by Jon Fahrner – BumeBox CEO

The fashion industry had always been ruled by bold, bitchy and sometimes aloof personalities who have cast an industry of mystery. Historically, nobody “gets” high end fashion. And even if you got it, mere mortals fall behind a designer’s new vision that will materialize 6 months from now. Fashion, especially high end and luxury fashion, was an industry of chase. Consumers were never allowed to catch up.

Prior to the “age of access”, the public used to be starved for glimpses into next season’s style. You wouldn’t have wasted time dreaming about attending an actual runway show in New York or London. Your unqualified rear end wouldn’t justify filling a seat. For the most part consumers were completely in the dark and had no impact on the process of fashion until garments actually hit the store racks.

Then the aloof met the youth. . Billions connected on digital networks and became addicted to mobile devices. This usage revolution forced drastic change in the designer / consumer dynamic. The passive consumer structure began taking arrows in its back in 2007 and 2008 from apparel retailer upstarts like Modcloth, Moxsie, Karmaloop and Nasty Gal aimed at incorporating more social connectivity with their customers. By their behavioral patterns, millennials demanded transparency and involvement. Initiatives like Modcloth’s “Be The Buyer” even began to allow consumers to weigh in on manufacturing.

Iconic fashion houses like Burberry read the signals early, and decided to make some moves that would fundamentally change levels of access for the average person.  Burberry pioneered streaming their live runway shows online in 2009. Now, in 2013, this is commonplace. Closed 300 seat venues began reflecting out to virtual stadiums of people. It wasn’t long after the first runway show streamed that designers succumbed to the temptation to measure feedback. Content sharing and social conversation technologies now regularly power tidal waves of participation from online users, AKA data goldmines. Major designers such as Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Belstaff are beginning to slice the data in innovative ways to find out the hearts of their most loyal fans.

Link to video clip of Kenneth Cole talking about how runway shows are changing because of social media. http://www.nbcnewyork.com/video/#!/entertainment/the-scene/Kenneth-Cole-Returns-to-the-Runway/190075001

This past February, Kenneth Cole returned to the runway for the first time in 7 years primarily because of his excitement around new social technologies that can transform the old experience. Even at the physical event, the change was obvious. The grand finale featured every model tweeting images of the audience from their smart phones as they took their final lap.

Link to video clip of Kenneth Cole talking about these changes http://www.nbcnewyork.com/video/#!/entertainment/the-scene/Kenneth-Cole-Returns-to-the-Runway/190075001

Because the market is so big and because these changes are so rapid, fashion is now seen as an area of opportunity consumer technology circles. Heaps of innovation geared toward increased consumer involvement is coming, to the dismay of the geriatric fashion traditionalists. The argument against making fashion accessible is that it simply cheapens the art. Some fashion vets long for the days of limited outside involvement and in some cases justification of their existence on the payroll.

Aside from this, why is mass involvement such a bad thing? Creative visionaries feed off of emotion. They also fear becoming unpopular. Becoming unpopular means going out of business. Designers can now pay attention and be more in tune with their consumers. In a way, consumer participation brings its own mystery. Who can predict which style will go viral next?

v1 4 How Youth Surprised the Aloof…and Changed Fashion Forever