How Has the Fashion Industry Changed Over Time in the Creator Economy?

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Despite a renaissance of the #corset, we’ve come a long way since royal courts and imperial tastemakers dictated the latest styles in fashion. How has the fashion industry changed over time?

Well, in today’s creator economy social media influencers set the tone for what’s hot and what’s not. Every fashionista with a smartphone now has the potential to jumpstart the next viral trend with just a quick video or photo of their outfit of the day

Partnering with the right trendsetting creators produces a halo effect for brands often viewed as fashion pioneers by association. At the very least, influencer collaborations give brands an excellent opportunity to insert themselves into the next viral trend.  

The history of marketing in the fashion industry

Fashion dealers and arbiters of style have always found a way to get the latest trends in front of eager consumers. From traveling dolls to augmented reality, the fashion industry has never lacked innovation, and its evolution shows no signs of slowing down. 

Here is a quick look at how the industry has evolved over the years, setting the stage for the creator economy:

Pandoras

Pandora doll from the 1500s demonstrates "how has the fashion industry changed over time"
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Beginning in the 16th century, European courts commonly relied on fashion dolls known as “pandoras” to discover the styles of the moment. Merchants meticulously outfitted each pandora with the latest fashion trends, allowing buyers to get a feel for the look before selecting their new custom-made garment. 

Pandoras remained en vogue for nearly four centuries before more practical methods eventually replaced them. However, the spirit of the Pandora doll lived on through modern times with the release of Barbie, Bratz dolls, and other fashion-forward toy launches. 

Fashion plates

Illustrated "History of Fashion" with 4 illustrated women in different styles of dress, demonstrates "how has the fashion industry changed over time"
Image via Flickr

Fashion plates helped introduce 18th- and 19th-century women to the now rapidly changing styles coming out of London and Paris. Fashion plates were made through etching, line engraving, or lithographs to show tailors and dressmakers options for new clothes they could make or sell. 

In 1672, France’s Le Mercure Galant became the first publication to report on the fashion world and introduce the middle class to emerging trends via fashion plates. Published in the mid-18th century, Lady’s Magazine used fashion plates to highlight its “habits of the year” and predictions for future style trends. 

Fashion magazines

Vogue cover of an illustrated woman in warm, fashionable clothes demonstrates "how has the fashion industry changed over time"
Image via Flickr

Fashion magazines became mainstream in the 19th century. Godey’s Lady Book (1830-1878) was one of the most popular of its time, known best for its hand-tinted fashion plates and progressive stance on women’s issues

Vogue published its first issue in 1892 and set the tone for fashion magazines as we know them today. The availability of these publications made fashion even more accessible to the average person and helped elevate the models and photographers whose work appeared in them to celebrity status.  

Catalogs

Picture of an old Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog
Image via HistoryofInformation.com

Mail order selling took off as settlers moved west across the United States in the late 19th century. Montgomery Ward & Company published the first mail-order catalog in 1872, which featured 162 products for sale and instructions for ordering. By 1904, the company’s mailing list included more than 3 million customers. 

Catalogs remained the most lucrative form of “at home” shopping for more than a century. But by the late 1990s, consumers quickly shifted their attention to the internet as online shopping became prevalent in households across the globe. 

A new millennium

Picture of Amazon site from 1999
Image via Optimeon

Online shopping became popular in 1995 when Amazon and eBay hit the scene. Nick Swinmurn launched Zappos in 1999, which vaulted online fashion platforms into the limelight. 

The online fashion market has more than tripled in revenue since 2014. As online technology continuously enhances the online shopping experience exponentially, researchers predict that online fashion will become a $765 billion global industry by the end of 2022.  

Hand-Picked Content

Fashion industry statistics and trends in the creator economy

Brick-and-mortar is officially back

After many feared the COVID-19 lockdowns would kill the brick-and-mortar retail stores, in-person rebounded quickly in 2021. Brick-and-mortar retail bounced back to pre-pandemic levels two years earlier than many researchers expected and will only continue to grow moving forward. 

Experts predict that brick-and-mortar sales will grow between 2.6% and 3.4% through 2025. Despite a slower growth rate than ecommerce sales, U.S. consumers will still spend more at brick-and-mortar locations ($702.17 billion) this year than they will online ($603.68 billion).

Consumers want sustainability

Attitudes Toward Brand/Company Sustainability Behaviors According to Internet Users in China, the UK, and US, February 2021 bar graph
Image via Insider Intelligence

Transcript: A bar chart depicting attitudes toward brand sustainability behaviors, according to internet users in China, the U.K., and the U.S.

  • 89% say companies and brands should do a lot more to reduce their carbon impact
  • 88% say sustainability should be standard business practice
  • 88% say companies and brands have a responsibility to take care of the planet and its people
  • 86% say it’s good that brands use their money and power to raise awareness of important issues
  • 86% say businesses should play a part in solving challenges like climate change or social justice
  • 82% say companies should put people and planet before profit

Consumers are beginning to shun “fast fashion” and now demand sustainability from brands across all industries. A survey from Simon-Kuchar & Partners found that 87% of respondents are willing to change the products and brands they use if it makes their lives more environmentally friendly. More than 60% of respondents in a MediaPost survey took it a step further and said they plan to boycott brands that offer unsustainable services.

Madewell is one of the many brands making a push to encourage more sustainable shopping behaviors. The brand’s initiative started with a recycling program for denim—a material that Liz Hershfied, Madewell’s senior vice president and head of sustainability, said has a huge impact on the environment. The company plans to have 100% of its fibers sustainably sourced by 2025 and hopes to help normalize slower shipping times to help decrease the overall carbon footprint of online shopping. 

Resale spending is on the rise

US Fashion Digital Resale Marketplace Average Annual Sales per Buyer, 2021-2025 bar graph
Image via Insider Intelligence

Transcript: A bar chart depicting the U.S. fashion digital resale marketplace average annual sales per buyer beginning in 2021 and projected until 2025. 

  • 2021: $339.18 
  • 2022: $457.85
  • 2023: $554.16
  • 2024: $665.44
  • 2025: $788.38

Resale is one of the most popular trends brands have adopted to address consumer demand for sustainability. Research shows that online fashion resale marketplaces will more than double between 2021 and 2025, rising 132.4% from $339.18 to $788.38. 

Trends like thrifting and Y2K fashion have helped expedite the resale craze via social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. In fact, 26% of TikTok users said they have bought clothes from secondhand fashion sites, more than double the amount of overall respondents who had done so. 

Augmented reality is the new reality

Product Categories US Internet Users Are Interested in Trying via AR/VR Before Making a Purchase, Feb 2021 bar graph
Image via Insider Intelligence

Transcript: A bar graph depicting the product categories U.S. internet users re interested in trying via AR or VR before making a purchase.

  • Clothes: 27%
  • Furniture: 23%
  • Technologies and home appliances: 22%
  • Video games: 18%

AR is one way to bridge the gap between the in-store and social media shopping experiences. AR tools offer features like virtual try-ons and other product visualization methods that enable customers to make more informed purchasing decisions and limit the number of returns. 

A 2021 survey by Snap Inc. and Deloitte found that 46% of consumers worldwide planned to use AR more for shopping in 2022. About 94% of respondents already using AR to shop online or in-store said they would do so more often next year.

Snapchat is currently leading the AR charge for social media platforms. Brands can now build their own AR shopping Lenses by uploading product catalogs and 3D product assets to the platform. Shopping Lenses enable users to try on different products, see prices, and tap to buy. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok have also entered the AR fray, but the technology is not yet central to the user experience. 

How fashion industry brands leverage influencer marketing

Apparel and accessories have the largest social media footprint in the U.S., accounting for more than 53% of all posts and post engagements across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The second-most is consumer electronics, with 11.5%. As a result, more than 50% of Gen Z and Millennials agree social networks are essential information sources for shopping decisions. 

Fashionable modern woman demonstrates "how has the fashion industry changed over time"

Social media creators are the driving force behind these online shopping decisions. Influencers have become some of the most prominent trendsetters in the fashion industry and inspire audiences by showcasing the latest styles and product releases.

The most successful brands collaborate with creators who match their brand identity and genuinely love their products. Influencers who check these boxes put brands in a unique position to partner someone who can simultaneously act as a model, storyteller, and brand ambassador, all while giving honest product endorsements to an engaged target audience.   

Fashion brands with successful influencer marketing campaigns

ASOS

ASOS is an online clothing marketplace featuring more than 850 brands. Some of the brand’s most successful partnerships are with young, vibrant YouTube influencers who showcase products through “unboxing” videos. Creators add an affiliate link to each product featured in the video from which they receive a portion of revenue from each purchase. 

ASOS was also one of the first brands to employ its own in-house influencer team. The creators, known as ASOS Insiders, sign on with the brand for long-term collaborations and produce content exclusively for ASOS from a branded Instagram account. 

Gucci

@mkochnova @Gucci #guccimodelchallenge #gucci #guccimodel #внуки #лук ♬ original sound – Gucci

Gucci is one fashion brand that has always been on the cutting edge of the fashion industry. Lately, it has fully focused its attention on the Gen Z demographic through collaborations with K-pop artists, streetwear designers, and influencers.

But one of Gucci’s more innovative campaigns invited creators to openly poke fun at the brand online. The #guccimodelchallenge encouraged creators to compete for the “best” Gucci model look. The campaign went viral and created tons of user-generated content for the brand, the best of which Gucci featured on its official TikTok channel

Levi’s

Levi’s has always had success as an early adopter of new trends and marketing techniques. The brand’s “Buy Better, Wear Longer” campaign enlisted the support of top Gen Z influencers like rapper Jaden Smith and Manchester United star Marcus Rashford who encouraged fans to wear Levi’s denim longer to help counteract the environmental impacts of consumerism and production. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Levi’s was one of the first brands to experiment with TikTok’s “Shop Now” button that enables consumers to purchase items through links posted on the platform. Levi’s recruited popular TikTok creators to design jeans with its Future Finish 3D denim customization technology, which their audiences could purchase on Levi’s website. Levi’s reported that the watch time for these videos was twice as long as the platform average.

DSW

@ceo_of_scribbles_ #TooManyShoes even my sneakers have heels 😂 #heelschallenge #GreekFreakOut #fashion #shoeschallenge ♬ Too Many Shoes – DSW (feat. DEVMO)

DSW saw benefits from TikTok influencer marketing quickly after launching its first campaign on the platform. For them, TikTok is a “try space” where the brand can experiment with new trends and tactics that might not always work on some of the older platforms. 

“Every other social channel we’re on, we have very specific KPIs, and we have certain metrics that we need to hit. But TikTok is this free space. One of our graphic designers was like, ‘I love TikTok.’ And we were like, ‘You’re hired.’ She’s been working with our team to come up with new things to do, new stuff to try, things that are trending.”

— Maria Wollenburg, DSW manager of social media and content

DSW’s #TooManyShoes TikTok campaign generated 1.7 billion views in a matter of days. Spearheaded by a handful of popular TikTok influencers, the hashtag challenged DSW fans to show off their shoe closets for a chance to win a $500 gift card. 

Marc Jacobs

In 2014, Marc Jacobs put out a casting call for aspiring models on Instagram and Twitter. He invited users to submit videos under the hashtag #CastMeMarc, and the brand selected its favorites to appear on the Marc by Marc Jacobs AW14 campaign. The tactic produced more than 70,000 pieces of user-generated content and gave nine brand superfans their chance to appear in a massive ad campaign. 

The brand also ran a five-day influencer takeover for its Daisy Love Marc Jacobs fragrance launch in 2018. The takeover occurred at the Santa Monica Pier—one of the more “Instagrammable” locations on the West Coast. Forty international influencers hosted the event, which featured light shows, games, a branded ice cream cart, and complimentary product vouchers to celebrate the launch.  

Key takeaway

Partnering with influencers helps fashion brands keep their finger on the industry pulse and stay top of mind with consumers in their target market. The brands that remain innovative in their marketing approach and allow influencers the freedom they need to produce high-performing content will be the ones who see the best ROI and drive the most conversions from their campaigns.

How Has the Fashion Industry Changed Over Time infographic
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Then / Now

16th-19th century

Pandora Dolls

  • Traveling merchants outfit pandora dolls with the latest fashion.

Instagram Shopping Tags

  • Clickable shopping tags for posts from brands with Instagram shops.

18th-19th century

Fashion Plates

  • Etched fashion plates helped women keep up with more rapid style changes.

Rise of the Short-Form

  • Video editing features enable users to showcase multiple outfits in a single clip.

19th century-present

Fashion Magazines

Newsletters

  • Blogs and magazines send regular newsletters via email as priorities shift from print to online.

late 19th century-present

Mail-Order Catalogs

Subscription Boxes

  • Subscription boxes offer the latest styles shipped right to your doorstep.

1990s-present

Online Shopping

  • Zappos introduced us to online fashion shopping platforms in 1999.

AR/VR Shopping

  • AR/VR technology gives “try before you buy” a whole new meaning.

The fashion industry today

  • Online fashion will become a $765 billion global industry by the end of 2022.
  • 60% of consumers say they plan to boycott brands that offer unsustainable services.
  • Online fashion resale marketplaces will more than double between 2021 and 2025.
  • 46% of consumers worldwide plan to use AR more for shopping in 2022.
  • Apparel and accessories account for more than 53% of all posts and post engagements across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Augmented and virtual reality is the future of the fashion industry. The technology provides a bridge between the in-store and social media shopping experiences. AR and VR tools also offer features like virtual try-ons and other product visualization methods that enable customers to make more informed purchasing decisions and limit the number of returns.  

The latest fashion trends now begin on social media. Social media creators have replaced the traditional model, and brands must leverage these influencers effectively to be successful as technology evolves. 

Fashion marketing helps dictate the latest trends and helps propel the industry forward. Marketing campaigns get audiences excited about new products and encourage them to try fresh looks. 

Yes. The global apparel and footwear industry is expected to reach $3.3 trillion by 2030. The global market size was $1.9 trillion in 2019. 

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