Listen up, fashionistas. The hottest trend coming to your world won't be found on the runway. It’s called “big data,” and it’s going to change how the fashion industry operates in a big way.
Big data is all about turning extremely large quantities of data into useful information. When you aggregate data, patterns emerge, ideas are born and you make better decisions. In an industry where the success of next season’s collection hinges on picking the right patterns, colors, fabrics, shapes and sizes, big data is a big deal.
Fashion’s Big Data Source? Social Media
There are more than a billion people on social networks, and most of them are wearing clothes. Fashion is social by nature, so it’s no surprise that millions of likes, comments, shares, tweets, pins, plusses, favorites and Instagrams about what’s hot and what’s not appear online every day.
An increasing number of major designers, brands and retailers are tapping into leading social networks to let consumers participate in the industry as only fashion’s elite once could. They want to collect customer opinions, ideas and feedback on products and trends from the start of the design process to the Facebook photo you post wearing a “hot new dress.” All of this new customer interaction adds up to a lot of useful data for an industry going through a cultural change.
Attending a runway show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, for example, might still be fun and exciting, but it no longer offers an exclusive first look at fashion’s elite. Over the past few seasons more and more top designers and brands have launched new looks online before and during their shows:
- Oscar de la Renta revealed a line exclusively on Instagram
- Burberry’s Tweetwalk shared backstage pictures via Twitter before models hit the stage
- Diane von Furstenberg and her models wore Google Glass to give her followers an inside look at fashion week
- Michael Kors and dozens of other designers, brands and style experts teamed up with Pinterest to build a fashion week hub
- A slew of designers and bloggers teamed up to generate pre-show buzz on Tumblr.
So by the time a model struts down the runway, millions of people have already seen what she’s wearing -- and decided if they prefer beautiful beading over bold stripes.
Opening up such an important event to this large and diverse source of passionate followers is great for fashion. But capturing and listening to their collective and instantaneous feedback is even better for business.
High-Speed Analytics Is In!
Top buyers and magazine editors are also feeling the impact from social media. Some of their power -- and coveted front row seats -- have been taken by popular bloggers, celebrities and photographers with large social media followings. These new trendsetters are capable of influencing the minds of millions long before the editor of Vogue gets home from the after party.
Forward thinking brands are going beyond social media to deliver a completely new type of fashion week experience. Tory Burch launched a fashion week microsite, bringing every aspect of her show to life in real time. Viewers can sort the collection by piece and trend, share content on social media and even pre-order pieces from the runway. The site will be updated throughout the season to keep devoted fans engaged. By opening up an exclusive event to the masses and turning a runway show into a retail store, Tory Burch has pulled together two important aspects of the fashion world that were once miles apart.
Technology vendors also play a big part in fashion’s digital transformation. Beyond the social media platforms mentioned, companies such as SAP offer high-speed analytical tools that can turn massive amounts of data into real business value in seconds. Fashion companies and retailers can leverage big data analytics to quickly understand which trends are gaining momentum and which ones are losing ground at any point in the product lifecycle. With that insight they can make smart adjustments to designs, production and marketing before launching a new collection, reducing the risk that the line won't sell.
Without a doubt, big data is starting to make a big impact on fashion, and more is yet to come. Through social media, the industry is opening its doors to millions of fashion lovers who are eager to share their opinions. The brands that can extract the most wisdom from the crowd and react to it fastest will win both on and off the runway.