Examining the Zeitgeist of fashion, influencers and concepts of value

Elaine Ritch, Noreen Siddiqui

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Structured Abstract Research issue to be addressed This exploratory research examines online fashion retail brand marketing on social media platforms. Focusing on online retailer ‘In the Style’, based in Manchester UK, the research considers theoretical underpinnings of social identity theory that capture the zeitgeist – lifestyles constructed and communicated in such a way that creates superficial value rather than promoting artistic aesthetics or authenticity. While online fashion retailing has grown significantly over the last decade (Amed, 2019), supported by advances in digital technology (Iqani, 2019), ‘In the Style’ (ITS) is not as well established as ASOS (As Seen on Screen), PLT (Pretty Little Thing) and Misguided. To raise the profile of the brand, ITS have collaborated with successful Instagram fashion influencers with curated collections to expand their marketing potential, which founder Adam Frisby believes to be unique (Speed, 2019; Griffiths, 2018). While fast-fashion retailers have previously utilised celebrity as a marketing strategy (Keel and Nataraajan, 2012), the approach by ITS situates the influencer as very much involved in the design, fabric selection and photoshoot of the collection (Griffiths, 2018), and therefore are central to brand success. However, this approach is costly; the collaborative photoshoot in Monte Carlo with Lorna Luxe (Instagram influencer with 850k followers (Fearne, 2019)) cost £20m (Breaking Fashion, 2019). Through this lens, value is constructed within the aesthetic economy (Hewer and Hamilton, 2012), characterised by focusing on commerce and capitalism (Benson, 2019). This has been a lucrative business model of situating inexpensive garments within aspirational lifestyles; yet, it could be argued that fashion consumers are purchasing a homogenous ‘lifestyle’ devoid of personalisation (Gibson, 2019). Moreover, this does not aid concern for a sustainable fashion industry Consequently, this research seeks to address notions of influencer power in fashion communication. Background scientific research The research is underpinned by social identity theory (Turner, 1999), postulating that individuals categorise themselves and others into social segments through the creation of in/out groups in which they want to belong. Social media platforms offer consumers a place to create their identity, using imagery, commentary and tags to people, places and brands (Ross and Lee, 2019), yet there has been limited research examining the consequences of this on self and individual constructions of identity and personalisation. While it is acknowledged that fashion marketing accentuates aesthetics, historically this has involved creativity and artisan craftmanship, for example Dior’s new silhouette or Issey Miyake’s pleated sculptures. However, the dominance of fast-fashion is reflected in fast marketing, less about the styling and the creative communication of photo-styled imagery to focus on glamorous lifestyles dictating new fashion. In examining the debate around how social selves are constructed, Grau & Zotos (2016) question whether social imagery either mirrors or mould notions of self-constructed self. Whilst Belk (1988) argued that possessions extend notions of self, the digital landscape suggests that this is exacerbated, or perhaps intensified, through imagery presented online (Belk, 2013). Zhao (2005) likens this to Cooley’s (1902) looking glass theory were self-perception is created to manage others view and is peer endorsed. Methodology Existential phenomenology positions this exploratory research, which seeks to capture the current phenomenon of self-portrayal on social media and how this is influenced by fashion influencer imagery. This philosophical approach supports the notion that values are influenced by consciousness and experiences, shaped by one’s existence or perceived place in the world (Satre, 2003); this infers that self-construction emerges from engaging with elements of interest, comprising of ‘being’: living, feelings and actions that are incorporated to represent one’s agency. This implies that meaning is ideographically constructed and values made meaningful through exposure to experiences. This links into theories around conspicuous consumption (Veblum, 2005), where it is recognised that commodities are used as props to create a self-narrative to communicate self-identity and related values (Cooley, 1902). Falling under a social constructionist paradigm (Ross and Lee, 2019), the research critically analyses the BBC documentary Breaking Fashion which follows ITS marketing activities over six programmes with an Instagram influencer. Each programme follows a fashion influencer as they launch their collection, from the design process, negotiations with the factory and the photoshoot. The programmes highlight the ways in which the factories are pressurised to meet unrealistic deadlines and the pressure to maintain certain appearances. From critically analysing the programmes and the marketing images promoted on Instagram, content analysis (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005) enabled the devilment of core themes that correlate with social identity theory. Results achieved (conclusions) or expected as well as their relevance for theory and practice Preliminary findings illustrate that the fast fashion industry has adopted a more aggressive approach to supply chain management and marketing (Speed, 2019), none of which supports social or environmental values. This adds layers of pressure to the supply chain, providing a completing narrative around how values are constructed and where the ‘power’ for change originates. The zeitgeist of self-image is moving to represent pampered lifestyles, often aided by plastic surgery and enhancement extensions (eyelashes, nails), compounding expectations of appearance; it is anticipated that these images will have a wider impact on the construction of self. For those concerned with climate change (the fashion industry is the second largest polluter globally, (Benson, 2019)) understanding how the fast-fashion industry continues to grow in popularity, and profits, is vital. Over the last two decades, academic research has investigated how to make the fashion supply chain more sustainable, as well as examining consumer behaviour. We argue that understanding the way in which fashion contributes to individuals self-construction and how to position sustainability values within social identity will contrite to developing marketing to grow the sustainable fashion industry. References Amed, I. (2019). “The State of Fashion 2019: A year of awakening”, available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/the-state-of-fashion-2019-a-year-of-awakening (accessed 21 May 2020) Belk, E.W. (2013). “Extended Self in a Digital World”. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, No. 3 (October 2013), pp. 477-500. Belk, R.W. (1988). “Possessions and the Extended Self”. Journal of Consumer Research. Vol. 15 (September), pp.139 – 168. Benson, S. (2019). “The BBC’s Breaking Fashion documentary is a cheap, tone-deaf misfire”, available at: https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/46790/1/bbc-three-breaking-fashion-in-the-style-lorna-luxe-adam-frisby-documentary (accessed 21 May 2020) Breaking Fashion. (2019). “Breaking Fashion”, BBC iPlayer, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/p07mbvjm/breaking-fashion (accessed 25 February 2020). Cooley, C. H. (1902). “Human nature and the social order”. New York: Scribner's Sons. Fearne, R. (2019). Who Is Lorna Luxe? The Influencer Is A Big Part Of New BBC Doc 'Breaking Fashion' Bustle, available at: https://www.bustle.com/p/who-is-lorna-luxe-the-influencer-is-a-big-part-of-new-bbc-doc-breaking-fashion-18780703 (accessed 25 February 2020) Gibson, M. (2019), “Crafting communities of practice: the relationship between making and learning”. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, Vol. 29 pp. 25–35. Grau, S.L. and Zotos, Y.C. (2016). “Gender stereotypes in advertising: a review of current research”, International Journal of Advertising, Vol. 35 No. 5, pp. 761-770, Griffiths, (2018). “From bedroom to boardroom: How Adam Frisby grew In The Style into a fast fashion powerhouse”. Fashion United. Thursday, 29 November 2018, available at: https://fashionunited.uk/news/business/from-bedroom-to-boardroom-how-adam-frisby-grew-in-the-style-into-a-fast-fashion-powerhouse/2018112940230 (accessed 25 February 2020) Hewer, P. and Hamilton, K. (2012). “Exhibitions and the role of fashion in the sustenance of the Kylie Brand mythology: Unpacking the spatial logic of celebrity culture”. Marketing Theory, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 411–425. Hsieh, H-F and Shannon, S.E. (2005). “Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis.” Qualitative Health Research, Vol.15 No. 9, pp. 1277-88 Iqani, M. (2019). “Picturing luxury, producing value: The cultural labour of social media brand influencers in South Africa”, International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 229–247. Keel, A and Nataraajan, R. (2012). “Celebrity Endorsements and Beyond: New Avenues for Celebrity Branding”. Psychology and Marketing, Vol. 29 No. 9, pp. 690–703. Ross, K. and Lee, Y-A. (2019). “Social Media Era Consumers’ Identity Formation: A Symbolic Interactionist Approach to Consumer-Brand Identity Co-Creation”. International Textile and Apparel Association. Las Vegas, Nevada. Sartre, J.P. (2003). “Being and Nothingness”. London and New York: Routledge. Speed, B. (2019). “Breaking Fashion, review: A revealing peek behind the scenes of fast fashion”, available at; https://inews.co.uk/culture/television/breaking-fashion-bbc3-review-fast-fashion-influencers-adam-frisby-634056 (accessed 21 May 2020) Turner, J.C. (1999). “Some current issues in research on social identity and self-categorization theories”. Ellemers, N., Spears, R. and Doosje, B. Social identity: Context, Commitment, Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 6-34. Veblum, T. (2005). “Conspicuous Consumption”. London: Penguin Group. Zhao, S. (2005). “The Digital Self: Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others”. Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 387- 405. doi: 10.1525/si.2005.28.3.387 Keywords: aesthetic economy; self-identity; looking glass; fashion influencer; Instagram
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Fashion Conference: The Legacy of Fashion: Past, Present and Future
Place of PublicationUniversité de la Mode
Publication statusPublished - 22 Oct 2020


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