Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Democratic Design

A term coined by the Wall Street Journal, “democratic design” represents the process of giving consumers the power to influence brands via the Internet. Traditionally, fashion editors and buyers have determined the styles that get produced, effectively acting as agents for consumers.

In a first for fashion, American designer Derek Lam has collaborated with eBay to produce a 16 piece collection which was voted on by consumers. The top 5 designs were chosen and revealed on 2 March 2011. These 5 designs will be produced and made available in sizes 0 to 16 for purchase on eBay on 10 May 2011. Emails were sent today to those who registered interest in the designs, to pre-order their dresses. Each piece will cost between $125 and $295. As with most designer collaborations, these price points are significantly cheaper than Lam’s primary line, which generally starts at $1,000.

The five winning designs from Lam's eBay collection.
What makes this project unique, is not only has Lam collaborated with a non-traditional retailer, but consumers have been actively involved in the process. In this case, the people that will be buying the products, have determined what will be available to the market.

Lam isn’t the only designer to take this approach. Levi’s is using its 2.7 million Facebook fans to choose their social media brand ambassador via Facebook. In a video recruitment contest called “Become the Next Levi’s Girl”, Facebook users can vote on youtube clips made by hopefully contenders. This isn’t the first time Levi’s have done this. They used the method successfully to find a Levi’s boy in early 2010. With the success of this campaign the Next Levi’s Girl campaign was rolled out late last year.

It seems amazing that this principle hasn’t been applied more frequently in the fashion industry. Who better to consult on designs than the people who will be shelling out their hard earned money to buy them. However, what does this mean for fashion editors and buyers? If this process takes off, could the middlemen be eliminated? Unlikey. Fashion editors and buyers have a level of expertise and access to consumer data, which means they still have a valuable role to play when determining what designs hit the shelves. Fashion editors in particular have the ability to determine trends through coverage in their magazines which is a necessary part of advertising for designers.

Designs from Lam's main line
In an interesting twist, Lam as announced that he will be launching his own diffusion line, separate from his collection for eBay. This is not new in the fashion industry, even Australian brands such as Nicola Finetti have created diffusion lines at a cheaper price point (e.g. Nicola Finetti introduced Nylon Flocks at a lower price point to his main line). What makes this noteworthy is Lam's recent collaboration with eBay.  It turns out this was a smart business move. Not only has he advertised his brand to a wider audience who would potentially be interested in his lower priced range, but with eBay users having to give their email address to participate in the voting process, he has a database of consumers he can easily target when his diffusion line comes out.

With many designers using social marketing to promote their brand, this may not only change the face of advertising, but change the way companies do business.

Learn more about the developments in online retailing by reading Life's a Beach and I'm Feeling Lucky.

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