Branded communities – is the fashion industry missing a trick?

Rail of coats
By Vincent Boon on 22 Feb 2018

Many people love fashion. They love reading about it, talking about it and finding a unique look. Think of that creative person you know who always seems to find great combinations of clothes… who scours shops to find items with a slight edge and manages to pull off just the right look. 

What I’m describing is style. Style needn’t be experimental or avant-garde. It isn’t necessarily what you see on the catwalk or the red carpet. It’s more personal. It’s about self-expression. There is an industry built around this, with trend-spotters working for fashion houses and magazines who are on the lookout for the next big craze.

But here’s the thing – the fashion industry is missing a trick.

Many online communities exist in product and service industries. Gaming brands often lead the charge (PlayStation, Xbox) but there are others too. Take for instance beauty brand Sephora, or toy company Lego. These businesses have reaped the benefits of communities and I believe fashion brands could too. And yet, so few have embraced the community approach.

A great example of the power of community within the fashion sector is Threadless, whose designs are created and chosen by its members.

Threadless proves that a community model works, after 17 years few fashion brands have followed their example.

Why not? There are a number of possible reasons.

First, while consumers are notoriously loyal to fashion brands, this can be a double-edged sword for companies in the industry. Maintaining your customer base means remaining distinctive. For fashion brands, this often translates to retaining creative control over your designs. In addition, the success of the industry is largely built upon a culture of individuality, with famous (often eccentric) designers usually playing a key part in a brand’s marketing.

However, as described, fashion brands seek out  inspiration from the outside world.

Now imagine if, instead of going out to look for it, the inspiration came directly to you.

Imagine bringing customers into the design process of a new clothing ranges that they’d love to wear.

While few fashion brands currently have their own branded online communities, doing so would offer them a unique place to mine ideas from a thriving base of passionate customers. Customers could show designers how they wear their clothes, which combinations they create, the styles they favour and which other brands they like. What better way to get people excited than by bringing them on board?

I’m not suggesting doing away with traditional design, and fashion brands uncertain about the benefits of this approach needn’t dive in headfirst. But a brand owned community could begin as a source of inspiration for designers and give the company a real way to interact with customers on a daily basis. Now that the shop floor is either online or far from the inner workings of the business there are still great ways to interact with your customer base. Then, when they’re ready, perhaps the brand could allow customers into the design process. The community could submit designs, and through this exchange of ideas, brands could create a unique new clothing line that is even more appealing to their consumers.

Ultimately, I believe the reason many fashion brands are yet to embrace community comes down to culture. Understandably, this is no small barrier. However, by involving customers more profoundly in their business, brands could develop a whole new approach to fashion, one that brings customers – as well as the catwalk – into the process. This could save millions in marketing and create a unique customer connection. A big idea, perhaps, but for those willing to try… the opportunities are ripe for the picking!

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