Today, in our latest Op-Ed, Eugene Rabkin, founder of stylezeitgeist.com, examines the unique dynamics of influential, but largely unsung, fashion forums.
NEW YORK, United States — Much has been written about the rise of independent fashion blogs as both influential voices and viable businesses. But much less discussed are fashion-focused discussion sites, or forums, the Internet’s original hubs for independent fashion commentary.
The Fashion Spot is by far the dominant womenswear forum. In menswear, the landscape is more fragmented, with three major discussion sites covering specific market segments: Styleforum for luxury and bespoke suiting, Superfuture for streetwear and StyleZeitgeist (my own site) for designer and artisanal fashion.
These sites attract significant web traffic, are routinely read by industry insiders and can be powerful influencers of purchasing behaviour. Yet strangely, the unique dynamics of fashion forums and the opportunities they present have gone largely unnoticed by the industry at large.
Fashion forums attract sizable audiences. One of the larger sites, Styleforum, has approximately 128,000 registered members, although many more “lurk” on the site, reading but not posting. In total, the site draws over 500,000 unique visitors who generate over 10 million pageviews per month, according to Styleforum’s pitch to advertisers (advertising is the primary revenue generator for fashion forums, though some also participate in affiliate programs that let them earn a commission on attributed sales at online retailers).
The sheer volume of people who participate on these forums, both industry professionals and passionate consumers, makes them great repositories of collective fashion knowledge, especially on lesser known designers, as well as valuable hubs for the fashion community to gather and exchange ideas.
“There really wasn’t any other online community that delved deep into the areas of fashion that I personally found interesting,” said Susanna Lau, a.k.a. Susie Bubble, referring to The Fashion Spot, where she was an active member before launching her blog, Style Bubble. “There were posters there who really opened my eyes to what was going on in Japan, for instance. I liked that it covered all aspects — the industry, personal style, fashion editorials, designers — and I liked reading the instant reactions to the collections as they were coming out," she added. “I really loved being part of that community; being a regular poster and feeling like I could have conversations with people about fashion that I could never have in real life.”
The conversational nature of fashion forums, which are organized like communal message boards, makes them much more democratic than blogs. Anyone can become a member and start a topic, join a conversation, share a purchase or post a personal style image. Some members have acquired legendary status, but the vast majority of users on the biggest fashion forums tend to hide behind anonymous handles. As a result, the commentaries that appear on fashion forums can be brutally honest. And in a fashion mediascape dominated by sugar-coated coverage (often carefully calibrated by public relations companies) this kind of honesty can be uniquely valuable, not least to designers seeking candid feedback on their work.
A fair number of designers also draw inspiration from forums, mostly from threads with names like “What Are You Wearing Today” (each forum has their own version of this), precursors to sites like Lookbook.nu, where members post images of their daily outfits. Indeed, forums can be a great place for designers to gauge the collective fashion consciousness and gather market intelligence.
Fashion forums can also be powerful influencers of purchasing behaviour. At StyleZeitgeist, the smallest of the main menswear forums, with over 12,000 registered members and 38,000 unique visitors per month, we have seen a direct correlation between the attention a garment receives on the site and its online sales.
“LN-CC has worked closely with the likes of StyleZeitgeist and StyleForum since it launched just over two years ago,” said Dave Hobson, marketing director of the influential East London concept store. “Whilst [LN-CC’s head buyers] John [Skelton] and Dan [Mitchell] will only buy what they feel is right for the LN-CC concept, these forums provide a interesting source of conjecture for both upcoming and established collections, as well as relevant feedback about our own selection and its fulfilment,” he added.
Yet, while fashion blogs are widely seen to be a critical part of the digital media landscape, fashion forums have been largely overlooked by the majority of brands and retailers, despite the opportunities they offer.
Eugene Rabkin is the editor-in-chief of StyleZeitgeist magazine and the founder of stylezeitgeist.com