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The socially networked retailer – fashion's hierarchies crumble

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11 September 2009

Like with digital’s relationship with music and publishing, fashion and digital media have had a tempestuous love-hate affair.

Many fashion brands are still obsessed with brochure-ware websites built on flashy, closed and un-interactive technologies like Flash. Fashion brands always wanted to maintain some mystique. ‘Brand equity’ the accountants would call it.

The Sartorialist Scott Schuman photographer, blogger & retailer

But the people on the street have been blogging, taking pictures, making stuff (Etsy) and talking up a storm about fashion. There’s also a few innovative social fashion apps, networks and platforms out there. Like the social mood board site Polyvore, and the show-off-my-style Chictopia.

But it’s in blogging that online fashion has been frenetic. Blogs like Fashion Toast from LA and Susie Bubble’s Style Bubble are attracting literally hundreds of thousands of visits.

Big fashion publishers are now trying to emulate these blogger’s successes. With different levels of success: Susie Bubble is the Commissioning editor for Dazed & Confused’s Dazed Digital. But Ms Bubble’s blog is the same size as the trendy East London magazine’s website.

Style Bubble vs Dazed Digital

Style Bubble vs Dazed Digital

But the reverse is now also true: the socially networked style kings are going offline.

Reports South Africa’s Businessday:

“Barneys will launch a “pop-up” shop within its Manhattan department store called Sartorialust that will, says a Barneys spokesman, be “a temporary showcase … which we expect to be very natty and eclectic showing how old-school Italian can be mixed with designer in a very cool way.” To anyone not involved in fashion, this may not mean much, but what marks out this occasion is that the temporary space will be “curated” (that is, stocked) by a photographer called Scott Schuman.


Schuman, otherwise known as The Sartorialist, is the man behind a blog of the same name that features photographs of men and women whose style he likes on the street; the pictures are posted online immediately, accompanied by a short commentary.”

Have a look at the Sartorialist. Snazzy.

The Sartorialist’s pop-up shop is coming to London’s Liberty as well.

“The result, says Robert Burke, president of the luxury consultancy Robert Burke Associates, is a “new wave” of vendors. Indeed, Burke sees this as the next evolution of niche retail: after the socialite retailer (Gloria Vanderbilt, Tory Burch) and the celebrity designer (Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker) comes the socially networked retailer.

The difference is that the earlier nontrained retailers were women who clearly wore — and were photographed in — clothes that defined their style and represented a public track record of their taste. For their followers, the decision to shop at their stores was, in effect, a decision about whether or not they wanted to look like a celebrity.

By contrast, Schuman and his ilk have a largely virtual track record, and with it, an even larger virtual community. Schuman’s blog, for example, gets about 140000 hits a day. “

To regular readers of these blogs their track record is as pervasive as any celebrities’ image and goes even deeper. It’s an authentic voice they have come to love and with which they can interact. A voice they discovered not because of and mediated by glossy ads. These bloggers did not win because they are part of a publishing empire with a great distribution network.

They are popular because of word of mouth. Because they have great content, a good product. People found them just because they’re so accessible and so damn good.

My bet? Susie Bubble of Style Bubble fame will soon be asked to do a collection for a retailer.

PS: RAAK recently entered b.tween’s Branding Talent competition. This was the brief:

Shop Direct is a massive (and massively successful) home shopping organisation that has moved online in a big way over the last few years. They are currently in the process of preparing to launch a new fashion clothing retail brand that will live in both the online and offline worlds.

New ways of connecting with consumers – predominantly young adult female consumers – and of connecting them with, and involving them in, a genuinely exciting new online/offline fashion retailing experience.

Our entries are number 1 and 3 on the page – do have a look.

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