‘Multiple webinars’: How organizers helped traditional designers prepare for digital fashion month

Fashion month in September 2020 was an experiment. Designers and the organizations that host fashion weeks in New York, Paris, London and Milan were attempting to transform their shows into digital products without much experience to go on. But the current digital fashion month, which is the second go-around, the operations of a digital fashion show are more solidly defined, and livestreaming and consumer-facing content have emerged as areas of focus.

Data around the fashion weeks last year suggested that brands struggled to attract the usual level of engagement from customers. TribeDynamics found that digital shows in September generated less than a third of the engagement across social media platforms of in-person shows in February 2020. September’s London Fashion Week also saw 55% less social media engagement than the previous season’s, according to Launchmetrics. Business of Fashion attributed the lack of engagement to the loss of influencers, as well as confusion over whether digital events should cater to press and buyers or be consumer-facing.

The lack of engagement in those official events has opened the door for other players looking to host a digital fashion event. TikTok hosted a fashion month in September and is now doing so again, from Feb. 17 to Mar. 18. The event includes live runway shows from Balmain and Victor Glemaud, along with sponsorships from IMG and the British Fashion Council. In September, TikTok’s first iteration of fashion month had high-profile participants including Louis Vuitton, Prada and Saint Laurent. These brands did not return for this season’s TikTok event.

CeCe Vu, TikTok’s fashion and beauty partnerships lead who helped spearhead both iterations of the event, said she learned from September’s fashion month that live-streamed content is the most engaging — 13 livestreams brought in more than 3 million views collectively. A shoppable live-streamed finale at the end of fashion month, featuring capsule collection drops from brands like Puma and Alice + Olivia, had more than 800,000 views. This season, TikTok is increasing the number of livestreams and making them more interactive by using the platform’s Q&A feature. 

“When we launched TikTok Fashion Month, our goal was to bring luxury fashion and runway shows to our community at a time when brands needed to quickly pivot from traditional, in-person fashion shows and engage audiences virtually,” Vu said. “[I wanted] the opportunity to showcase how luxury fashion brands can create unforgettable yet accessible experiences for our users through live programming.”

Events like TikTok’s fashion month can help luxury brands, which can be conservative when it comes to experimenting with new digital forms, to become more adventurous and unfiltered, and “less protective of their image.” Raw and authentic content tends to perform better on emerging digital platforms like TikTok, Vu said.

Brands’ inexperience with digital presentations and livestreaming has been an ongoing challenge for fashion events. In turn, the CFDA has worked to make the transition to digital shows easier this season, offering more hands-on assistance to designers doing digital showcases in the form of educational webinars on how to create an effective digital show.

Long Xu, designer of the fashion brand Loring which hosted a virtual NYFW show earlier this month, said representatives from the CFDA helped guide the creation of his digital showcase, which included a digital lookbook and video. It offered personal guidance and advice on what type of content works best for a digital showcase. For example, Xu said the CFDA’s guidance helped him separate the lookbook, which focused on the details of each individual piece and is buyer-facing, and the video, which is more atmospheric and consumer-facing.

“There were multiple webinars for designers withs lots of information that was very helpful,” Xu said. “Every designer wants to show their ideas in their own way, but the format was new to us, so it was good to have that guidance.”

More than 80 brands participated in the CFDA’s September NYFW event, and their digital shows had more than 264,000 views. Seventy-five brands hosted shows in February.

Even when physical shows are safe again, digital showcases are likely to be far more common than they were pre-pandemic. The learnings designers and fashion show organizers are getting from early experiments will help shape how future events are run, Vu said.

“TikTok has played a role in showing luxury fashion brands the importance of making real connections with their audiences,” Vu said, highlighting the high level of engagement and views brands received. “While I recognize that physical moments will still be essential after the pandemic, I also think digital runway content can be re-invented to provide more entertainment value and engagement for viewers.”

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