How Social Media Disrupted the Fashion Cycle

Just in time for the fashion week season, I’ve decided to dedicate a post to the disruption of the fashion cycle. New York Fashion Week started on February 8th and was followed by London Fashion Week (February 16th), Milan Fashion Week (February 21st), and finally Paris Fashion Week (February 27th) – so right now we are deep into the 2018 fashion weeks.

This means we are also deep in a frenzy of Instagram stories, Instagram livestreams, and Twitter updates. This kind of social media coverage has become the new norm for the last few years, to a point where we don’t even think twice about it. However, it wasn’t always that way. In the days before Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. – only the chosen few had access to the live runway experience. A seat at a runway show, even in the back, was a coveted position awarded to the select few who were recognized in the fashion community. You could even loiter outside a lesser-known show, and if you were lucky enough you would get pulled in at the last minute to fill seats. Besides these few methods, a seat at a runway show was essentially impossible to score.

This exclusivity led to a trickle-down of the latest fashion knowledge. Fashion editors and bloggers would get first access to the newest collections, and then would be the first to post them online and in magazines to announce the season.

Consumers were conditioned to wait for ‘public access’ to the latest styles and then would accordingly respond by reacting and purchasing them.

However – social media changed all of that. Social media has provided an all-access pass to anyone who can log on, and this accessibility has shifted the power to consumers. Now during fashion weeks brands use Instagram or Facebook to livestream their shows, Snapchat stories or Instagram stories to chronicle behind-the-scenes, and Twitter to rapidly post the looks as they appear on the runway. This kind of access has created an appetite in consumers for not only immediate viewing of the latest season, but also for the ability to immediately purchase the products. Consumers no longer have to wait around for fashion editors to advertise the look and direct them to the stores, because they can now purchase the style the minute it appears on their virtual runway.

This leads me to my key point – social media has now disrupted the fashion cycle. Traditionally, designers would release new collections every six months. However, now that collections are being released in real-time, consumers are consistently demanding more and more. The pace of these collections can range from dropping every month like Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon’s namesake brand, to mini-collections dropping every week like the LA-based brand Reformation. This shifts the amount of collections per year from the traditional two to as many as twelve or fifty-two.

The move towards real-time buying not only has harsh effects on the production and supply chain, but also on the top creative talent. In the past, creative directors have notoriously suffered from the stress of the industry and the pressure to meet deadlines. One of the most famous examples of this was John Galliano, the creative director at Dior from 1996 to 2011. When he first began working in the mid-1980s he was only producing two collections annually. By the time he was overseeing both Dior and John Galliano brands in 2011 (at the same time) he was producing 32 collections annually – an overwhelming number. This pressure drove Galliano to alcoholism and anti-Semitic outbursts that ultimately led to his replacement at Dior. Other prominent creative directors like Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010, have famously spoken out against the increasing pressure in the industry to keep up with the rapidly evolving fashion cycle.


John Galliano at Dior Couture, Fall 2005


Alexander McQueen, 1969-2010

So where do we go from here? Has the industry progressed to a point that is too far gone, and we can’t do anything about it? Or is it up to us as consumers to take a step back and demand less from designers? I believe in a sense, we can’t go backwards from the point that technology has led us to. There will constantly be innovation and brands will always be looking for a way to one-up each other and provide the latest tech experience.

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Calvin Klein Fall 2014

However, as consumers we can reflect and recognize that our consumption of fashion media has gotten gluttonous. We have eyes bigger than our stomachs, so to speak, and are digesting media and information at a rate that we cannot process. In order to truly appreciate the fine art behind fashion and the beauty of the styles we are given by designers, we need to step back and slow down. Once we relax our rate of consumption of fashion social media, our rate of product consumption will follow and ultimately slow down the fashion cycle to an acceptable pace.



  1. Tully Horne · ·

    Although I am not the most fashion-savvy person, this blog was really interesting. This made me think of one small example–the Daily Mail Snapchat story. It is loaded with articles that literally just talk about either these major fashion events or the latest fashion of the biggest stars like the Jenners and Hadids. It points to the problem of gluttony caused by social media in a broader sense, too. As someone who follows music in a variety of genres, I have noticed a shift in popularity from the best artists being the ones who spend a year or so crafting albums with a unique message or tone to the artists who have been able to pump out songs at a faster pace while maintaining a constant stream of social media promotions for this new material (i.e. Migos). I agree with you that we need to slow down our consumption and make the production cycle longer again. However, the fact that social media has an effect on many things besides fashion as well may make it hard to stop this cycle from getting shorter and shorter.

  2. Addison, I loved this post! A lot of the effects you mentioned regarding social media and the fashion industry I had not previously thought of. I am curious if you’ve considered there to be a middleman to blame for the increasing demand of more and more collections released each year.

    Yes, consumers love consuming more and more, but most consumers cannot afford what we see in the London, Milan, or NY Fashion Weeks. Instead, we wait for other, more affordable brands to use the tops trends found during fashion weeks as inspiration for their collections. I’m curious if the access these middlemen have to see these trends on social media and recreate these looks is the issue. It definitely makes for fast fashion that the industry has previously never dealt with. So, is it the middleman increasing the need for more and more trends or the consumer?

  3. Lucy Wilson · ·

    Addison, I really liked your post! Your paragraph detailing the stress and pressure perpetuated by the real time consumption of social media really struck a cord with me. In addition to its relevance to the fashion industry, I think your idea around these pressures and stress caused by social media can be applied to life more generally.

    With so many platforms available to all of us now, people constantly feel the need to share. Many people are reluctant to share candidly, only wanting to reveal their “best” self to their followers. As a result, they are constantly curating and posing their daily lives to live up to the other posts on social media. Here, one can easily see how the stress and pressure perpetuated by social media and expectations drives people into dangerous habits and, later, dangerous conditions.

  4. kseniapekhtere1 · ·

    Addison, that is a very interesting post. You brought up points about the effects of shorter fashion cycles that I have never thought about before. I wonder if there are other problems with it besides the stress and pressure put on designers. For example, did the quality or creativity of the collections decreased since so many items have to be produced now. I also agree with Tara’s points. I wonder if constant streaming of fashion shows is actually hurting brands since it allows fast fashion companies to copy immediately which was not available before. We as consumers should definitely slowdown our rate of consumption which applies way beyond fashion industry. However, I believe many companies constantly release new products to generate more profit. So I wonder if business side of high fashion brands is putting just as much pressure on designers to release more collections because it provides higher profits for the company.

  5. Nice post. The impact of social media on fashion has been a recurring theme throughout this class from the beginning. It’s been interested to see how it has evolved over the years.

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