BY COLLEEN PATTERSON
In 2015, YouTube generated more than four billion daily views across one billion users worldwide. Facebook similarly reported eight billion video views a day from its 500 million users. These platforms aren’t alone. Instagram, Snapchat, and even Periscope have gone great lengths to entice users with their own video-making capabilities and brands of all types have taken notice.
If you’ve tuned into New York Fashion Week at all, the fact that you could tune in is point blank proof that fashion brands are embracing both video and user-generated content in a big way. Today, fashion has become democratized. And much like the technology that gave millions of consumers access to the NYFW runway this week, the fashion world is becoming increasingly consumer-centric.
Fashion entrepreneur Helen Berkun knows firsthand the unexpected impact that fashion blogging and social media have had on fashion-brand relations.
“Back in 2005, you literally had to be in New York and go to the shows. Fashion is mainstream now,” says Berkun. “Even [modeling agency] Tom Ford has launched an online website for anyone to shop, where before, you wouldn’t be able to and now they do fashion to buyers right away. Runway to your home. It’s totally changed.”
Twice a year, in February and September, traditionally, a collection of 250 top designers introduce their collections for the upcoming season in what used to be a formerly hushed affair reserved for high-profile buyers, private clients and only the most privileged press.
Today, fashion week is open to any consumer, largely from the comfort of their desktop and mobile devices as they tune in to a live stream direct from the designer’s site. Abetting the shift toward exclusivity, Helen notes, is our current love of fast fashion.
“I used to be invited and go to New York and do the forecasting of what the fashion would be, and then you, the average consumer, would have to wait six months to get it. Today, six months from now, I’m over it. All that stuff is totally crazy. Fast fashion is the way we live. We want everything now.”
Helen Berkun knows. Having made a living in fashion for the past 25 years, Berkun cites the 2008 recession as the outset of the shift. October of 2008 witnessed what Stephen Sadove, the CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, described to The Wall Street Journal as “as short a period of time as you can possibly imagine.” Fashion buyers stopped buying. One month later Saks, the pre-eminent luxury brand of the time, slashed its prices by 70 percent. Their competitors and contemporaries followed suit.
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, 148,000 retail stores closed that year and another 73,000 would shut in the first half of 2009.
Consumers adjusted as well. The notion of investment pieces emerged, staples that endure, outfits that count. Their aspirations shifted. As Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail consulting firm, told Reuters, she personally noticed a values correction among affluent consumers. "We're hearing consumers tell us, 'I used to care about designer brands and now I don't,'" she said.
The year, 2008 not only sent change rippling through the fashion industry well into the future, but it also proved to be a solidifying year in Berkun’s own career. “I was like a one-stop shop,” said Berkun.
“No one was hiring anybody and nobody was working, so I would style shoot, provide creative direction, do hair and makeup. Whatever you needed for that one rate. And then, I started traveling and soon signed on with Ford as a stylist.”
As a result, Berkun evolved into a one-woman operation. Now she does everything.
“I’m a total Gemini. If I style too much, I think, I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to schlep clothes around. I want to do this. I want to start shooting more. And if I’m shooting and retouching all day long for three weeks straight —I want to move on to something else. I feel like I’m constantly evolving. I think that’s the best part of my business and being an entrepreneur.”
When her brother suggested she start her own blog back in 2011, she took his advice. Today the brand partnerships she implements on the site, HelenBerkun.com, comprise 20-30% of her business, the rest of which is fashion photography.
“Aside from blogging, there are so many other things in the market. I think videos and live streams are the future,” says Berkun. Fashion designers used to tell people, ‘ this is trendy’ and ‘ this is beautiful.’ Today, it’s the consumer who tell them.
We’ve moved away from an exclusive, aspirational model toward one of immediacy. When our audience and consumers are accessing fashion through technology, it logically follows that they would expect a more consumer-centric model from them. Take it from the entrepreneur who turned her industry expertise into social influence: focus on your audience and meet them where they are. They’re the ones driving the future of fashion. At the end of the day, when your customer tells you what they want, it’s best that you listen.