, share, vote and comment on next season’s lines. The Shopping Forecast provides a link between the buyers of fashion, and professional store fashion buyers. The selected outfits that viewers vote on are chosen by “The Style Council” whose members are predominantly independent fashion bloggers with no financial interest in the big couture houses or large retail outlets who have previously dictated fashion. Could the Shopping Forecast lead the way to a genuine change in the way the fashion industry operates – fashion by the people, for the people!

Listening to consumers improves the bottom line. And fashion industry is a business like any other so this is a compelling argument to encourage more customer feedback. Earlier this year, Marc Jacobs CEO Robert Duffy received a large amount of Twitter feedback from customers who wanted plus sizes. His response was to tweet back to the company’s more than 26,000 followers, “We gotta do larger sizes… As soon as I get back to NY I’m on it,”. This is clear evidence that designers are listening to the fans and no long operating solely for the elite fashionistas in their ivory towers.

Struggling retailer Ann Taylor saw a saw a 16% rise in same-store sales for the second quarter of 2010. Analysts have attributed this to the company’s vigorous use of social media for helping to lure new customers. In response to criticism of a skinny model wearing a new pair of pants on its face book site, the company responded by posting new photos of employees of a range of sizes wearing the product. The feedback from customers was remarkably positive.

It is not just big fashion houses and retailers, who are utilising the internet and social media to sell fashion. The internet and viral marketing using sites such as Face book and Twitter has made it cheaper and easier for small independent fashion retailers to sell their products and to get customer feedback without having to pay for costly professional market research. Leading the way, ASOS marketplace is now accepting applications to open boutiques in the Marketplace from Fashion designers, Independent labels, and Vintage resellers. More choice for the consumer means more opportunity to make their own decisions about what sort of fashions they want including the ethical trend for recycling clothes. Fashion is no longer about buying all the right labels but producing a stylish mix of high and low pieces and the move towards a more democratic Fashion industry is part of this trend.

In keeping with the move to a more democratic industry, it seems the size zero vs real women debate is starting to be taken more seriously. Online plus size mall One Stop Plus made history this year as September saw the first ever “plus-size only” show showcased during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York.

However, it is one thing listening to your customer’s opinions to try and improve business, but one designer has taken it a step further. British fashion designer Katie Eary has launched the first ever fan-funded clothing. All of the shares for the collection have sold out which has created fashion history! The Katie Eary collection at Catwalk Genius went on sale in September. With investments from as little as £11, part ownership of a collection by a designer you like seems the ultimate way to influence the fashion industry!

Whether this move towards fashion democracy is permanent remains to be seen but with the advent of social media and the internet, it seems unlikely to change. Customers are, at last, able to make themselves heard and any business would be stupid to ignore them.

Fashion Design From Concept to Retail – The Who, What, Why and Wear of How a Garment is Made

We wear clothes all day and every day, but most people don’t think about how their garments make their way from the fashion designer’s imagination to the store. Sure, we know that designers come up with the concepts, and that stores sell the clothing, but what happens in between? As you’ll see, the fashion design process has many steps and countless professionals involved along the way. It really makes one appreciate the work that goes into what we wear – and how large the fashion industry is.

1. Research. Before any design can begin, the fashion designer has to do some research. First of all, who is the target market? Is it men or women? What age group? How much money do they make? What are their interests? The second type of research needed is trend forecasting. Since it can take up to two years before a garment makes it to retail, designers have to know what will be popular in the future in terms of styles, trends, and colors. Fortunately, there are companies who specialize in market research and trend forecasting, so apparel companies can subscribe to the information without actually doing all the legwork.

2. Design. After digesting all the research, the fashion designer begins creating. He or she will hand sketch the designs using the industry standard Nine Heads drawing technique, or sketch them with a computer program. In the margins, the designer will write specs, e.g., the color, fabric, texture and other details. The fashion sketch is called a “croquis.”

3. Sourcing materials. Once the sketch is completed, the materials need to be found. Either the designer or a design assistant looks for fabric, buttons, trim, zippers, anything that is necessary to complete the garment. It sounds like a fun shopping trip, but keep in mind that the person sourcing has to stay within a budget.

4. Pattern making. Next, the pattern maker takes the fashion designer’s sketch and creates a workable pattern from which the actual garment can be sewn. The pattern maker also develops the marker, a layout for how the pattern goes onto the fabric. All the pieces of the garment, in every size, are configured on the marker so there is minimal fabric wasted.

5. Production. When the pattern is created, apparel manufacturing can begin. This step involves many areas including costing, production planning, global dynamics, and quality control. At this stage the company must decide whether to manufacture locally, or even within the United States, or overseas, where labor is cheaper. With so many components and production channels involved, the manufacturing aspect of fashion design is an industry within itself.

6. Buying. Unless apparel companies have their own stores, they will present their merchandise at trade events to fashion buyers. Buyers then choose the pieces they feel will sell at their stores at the best price. Just as the fashion designer must forecast the styles that will appeal to consumers in the future, so must the buyer.

7. Marketing. Behind the scenes, the fashion marketing machine is in full motion so that when the clothes are manufactured and hit the stores, shoppers will want to snap them up off the racks. Marketers need to understand consumer attitudes and behavior and develop a keen sense of the emotional triggers that will persuade them to make purchase decisions.

8. Merchandising and retail. Once the clothes hit retail, it’s the job of the fashion merchandiser to create a visually appealing merchandise display to lure consumers into the store to buy, buy, buy. Mannequins, props, and sometimes very unexpected elements all work together to stop customers in their tracks. But merchandising is only part of the equation at retail. Savvy fashion design companies educate retailers on their merchandise so the sales staff can be knowledgeable about the product line and more effectively sell one-on-one with customers. Marketing and merchandising hooks them in; the retail staff closes the deal.

Although the preceding was a very basic rundown of the production of a garment, it’s clear that the fashion design industry is huge, with many layers and players. It bodes well for those interested in a fashion career, as there are myriad job positions besides the fashion designer. Therefore, whatever interests or skills one might have, there’s probably a career in fashion for them.

How To Shop As A Fashion Buyer

Clothing stores of all levels are always full of the season’s latest fashions and these styles aren’t just automatically shipped to the stores from the factories. Fashion buyers have to decide what is going to be sold in their stores and they choose each individual piece themselves. Then they order the quantity and it’s delivered to their stores to be sold. So how do these buyers find all of these fabulous pieces for the stores you shop in?

Fashion buyers have a few different ways of coming across clothes for their stores. They can visit local designers if they’re the type that likes to carry high-end, limited clothing. Or they can order pieces from factory magazines and have large quantities shipped. What happens for most stores that are mid-level and not looking for mass or limited quantities, is that they attend apparel shows.

Apparel shows are conventions where fashion designers and buyers can meet in one place and make orders. It’s often times a one-stop-shop for fashion buyers to fill all of their stock by choosing from hundreds of vendors in one location. Fashion designers and distributors from around the world will fill convention centers with their clothing, either samples of a large quantity or the entire stock of a limited design, and buyers come from all over the country to order the latest trends and styles.

The latest trend in apparel shows is the Virtual Storefront an online version of a vendor’s collection. Buyers can go online and view the entire stock or just a special selection of what the vendor has to offer before they visit the show, giving them a chance to decide who they would like to visit. The Virtual Storefront also provides fabric information and pricing to make shopping faster and easier on the buyer who has hundreds of stores to visit in a matter of days.

Not everyone has access to this temporary shopping mall, in order to access apparel conventions a buyer has to go through a long list of certifications to be sure that they’re not just the everyday shopper looking for a bargain. Buyers have to supply things like a business license, imprinted business check, merchant credit card, personalized business identification and proof of possession of the actual retail store that the clothing will be sold in.

Buyers have to take their jobs very seriously because they are setting their stores up for success for the next season. They have to choose the next big fashion statement so that customers will buy out their stock and make room for the next season’s apparel show finds. The life of a fashion buyer is not as glamorous as it sounds, it is hard work. The fashion you wear today is the result of a fashion buyer’s research and time spent ordering clothes from a wide-range of suppliers.