"We are now living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to co-operate with one another and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organisations."
Clay Shirky – 'Here Comes Everybody' (2009, p20)
The birth of the internet has impacted society on a greater level than could have ever been imagined. Released to the public in 1994 via Netscape, the internet was initially created as a way for universities and colleges to send educational information in a standardised way and create a set routine of sharing this information collectively. The theory was simple, the information would be reproduced electronically. This information would then be broken down into small packets of information by a computer which would then be transmitted via the internet. The receiving computer would then sort these packets and piece them together to recreate the same information on another computer in a completely different location.
Reduced costs and advances in telecommunication technology has allowed this method of communication to not just be used by educational establishments, but by the everyday consumer in a variety of different ways. In the last ten years alone we have seen an advancement from the old dial up internet available to households, a system which brings backs nostalgic memories of the slow speed it would receive information and the humorous memory of shouting for mum not to answer the phone as we would lose our connection if she did. We all now have the ability to access broadband in the majority of homes which allows us to receive information to our computers at a greater capacity than ever before.
Not only do we now have the internet available on personal computers at home, We now have the internet available wirelessly through 3g technology and more recently the further accelerated system of 4g. The internet is now more or less available anywhere, devices such as mobile phones and tablet computers are now seen in the hands of many consumers on the high street. This method of communication has completely changed the way in which we communicate, not just for information sharing, but also how we interact socially with one another. Media theorist Mike Walsh describes this best stating “There once was a concept of ‘logging on’ and ‘logging off’. Now there is a ubiquitous network; there is no switch off. Any content, on any device, at any time and in any place” (2009, p70)
We have slowly lost the relationship link between the internet and the computer as the internet has now encompassed a number of different products via various platforms and environments moving us away from this “box” notion we once associated. As mentioned earlier, this is all now available through a variety of devices so no longer is their the physical aspect of sitting at a computer. By having access to this instantly available global platform whilst mobile, in theory, anyone with internet access can now communicate directly with any other figure that uses the internet.
Brought on by these advances, our consumer habits towards the internet have obviously changed. I myself, a 24 year old university student, can recall a time when I would be limited to only using the internet for homework on my PC, also only being allowed to use this during times when my home phone would not be in use. Now, from the moment society wakes up, they interact with one another by providing a running commentary of their life via social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. They then go about their working lives sharing emails, promoting themselves online and communicating with offices around the globe via virtual communication programs such as Skype. Alls this is available whilst we are constantly bombarded with information and advertisements in relation to the things we like and are associated with through our personal digital links.
Various industries have had to develop to keep in line with these new advances and change to meet new consumers behaviours. One of the first industries that were affected by the popularity of the internet was the music industry and the rise in file sharing networks such as Napster. Ten years ago it would be absurd to think that we could be carrying around our entire music collection on a system the size of our thumb, not only a storage device but a system that could also playback this information to ourselves anywhere whilst on the move. The internet has meant that consumer’s needs have changed and we now have a demand for access to a greater amount of content available anywhere at any time.
Piracy became a bigger issue as it was now much easier for consumers to reproduce and share information as there is now no physical product to create for the end user. Initially industries focused on ways in which they could fight back against piracy, however, It has now been realised that industries should embraced these new ideas and regenerate how they interact with their consumer market. As Clay Shirky quite rightly states “The web didn’t introduce a new competitor into the old ecosystem, the Web created a new ecosystem.” (2009, p60) The music industry now offers recordings in MP3 format and there are now a number of streaming services available such as the Spotify website. The film and tv industries have also encompassed these ideas and offer a vast number of subscription services. We no longer have to watch or listen to the information set by these channels, we can still choose our own content, however these industries still have control over what is available and still retain the revenue consumers generate.
The New Voice of Industry
This vast change in social media usage has also now allowed users to create their own avatar or persona online. People who maybe felt too uninformed about a topic or subject can now project their own thoughts and ideas to a mass audience without having the physical aspect of social engagement. Collectively as an audience we now no longer just sit back and consume the information we find. Most online platforms will have some sort of feedback system wether it be the Facebook “like” or Twitter “retweet” features. We not only now share this information with our peers but we also comment and respond to these directly. Clay Shirky calls this new generation of consumers “The Former Audience” (2009, p7).
We also now have the ability to move away from traditional industries who promote themselves online with consumers having the ability to simply recreate and share similar content of their own and distribute this to a global audience. Because of this, leading figures in industry are being overtaken by the everyday person who now have access to this same audience and as a society, we are now on a more level playing field due to the internet. Bloggers are now being hailed as visionaries in their relevant fields as much as the industry professional. There is a section in Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” titled “Mass amateurisation breaks down professional categories” (2009, p70) Here he talks about this rise and how if the everyday person can create and distribute the same content as an industry professional then why can they not be regarded in the same esteem. An example of this theory in practice would be online makeup guru Lauren Luke. Luke, a housewife from South Shields, North East England started creating makeup tutorial via popular video sharing website Youtube. Luke would recreate the looks of various celebrities step by step, recording these in the comfort of her own home.
Luke’s personality comes across heavily in her videos, her regional accent and honest approach is what I believe has made her a success. She is honest about the life she has led and often recalls about her time growing up as a teenage single mother in Newcastle. Because of figures like this, the consumer of today now has a desire for more relatable figures like Luke who is someone the modern woman can relate to rather the stereotypical image of women the media has led us to ‘believe as normal’. From the back of this audience viewing and mass subscription to her channel, Luke has become a leading figure in the beauty industry. She is now a partner of Youtube, produced her own makeup line and has featured in documentaries about her life story.
The fashion industry is unique when we think of it as an industry which thrives on creating a product that is set to be irrelevant by the end of a specific season. This is an interesting industry to look at when we think about the changes brought on by digital media as this relationship with technology has in turn, created a consumer who is now part of a more than ever disposable culture. Just as fast as we now join, share and drop out of various media causes, the fashion industry has aways been somewhere that trends and items become hot property and disappear at an ever growing rate. To keep up with this now ever hungry and need for the new audience, brands and retailers have had to effectively engage with their target market using the available technologies to keep them driven in what is now a heavily saturated industry.
The industry has seen a rise in these previously mentioned online guru’s who now utilise the available systems in place to project themselves to the public and create a name for themselves in an industry which was once almost impenetrable. Websites such as Tumblr and Wordpress are used to share street style imagery and comments, which then link to various retailers to purchase the items featured and are then often reblogged by the masses across the web. Historically, known as an industry with an almost exclusive image to the world. The voice of the fashion industry would, until recently, be mostly associated with affluent and mature female figures, who would dominate and dictate to the market passing judgement on what trends were key for a specific season. As Jose Neves states in Gwyneth Moore’s “Fashion Promotion”, “The big media powerhouses have lost a lot of their influence. Designers are now no longer made or broken by the glossy titles. “The devil wears Prada” is already an anachronism” (2012, p32)
This highlights this new power available to the consumer in how they can themselves, almost dictate an industry through their collective voice. Bloggers such as Bryanboy, The Sartorialist and Tavi Gevinson produce reviews and content online which the masses follow, read and make their own decision on what is the key trend in fashion. Designers and brands obviously recognise the power of these figures to the industry. Most often now, the front row of catwalk shows are reserved for the aforementioned bloggers and the other cultural icons who have been made relevant by these same blogs. Designers have even gone as far to name collections and items after these figures with it now being common practice for a designer to name a bag per season after an icon they call their muse.
A popular example of this would be Mulberrys “Alexa” bag which is named after internet icon, model and Tv presenter Alex Chung. Described by The Guardians Polly Vernon as
The £750 handbag that’s beating the recession, ruling over 2010’s accessory market, inspiring a high-street homage or 10, and insuring that at least one British company surfs this wave of the economic downturn with breathless ease. (2010)
It is worth noting that this bag is still popular amongst youths almost 3 years later. I believe the key to this bags success is as already mentioned, the popularity amongst youths. These same youths, are most pro-active in their use of social media and the driving force behind marketing brands products online.
Fashion houses historically would often create an elitist persona to the audience outside of fashion. Journalists and industry experts would quite often be the only figures able to attend these exclusive showings of collections at various couture houses around the globe. Show seats would be reserved for the crem de la crem of society, with the insides of these houses never to be seen by the everyday consumer. Instead of this, the everyday consumer would be shown clean cut editorials that would adorn the glossy shelf magazines purchased by fashion devotees. These images printed would have been curated and edited by a large group of staff chosen by the brand to retain their identity and presented in a way that was exactly as the brand had intended and to a high quality standard.
That image perceived is now a lot harder to control for brands as this new age of digital media has opened up these images to a world that can now instantly access, edit and distribute the brands message whilst adding their own notion and connotation to the images. Other users can then add their own comments to the shared image and before the brand can even stop the image being distributed it has already became an artefact in its own right. Fashion-show producer and Villa Eugénie founder Etienne Russo is aware of this change advising in an interview for “Dazed and Confused” magazine that he is embracing it and excited about his work going viral stating
What’s fantastic for me… is that the people who pull the strings now are the consumers, and they can be part of it. Today the person who wants to buy the fashion gets the information. They can get educated. That means more pressure on us because the message has to be crystal clear and every single detail has to be right. (2013, p83)
Catwalk shows are often now streamed across the web for the world to see instantly at the same time as the respected journalists and industry experts who have been lucky enough to receive an invitation. Even the shows that aren’t streamed online are often shared in real time via the amount of industry insiders who now often take and share pictures via popular social media app’s such as Instagram. With the ability for Instagram users to then add hashtags and comments on each of these pictures and then for the images to be easily shared via various social platforms, It is now evident that it would be quite easy in the digital world for this brand image to be easily misunderstood or misrepresented at an alarmingly increasing rate.
Youths have always felt the need to express themselves through fashion whether it be from the brand they purchase or just the general style of clothing they choose that refers themselves to a a certain group within society. The youth of today now feels the need to be part of a collective culture, a group dedicating themselves to high end brands and sharing these references collectively through networks such as Tumblr or Instagram. If you were to search one of these platforms for a luxury brand name, for example the Italian fashion house Givenchy, you would not only be brought to a list of images featuring this brands collection. You would now also see images of these items in collage, grouped together with other known luxury brands and modern iconic references.
This brings about the question whether or not these brands shared are happy to have their image or ethos being distorted by the consumer in this way and wether or not it would be worth having some sort of allegiance with these other brands digitally linked. Also these images posted and collaged are not necessarily always fashion related. These high end labels are often worn by popular rappers in the music industry such as Kanye West and Professor Green. The youth of today now link this luxury clothing into a lifestyle culture associated with the artist and quite often these items are now linked to images featuring drugs use and other gang related paraphernalia that has historically been linked to rap music. This is obviously concerning for a brand who traditionally would have had no link to these negative cultural references, however this new digital platform has allowed them to be exposed to this.
Some brands are obviously aware and play along with this issue, rising brand Pyrex Vision is a streetwear label that has been worn by rising rap artists such as A$AP Rocky and hip hop collective BEEN TRILL. This is a label who prints google found imagery onto vintage Champion hoodies which are a cultural icon in sportswear to the american youth. These items then have the slogan “Pyrex 23” printed on the back in traditional varsity style, selling for hundreds of dollars as luxury street wear. It is interesting to note that Pyrex is the material that is quite often used by street drug dealers to cook crack cocaine. This label is quite obviously mocking the society we have now become and how easy it is to engage with social media to create a brand that is now desired by the ever hungry, former audience.
These new changes are all not negative to the fashion industry however. These new platforms obviously expand a brand network into markets and territory’s that it may have never been exposed to if it wasn’t for social media. These also allow a brand to communicate and engage directly with their consumer rather than rely on the chain of glossy media titles historically used. This has also in a way made the fashion industry more of a level playing field. Smaller up and coming brands can now gather as much hype online as the larger international brands as long as they know how to effectively engage with their market via social channels. With the increased amount of users now engaging through these, it would seem simple for a brand to setup their own Instagram, Twitter and Facebook account creating a voice to rival any other in the industry.
The JPEG Generation
This change in consumer engagement is also impacting the visual style of advertising in the fashion industry and also the style of garments produced. Fashion houses such as YSL, Lanvin and Balenciaga who traditionally were known as labels producing haute couture collections are now creating items heavily inspired by streetwear with their editorials marketed and referencing the new youth of today. Maria Janssen, creative director at global fashion forecasting agency WGSN spoke about this change in her interview for Bradley Quinns “Fashion Futures”.
We are seeing two interrelated trends that will have impact on youth culture for seasons to come. We call the first one ‘jpeg gen’. This trend is about the emergence of the online generation, the first generation that has never known a world in which the internet did not exist. they have taken the language of the internet, one that is fast-reacting and multi-contextual and made it their own… it’s about an aesthetic of speed over process, and crude computer craft combining jarring scale and motifs into unusual textures, bringing about an aesthetic revolution. (2012, p88)
I see evidence of this occurring already, If we look at the latest collection from Givenchy (see fig 6.1) we now see high end sweaters printed with pastiche images of Bambi and Rottweilers collaged with tartan prints. The aforementioned Pyrex Vision collection fuses renaissance artwork with varsity style fonts (fig 6.2) and even the editorials printed in fashion magazines are evolving into this similar style. Digital artists such as Daniel Sannwald (fig 6.3) have become popular in glossy features, producing heavily edited imagery which now moves away from the traditional narrative of fashion houses to fit in with today’s digital aesthetic. WGSN’s trend report for summer 2012 also discussed this ‘jpeg generation’ and how our visual identity is evolving based on this mass volume of information we retrieve via the internet.
The process of filtering what we like and dislike is the same for everyone, but the outcome is always unique to the individual. This curatorial edited approach to life manifests itself in everything from style to communication, as pastiche and montage become the vocabulary for a new visual language. (2011)
This idea questions whether or not as an audience today we are actually creatively directing these fashion brands and guiding them to create the style of garments they are. Gwyneth Moore in her book “Concept To Customer” states that designers historically were segmented into 4 key groups. One of these groups she calls ‘Mavericks’
Mavericks advise top design houses on seasonal directions for colour, style and fabric choices.
These designers are not primarily concerned with current consumer or market trends; they will instead create couture, new looks and direction for a brand, preferring to lead rather than follow.
(2012a, p16) Are these previously ‘Maverick’ designers such as Ricardo Tisci for Givenchy or Hedi Slimane for
YSL no longer maverick as it seem now they are just feeding the market with exactly what they want.
Fashion costumers expectations will be high, and also demanding… People expect a level of input into product development, and this is likely to replace our current understanding of ‘customisable’ product… Consumers will understand their collective power and expect to be listened to (2012, p88)
Maria Janssen discussed in her earlier mentioned interview how this way of creating a product targeted directly for the consumer rather than based on a theme or concept is obviously changing the demands and needs of the consumer that have a thirst for instantly accessible fashion. Items can be purchased online for next day delivery however there is quite often a number of months in- between seeing these items through social media and them being available to purchase online.
It is interesting to note how this book was only published last year however we can already already see these changes developing. Among the growing community online is the emergence of ‘rip off’ brands who take the idea and imagery of the large international brands and create various edits of these products. These quite often take popular slogans used by the fashion houses and mock these as prints on various items. They then, using the power of social media promote themselves online and are embraced by the existing online communities who are hash tagging and sharing the original brands mimicked. Historically there would be a stigma attached to wearing fake clothing however todays consumer has embraced these products as a whole new idea mimicking the original designs they desire, which they cannot purchase as they are inaccessible due to time constrains or cost.
Brands are now obviously trying to understand consumer issues and combat these copyright issues, all whilst trying to position themselves within emerging trends by employing ‘Cool Hunters’. Instead of using the historical methods of travelling to attend various industry and trade fairs to develope future trends and ideas. Cool hunters now actively take part in social media and cultural events around them to experience first hand the world through a consumers eyes. Gwyneth Moore states that “Cool hunters will observe and talk to trendsetters from all walks of life in order to find out what sociologists have referred to as the ‘tipping point’.” (2012b, p26) These then go back to the fashion houses with their thoughts and findings which impact on the design process for the next collection.
These ideas and notions confirm that digital media has obviously changed the fashion voice like never before imagined. Consumers are no longer spoon fed the ideas and themes dictated by large industry corporates. These voices instead, are now the ones being directed and dictated by the audience online through their collective wisdom and voice. Previously non threatening fashion brands like smaller high street chain Topshop who were one of the first retailers to market themselves effectively through social media, now harness a new found power. With it now being common practice to collaborate with existing large international fashion houses on collections to aid them break into the new digital market.
This has now almost giving a sense of global democracy within the industry not only through existing retailers but also by giving people from all walks of life the ability to impact an industry which was once almost impenetrable. Fashion has always been something which could be chosen by the individual however until recently there was often a ignominy for going against the grain. With these new digital platforms, we can now develop our own trends and ideas whilst instantly exposing these to a mass audience given the opportunity to become a tastemaker ourselves.
The end product is also evolving with industry responding to our ever growing needs, feedback and dictatorship offering vast diversity and choices in the products now available to ourselves. This new voice has somewhat refreshed the industry and as mentioned earlier these notions affect not only the fashion world but can be seen in action across all industries now in situation with the JPEG gen. It is now an exciting time for the consumer to sit back and watch how corporates and brands react to this collective demand and see which other ways industry responds to this.
Abloh, V (2013). Youth Always Wins SS2013.1. [Online Image] Available at: http://pyrexvision.com/ Last accessed 29 April 2013
Howard,O. (2011). JPEG GEN - WGSN Trend. Available: http://fashion-lab- birmingham.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/jpeg-g. Last accessed 1st March 2013.
Moore, G (2012a). Basics Fashion Management 01: Concept to Customer. Switzerland: Ava Publishing SA.
Moore, G (2012b). Basics Fashion Management 02: Fashion Promotion. Switzerland: Ava Publishing SA.
Patternbank, (2013). Givenchy A/W 2013/14. [Online Image] Available: http://patternbank.com/paris-fashion-week-autumnwinter-201314-print-pattern-highlights-part-2/ Last accessed 29 April 2013.
Quinn, B (2012). Fashion Futures. London: Merrell.
Sannwald, D (2012). Arena Homme+. [Online Image] Available: http://danielsannwald.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/arena-homme.html Last accessed 29 April 2013.
Shirky, C (2009). Here Comes Everybody. London: Penguin.
Vernon, P. (2010). Money bags: the story behind Mulberry’s Alexa. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/nov/21/alexa-handbag-fashion-mulberry. Last accessed 3rd April 2013.
Walsh, M (2009). Futuretainment. London: Phaidon.
Woo, K. (2013), “The Joy of Sets”, Dazed & Confused, Feb 13.