7003 Research Output – DEMOCRATIC FASHION LANDSCAPE REPORT

1. There are a variety of approaches to DEMOCRATIC FASHION in operation in the Existing market…

On one hand there is a designer controlled approach, where the creative identity of the brand is maintained beyond the reach of the consumer, however they are given a series of option to cater a pre-existing product to their individual taste. For example, LOUIS VUITTON offers an augmented reality experience in-store and online which allows the consumer to ‘create their own’ LV bag through combining the LV signature pattern with a select range of colours, shapes, bag straps and embossed initials. This approach seemed to be the favourite of luxury brands, including BURBERRY and HERMES, who wished to cater their retail experience to engage with the democratic fashion movement but did not wish to compromise their distinctive creative identity or heritage.  At the other end of the spectrum, is a consumer controlled approach, where brands plunder the consumer market to crowd-source design ideas and  decide what products they sell. This includes the t-shirt brand THREADLESS, which exists as an online platform where the public submit designs, which are then voted on by the online community. The greatest number of votes dictates what is released as a collection each season.  In between these polarities exist a variety of brands which combine these approaches in a number of ways, such as CONVERSE’s BLANK CANVAS.  CONVERSE’s approach to democratic fashion, is undeniably designer controlled as the whole brand is based around a product with a distinct aesthetic.  However, the customisation experience they provide is additionally consumer controlled, as alongside a variety of style bank options, there is potential for the consumer to apply their own design pattern to the shoes, whether this is something they have designed themselves or sourced elsewhere.  The most popular approach to democratic fashion in the existing market, is the STYLE BANK approach, which allows the consumer to build a unique product through altering a variety of variables including shape, colour, pattern and embellishment.

Predominant focus on shoes and accessories, rather than clothing…

Over 45% of democratic brands which emerged over the course of my research were solely focused on shoes and accessories. This included companies which have specifically evolved in relation to the postmodern market shift such as HOUR GLASS FOOTWEAR, and SHOES OF PREY.  However, this was also true of pre-established brands wishing to engage with the democratic fashion movement, such as PRADA which offers a made-to-order service focused on their signature brogue.  This is on the premise that ‘If you’re spending a lot of money on a key investment purchase, then there’s nothing more frustrating than finding yourself stood next to someone wearing the exact same thing’ (Karmali, 2014).   Outside of shoes, the majority of other brandtocracies focused on enabling consumer customisation of a sole product, such as KNYTTAN, focused on knitwear and THREADLESS which focuses on print t-shirts.  Only a few brands focused on broad apparel such as BOW and DRAPE and TINKER TAILOR.

3. The majority of these brands solely operate online…

39% of these brands made use of technology through AUGMENTED REALITY on an online platform, to enable consumers to become involved in the design process.  This provided a purely digital experience.  Only JUNKY STYLING, HOUR GLASS FOOTWEAR and HETTY ROSE, provided purely physical craftsmanship experiences, where consumers had to visit their store to consult with designers, and design their product.  UPPERSTREET, was the only brand to combine digital and physical. Consumers can engage with augmented reality to create their desired product online, or they can visit the brand’s London ‘Shoe Lounge’ to physically experience what is on offer.

4. From a price perspective, the majority of these brands can be considered high-end. 

As the matrix shows, the majority of brands are clustered in the top half.  For example, the base price for a custom made dress from PIOL is $550, whilst even NIKE and CONVERSE’s customisation service will cost you a minimum of $100. At the highest end, the customisable designer products on offer at TINKER TAILOR cost between $700 and $5000.  At the lower end a crowd sourced THREADLESS t-shirt will set you back $30, whilst products from BOW and DRAPE start from $55 excluding delivery costs.

3.  Most of these brands are situated in the US Market.

The majority of democratic fashion brands constituting my research are located in the US Market.  Even though the dominant online structure means there is potential for these brands to be accessed internationally, the products themselves will  be curated for a US consumer market.  Only JUNKY STYLING, HETTY ROSE, UPPER STREET and KNYTTAN have been curated for the UK MARKET, which is my market of interest.  As International luxury brands, BURBERRY, PRADA, LOUIS VUITTON and HERMES, provide experiences streamlined and curated for whichever market the consumer is located within.

Key Learnings

Balancing designer controlled components with consumer controlled components appears to generate the most interesting and engaging democratic fashion brand concepts.  For example, over the course of this research I was most excited by KNYTTAN and TINKER TAILOR who enable you to tailor a distinct creative identity to your personal wants and needs.  On the other hand brands such as BOW and DRAPE, which had no pre-existing creative framework and simply combined base components did not generate the same aspiration al effect.  This reaction is reinforced by Menkes claim that there needs to be a manageable balance between the customer and designer where the power is not too weighed down upon by either side. If customers have too much say, the designers are not being true to their creativity and inspirations…firmly believe that the creativity and innovative ideas of fashion experts cannot be replaced by anonymous individuals’.  This research supports my idea to use graduate fashion designers as co-designers to provide consumers with a distinct creative framework they can align with their wants and needs.

The majority of these brands have chosen to operate online, taking advantage of technological advances such as augmented reality, to reduce overheads.  However, alongside democratic fashion my concept has a sustainable agenda, which aims to challenge fast fashion through a retail model which encourages more sustainable consumption practises.  This based on the hypothesis that enabling the consumer to participate in the creation of a piece of clothing will transform the resultant garment into an artefact of their personal narrative.  This will generate a more personal and satisfying relationship between the consumer and the product transcending the bi-annual trend cycles of fast fashion.  This would be better achieved through an intimate, visceral, multi-sensory customisation experience which really allows the consumer to connect with the product during the process of it’s creation.

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