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How Millennials Have Disrupted the Fashion Industry

Young consumers’ love of fast fashion and real-time access to new trends is changing long-held fashion traditions, and speeding up the industry.

Millennials’ disruption of the fashion world is happening on many fronts. We’ve talked about how their prioritization of tech and experiences has fragmented their spending and put a strain on once successful fashion brands. Those retailers also point to young consumers’ multi-functional wardrobes, the casualization of the workplace, and a lack of strong new fashion trends as reasons they’re struggling. Athleisure is an exception, and young consumers’ embrace of workout wear as fashion has many hustling to keep up. Of course, the plethora of online shopping choices that Millennials and teens’ are turning to is perhaps the biggest disruption of all. But young shoppers aren’t just confusing the fashion industry with their tastes and spending preferences, their behavior is fundamentally changing how that industry works.

The traditional fashion industry schedule has seasons of clothing walking down the runway months and months before they’re actually available. But Millennials’ access to real-time updates on runway trends has quickly made this system seem antiquated. Social platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr have created a generation with more access to “high-level” fashion and runway looks. They’ve become the fashion insiders—and brands have, in fact, welcomed this access. Sharing images of new styles on social has become par for the course for designers, who have been embracing the newest digital platforms each fashion week as a way to market to their young tech-savvy users. Last fall in New York, livestreaming app Periscope was the fashion world’s new fave. Live streams of fashion shows from brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Jeremy Scott were broadcast through the platform, where others provided behind-the-scenes looks at events. Digiday reported that the live streams helped to provide the transparency and access that “younger generations of luxury buyers” are more accustomed to. But this runway oversharing has perhaps had unintended consequences. Now, young consumers want to buy the new trends they love now—not in a few months.

Their desire to have immediate access to the new trends they see online is giving an edge to fast fashion retailers like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M, who, as Business Insider notes, can “respond to fashion changes” and new styles much more quickly. When we asked Millennials and teens to tell us their favorite clothing brand in a recent monthly survey, both Forever 21 and H&M made the top 20 list. This year, Forever 21 usurped Nike for the top spot in the female favorites list. As we noted, brands like Forever 21 and H&M have seen their U.S. market share rise significantly in the last ten years and have especially resonated with female consumers, many of whom who named Forever 21 as a favorite because they stay “up to date with the latest trends.” Now more traditional brands are trying to find ways to keep up, and the fashion industry’s schedule is speeding up.

Designers and retailers are experimenting with “instantly shoppable fashion shows” to adjust to consumers’ new expectations. Last month, Burberry partnered with Apple TV to show an “immediately buyable collection” during fashion week. Viewers could watch the runway show of the “February 2016” looks (note: no season in that name) and request a call from a Burberry consultant to pre-order pieces. Michael Kors, Proenza Schouler, Banana Republic and several other designers also experimented with “see now buy now” collections at NYFW, with many offering a limited selection of the designs online immediately after their shows—a fashion collection preview if you will. Rebecca Minkoff (who says she’s the “only Millennial designer of the same age and sex as her consumer”) is also dedicated to speeding up the fashion cycle. This year, Minkoff plans to show clothes that will be available to buy in the next 45 days, as opposed to the traditional six months, to avoid “image fatigue” and fast fashion competition. (Note the #seebuywear tag that the designer included on the Instagram post of her spring looks.) While Racked reports that, “there’s still a lot of work to be done to make this a viable business model,” clearly the fashion industry is shaking up tradition and heading for some major change—and it likely has Millennials’ impatience to thank.