Is Social Shopping About To Transform The High Street Look.

Who chooses which clothes are fashionable and decides what we’ll all be wearing this season?

Well, maybe not all of us: some of us aren’t really that bothered. A lot of people are though. For them it’s one of the most important decisions they have to make. So, who does decide what’s cutting edge? Is it the designers, or the fashion editors? Maybe you think it’s simply down to the whim of the chain store buyers? Well fashion is changing: soon it could well be you, the consumer, who determines which clothes will be sold and what the new trend will be. Clothing is beginning to embrace the social web culture by encouraging deeper customer engagement.

So why are things changing? What’s driving this new momentum? I suppose it’s actually a mixture of the influence of the social media and social sharing, combined with the refinement of online voting applications. Competition is becoming increasingly tough, so designers and editors have to look for new ways to engage more deeply with the customers who ultimately buy the product. This isn’t just a phenomenon limited to the smaller brands either: the big boys like Burberry are also taking the plunge. They’re beginning to give consumers the opportunity to decide not only what clothing gets produced, but even what gets designed. The reason for this is pretty obvious when you think about it: brands end up with more engaged customers and they waste less, as manufacturers and retailers know in advance that they’re only producing the type of stuff people want to buy.

According to Vivien Weng, joint owner of fashion ecommerce venture, Fashionstake, “fashion is morphing into a two-way dialogue. Customers were craving an opportunity to somehow be part of the creative process. More and more websites will try to build direct connections with their customers to directly engage them.” Weng, along with partner, Daniel Gulati, created a platform where designers and shoppers could collaborate to fund the creation of new work through pre-orders. Clothes were only manufactured after enough orders were placed.

Older, more established companies are jumping on the bandwagon too.

At New York Fashion Week this year, designer Derek Lam unveiled a series of 16 original designs which eBay shoppers were then asked to vote on, with the idea being that the 5 most popular designs would be produced. Did it work? Well, 120,000 customers voted and 6 designs were actually produced, demonstrating the power of the social web.

It doesn’t just stop there either. Following the examples of fashion startups Blank Label and Genvara, Burberry will later this year launch an application that will let potential customers design their own trench coats, picking their own choice of pattern and material so that they can create a truly individual look. With over 12 million potential permutations, no doubt customers will really be able to come up with something that is unique.  However, Burberry retains control over the total design process to maintain its professional integrity. The added benefit for Burberry is that there’s no waste involved, because the garment is only produced after the order is placed.

So if this trend continues, customers will have an increasingly important role to play in the future design of clothing and accessories.

It will probably be extended to other sectors too. But spare a thought for the designers: what must they be feeling? Surely social engagement will have a negative impact on their artistic integrity. Not according to Derek Lam who maintains that he was firmly in charge of the reins throughout the whole process:

“at no point [during my collaboration with eBay] was my vision compromised — that’s why crowdsourcing in this way was such a great concept. I was able to maintain my creative vision and still execute the design process as I normally do.”

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