While online apparel shopping is one of the fastest growing e-commerce channels (passing electronics last year!) the fashion industry is generally still far behind many others who jumped on the web 2.0 wagon. After “living” in the space for the last two years: running a fashion focused social network, organizing events connecting the fashionable crowd in the online space as well as simply shopping online, I came up with few conclusions that might help explain the late adaptation:
1. Copyright Infringement. Most designers still live in fear of their designs being copied online. This is the main reason you might not see detailed high-resolution images on many designers’ websites. This is a battle similar to the one music industry is facing, although they seem to be more creative in finding alternative revenue streams – selling concert tickets, merchandising and licensing. It would make sense to assume fashion designers could follow the same route – monetizing on capsule collections, collaborations and licensing. After all, the rampant copy of Tory Burch’s signature flats not only didn’t hurt her business, but helped her company to become a one billion dollar empire in less than five years from the brand’s launch.
2. Internet democracy. In the case of the fashion industry, the free-speech internet world didn’t play by its old established rules. While in the magazines’ world, trends are dictated from above by a select group of editors, the internet suggests every person’s entitlement for opinion. Blogs and independent online publications don’t necessarily follow the very positive, almost “admiring” tone the magazines have established. This explains the mixed feelings towards the blogosphere within the industry. With the recent rise in fashion bloggers’ influence on growing online sales, the industry might have no choice other than to embrace this independent voice.
3. E-commerce Perception. The online shopping experience is missing the “exclusivity” factor as well as the personal attention and care, which customers experience in designer stores. It’s also hard to charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for an online sale, one main reason why “invite-only” sales sites like Gilt.com and RueLaLa have been such a success lately. They recreate the high-end shopping experience people are used to receiving in boutiques. “Limited time offer” serves act as a well-trained sales person urging the consumer to close the deal.
4. Technology-challenged audience. Unlike musicians, directly connected to the digital world since the early 80s, fashion designers have been slower to adopt new digital tools. While having a MySpace/Facebook fan page is an unspoken requirement in the music industry, it’s far from being a must-have for any graduating fashion student. What many of them don’t realize is the huge potential they have to become an online persona of their own. Look at the industry innovator and always early adopter – Isaac Mizrahi, who recently launched a whole new website including blog, video webisodes and daily updates. He connects with fans on a daily basis, involving them in his creative process and creating expectation and excitement for upcoming collections.
5. Lack of a simple online solution. While there are many sites for musicians and bands to promote themselves, from uploading music on YouTube and iTunes, to using social networks to connect with fans – there is no one major platform for fashion designers to connect with their consumers.
The last point is where I see the biggest opportunity for us, the online experts, to come up with simple digital solutions for the fashion industry crowd. I’m sure there will be many opportunities for startups in the space to monetize on the soon-to-be $28B online apparel industry.