The temporary democratization of the fashion industry: An illustration of today’s fashion blogosphere

Written by Valerie Bleeker

fashion bloggers sitting in the front row

Figure 1: Fashion bloggers sitting in the front row; source: (Fashion Bomb Daily, 2014)

Fashion blogs emerged in the beginning of the 2000s and have grown exponentially ever since. Over time, the fashion blogosphere evolved from early non-commercial amateur street styles, inspirational blogs and personal diaries to successful lifestyle brands with celebrity bloggers, such as Hanneli Mustaparta or Chiara Ferragni. These style icons are now regular guests at the runway shows of the big fashion houses (Figure 1) and sit in the front row next to the global style authorities Anna Wintour and Suzy Menkes (Titton, 2010; Crewe, 2012).

With the fast-growing popularity of fashion blogs, a deep change of the global fashion industry has taking its turn. As pointed out by Robin Givhan in an interview with Harpers Bazaar ”the rise of the fashion blogger has evolved [fashion] from an aristocratic business dominated by omnipotent designers into a democratic one in which everyone has access to stylistic clothes...the average people, too often estranged from fashion, is not taking ownership of it.” (Pham, 2011, p. 1)

Yet, in the present day, the blurring boundaries of professional and nonprofessional bloggers are a sign of a new phase in fashion history (Crewe, 2012). Therefore, this paper aims at critically assessing the democratization of the fashion industry through the emergence of the fashion blogosphere.

The fashion democratization

The evolution of the fashion blogosphere goes hand in hand with the development of the Web 2.0 in the mid-2000s (Engholm & Hansen-Hansen, 2013). With the shift from passive online content production to an interactive relationship, another internet era started, where new means of distributing and exchanging fashion in the web became reality. Other than fashion magazines, fashion blogs provide instant communication, open availability to exclusive content and independent opinions. According to Titton (2010), the format of fashion blogs perfectly fits into the “iconoclastic, fast-paced consumption pattern of the digital media” of the present time (Titton, 2013, p. 130).

Furthermore, fashion bloggers have immediate access to fashion items, photography, companies and runway shows, which they publicly copy, share and distribute through social media sites, e.g. Instagram or Twitter (Crewe, 2012). In contrast to print magazines with their lengthy publication cycles of 5 to 8 weeks, bloggers are able to directly respond to designs shown at the Fashion week by tweeting straight from the runway (Engholm & Hansen-Hansen, 2013).

Besides, establishing an independent and personal fashion blog on Blogger or Wordpress has limited entry barriers. Therefore, blogging platforms easily enable outsiders without any professional background to position themselves as authentic and trustworthy voices within the blogosphere. Moreover, opposed to taste dictates within the industry, fashion bloggers critically assess upcoming trends and new collections, while delivering their own interpretations and genuine thoughts.

Thus, as stated by Crewe (2012), the balance of power between the fashion producers, the intermediating bloggers and the consumers shifted gradually. Together with the immense speed of the internet, the interactive possibilities found on social media and the geographical reach, bloggers are able to challenge the steep hierarchy of the fashion industry with its small elite group of editors, who are in control of taste and style (Crewe, 2012).

Before the emergence of fashion bloggers, brand communication was a one-sided act emanating from the fashion producers to the actual audience by the means of thoroughly designed photography, editorials and filmography. With the appearance of the fashion blogosphere a new intermediary was born, which intercepts the communication flow and provides a platform for consumers to interact with brands on a closer as well as faster pace. Hence, the old balance of power and availability of fashion knowledge was ruptured and shifted away from fashion producers to consumers and intermediaries. This shift of power is recognized as the “democratization of fashion” (Pham, 2011, p. 18).

This development can be visualized by the means of the format of the street style blog, which focuses on the photographical caption of authentic street fashion. Referring to Titton (2013), street style blogs are allegedly among the central drivers of the fashion democratization and have created a new source for identifying and sharing fashion trends. In particular Scott Schuhman’s The Sartoralist (Figure 2), established in 2005, was one of the very first of its kind and is still considered the most influential within its segment.

Early street style photography in New York 2006

Figure 2: Early street style photography in New York 2006; source: (Schuhman 1, 2006)

Before the rise of fashion bloggers, trends would be forecasted and captured by trend agencies, which provide a detailed report on upcoming colours, textures and materials. In the following these trends are used as inspirational sources for fashion designers, whose products will later appear in the editorials of international fashion magazines. However with the emergence of the street style blogs, trends were suddenly collected on the street inspired by everyday people and the clothes they wore (Titton, 2010). By sharing these pictures online with the world, any consumer with an internet access could find inspirations. Suddenly the trends were not orchestrated by the available fashion bibles, e.g. the Vogue, or the million-dollar runway shows, but by the consumers themselves. Moreover, the whole process of generating trends and creating clothing hypes, enabled through the internet, became increasingly faster. Accordingly, street style blogs together with other fashion blogs became a powerful and independent medium for consumer empowerment and value co-creation.

The professionalization of fashion blogging

With the help of the Web 2.0 and the fashion blogosphere, today’s fashion is characterized by a rapidly changing and highly fragmented taste as well as style landscape. This state is caused by the global interconnectivity and heightened by continuously improving networks alongside an increasing communication speed. In addition, referring back to the example of street style blogs, this key medium is undergoing a growing professionalization, which manifests in several aspects. By 2009, the first street style photographers became officially hired to document the fashion weeks or shoot product campaigns. For instance, Burberry employed Scott Schuman to create the “Art of the Trench” campaign by photographing 100 people wearing the iconic Burberry trench coat (Hoffmann & Coste-Manière, 2013)

At the same time, the aesthetic appeal in their street style photography started to improve to the level of professional-styled editorials with the atmosphere of celebrity magazines (Figure 4). Besides, with growing blogging experience, the look of the fashion blogs changed rapidly in favour of established metrics of the fashion industry, towards classical and simplistic website layouts.

Websites were suddenly built by professionals, hosted on own domains and long gone were the early template formats from Wordpress, Blogger or Tumblr. Nowadays, professional fashion blogs rather resemble the appearance of powerful online websites such as Harpers Bazaar or Vogue.

Professional street style photography at the Viktor & Rolf show 2014

Figure 3: Professional street style photography at the Viktor & Rolf show 2014; source: (Schuman 2, 2014)

Next to the advancing technical and aesthetic standards, many blogs became advertisement sources for both designers and fashion brands. This is demonstrated by the custom to provide embedded links to the products worn in the bloggers outfit posts. By integrating high-profile brands, whether the bloggers actually owned the product or only desired it, the blogger positions him as a brand and creates a story around him and the featured brand. The authors Kretz & de Valck (2010) describe this practice as branded storytelling, which fashion bloggers combine with visual and textual branding stimuli. For instance, one of the most influential bloggers of the fashion blogosphere, Chiara Ferragni (Figure 5), has become a powerful opinion leader. She not only uses her blog The Blonde Salad as platform for promoting herself but also as a place of consumption. Next to advertising designer fashion pieces and providing outfit inspirations, the celebrity blogger became the creative director to her own shoe collection, the Chiara Ferragni Collection, launched in 2014 (Chiara Ferragni Collection, 2015).

Chiara Ferragni wearing MSGM at the Paris Fashion Week 2014

Figure 4: Chiara Ferragni wearing MSGM at the Paris Fashion Week 2014; source: (Ferragni, 2014)

Although fashion blogs started off from social media sites with user-generated content and essentially non-commercial intentions, bloggers immediately performed the role of intermediaries between the fashion company and its consumers (Laurell, 2014). Therefore, it is no wonder advertisers are courting prominent fashion bloggers to form co-operations and feature advertisement on their blogs. Both brands and bloggers are tempted to develop collaborative partnerships in which they equally benefit. On the one side, the blogger reives sponsored gifts, samples or monetary returns for featuring a product. At the other end, the brand profits by receiving a platform to advertise their product and gaining a genuine feedback channel. An advertisement on a trustworthy blog, despite the obvious product sponsorships, receives more favourable user feedback and holds more credibility opposed to traditional media channels (Collander & Dahlén, 2011). As studied by Pham (2011), blogs remain a powerful tool of Word-of-Mouth due to the illusion of face-to-face relationship between the reader and the blogger. Over time, readers are exposed to many aspects of the blogger’s personal life, interact with them and thereby form a virtual friendship based on trust (Collander & Dahlén, 2011).

Back to aristocracy

However, with the beginning of blogger collaborations, their formerly independent voices are made subject to the industry rules and fashion bloggers find themselves subordinate to the leaders of the industry. Once a blogger is evolving in terms of professionalism and takes more steps towards commercialization, popular content within their network increases with the intent to enhance advertisement revenue (Sun & Zhu, 2013). Consequently, the bloggers formerly critical reviews become more favourable for their featured brand, which aligns them with the popular opinions communicated within the industry, in order to retain the business partnership.

In addition, the initially threatened fashion industry soon recognized the power of social media and started to imitate the close relationship of bloggers and their readers by tweeting or blogging themselves (Givhan, 2014). Suddenly the advantage of fast-paced social media sites and the reader intimacy were not as unique as they once were. 

Furthermore, fashion bloggers are now turning into models, editors, designers or brand spokespersons. By stepping away from the independent outsider perspective and into the insider role, they find themselves being part of the industry. Referring to Robin Givhan, who claimed fashion blogs democratized fashion, the fashion critic revised her position in 2014 and wrote for The New York Magazin “the distance between the Establishment and fashion’s once-dazzling revolutionaries has narrowed, and there is minimal distinction between them. Because what the fashion industry loves, it woos — then swallows whole” (Givhan, 2014).

Final remarks

With the introduction of fashion blogs, their independent opinions and growing influence, a democratization of the fashion industry was established. Yet with the emergence of commerce and blogger collaborations on the formerly niche-orientated blogs, a new form of media business has been created. Many fashion magazines and firms, who were initially reluctant to accept these changes, have already seized the opportunity and used fashion blogs as profitable media channels to market their goods, create buzz around their brands and target new customers.

With the commercialization of fashion blogging, their submission to the doctrines of the industry and their arrival in the mainstream media, it is arguable whether fashion bloggers still perform the role of independent voices. In fact, as stated by Robin Givhan, they have already been swallowed by the fashion industry they intended to democratize in the first place. It is without doubt the fashion industry has been changed substantially with the arrival of fashion blogs; there is less distance between the consumers and the producers, knowledge is widely shared and communication spreads faster. However, once the former amateurs and independent bloggers became part of the fashion circus, their autonomy was lost and the fashion aristocracy with hierarchical structures was reinforced.













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