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The Fundamentals of Fashion Culture

on December 1, 2022

Although products are the tangible link between a brand and its community, contemporary fashion brands represent more than an affinity for product trends. In this article, you’ll learn how fashion brand communication establishes cultural credibility and increases revenues by 2-3X.

Fashion culture: In today’s fast-paced, hyper-connected world, fashion trends are not only expanding way quicker and to bigger magnitudes than they used to but are also subject to increased short-liveness. While trends can present a tremendous growth opportunity for emerging brands to step into a niche by answering the market’s demand, they also pose a significant challenge for all kinds of brands: to stay relevant over time and beyond the life cycle of a particular trend.

For fashion brands, there seem to be at least two fundamental strategies to promote sustained demand in an ever-evolving consumer landscape.

Embracing Fashion Trends

First, brands may aim to embrace trends by incorporating them into their product designs. However, this strategy is associated with several challenges and risks in a highly contested market like the fashion industry.

While identifying or influencing trends before they even truly unfold is already a challenging endeavor, relying on doing so successfully and repeatedly is an even riskier bet. On the one hand, it requires brands to be extremely agile to anticipate and react to trend shifts quickly – a challenge especially for the fashion industry, which is characterized by uncertainty about the future and often rather long lead times from product ideation to product launch.

On the other hand, brands that are jumping from one trend to another face the risk of lacking a coherent brand identity that allows for the development of a loyal customer base, built on the emotional connection between the brand and its audience. While such a trend-driven product strategy might pay off for mainstream fast fashion giants like Zara, most brands would be badly advised to compete in that “high risk, high reward” game without installing safety nets around the brand, rather than the individual products.

Fashion Culture and Shaping the Culture

Second, brands might seek to offer less trend-driven and more timeless product designs and still stay relevant in the eyes of the consumer. However, another kind of energy injection is needed to stand out among the often endless array of competitors, not on the product but the brand level. Undoubtedly, the fashion industry is driven by brands and the social reality and culture that is constructed around them.

More often than not, it is not necessarily a particular product design that catches our interest but rather the brand and its implicit or explicit identity that is reflected via the product to us consumers. But why is that? While there are plenty of psychological explanations from marketing gurus, ranging from a sense of belonging and fear of missing out, to complex concepts of self-expression and individuality, a holistic approximation might be the notion of culture and community. In today’s era of consumerism, brands often fail to establish meaningful connections with their customer base.

Too often, products are reduced to their functional characteristics, turning them into interchangeable commodities and exposing them to the volatile dynamics of consumerism. Instead, what fashion-conscious people look for is inspiration, that aligns and connects with other relevant spheres in their life. Thus, brands must build an authentic and credible identity that transcends the tangible characteristics of their products and embodies cultural values that inspire a community of like-minded people.

Why Cultural Credibility matters

According to industry insights from Highsnobiety in collaboration with BCG, brands would be well advised to work on their cultural credibility building blocks, which consist of the brand’s timelessness, a brand narrative that builds an emotional connection, the brand being worn by key opinion leaders and a consumer’s social circle, and social responsibility.

The study analyzed the sales data from 32 luxury, sports, and streetwear brands over a three-year period. It concluded that those brands that scored higher on the cultural credibility matrix would experience annual revenue growth 2-3 times higher than those that achieved lower scores and were not considered culturally credible.

The driving mechanism builds on a shared set of values established through collaboration and communication and evolves iteratively along today’s relevant issues. That is to say, even or especially timeless brands need to constantly evolve, not necessarily led by product design but driven by the dynamic culture they’re embedded in.

Through creative and meaningful brand communication, a loyal community is formed that admires the brand not only for its products but for the values it stands for and the stories that are being told.

Culture versus Product – a Tradeoff?

Nonetheless, that does not imply that consumers do not have high expectations toward the product, which remains at the core of the consumer-brand relationship. Rather it means that a good product can be emotionally loaded with shared visions or a purpose that not only increases the chances of commercial success and community engagement but also creates organic demand for more.

Equally, it doesn’t exempt brands from the responsibility of remaining agile, instead, it enables them to navigate in an environment that is characterized by less uncertainty and in stronger alignment with the actual evolution of the brand community.

In simple terms, people will not buy a product if they don’t like it, but, whether they like it is subject to biases and emotions. Authentic and credible brands can certainly influence these perceptions, depending on how closely they evolve around their community and their ability to reference and advance their underlying culture.

Eventually, if done well, consumers will feel connected to the brand and turn into authentic brand ambassadors on a micro level. Hence, brands should establish a symbiotic, co-creating relationship with their community to stay relevant and sustain commercial success beyond trend cycles. Ultimately, this relationship is reflected in experiences, facilitated by the product. How such brand experiences in the physical and digital dimension and its intersection, the phygital dimension, could be facilitated, will be addressed in the next article of this series.

About Joel

Joel holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and is currently finishing his Master’s in Business Innovation at the University of St. Gallen. Before joining collectID, Joel pursued his passion for sports, streetwear and sneakers through his jobs at Nike and Snipes, where he gained professional industry experience that he is now eager to deploy in his role at collectID.
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