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The Future of Diet Prada

Will the industry watchdog mature its approach and find a business model that works — or go up in flames?
Diet Prada's Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler | Source: Camila Falquez for The Business of Fashion
  • Amy Odell

NEW YORK, United States — Diet Prada is arguably fashion's most exciting new media brand. Since starting in 2014, the Instagram account, run by Tony Liu and Lindsey Schuyler, has amassed 1.5 million followers, 300,000 of them since April 1 of this year. Diet Prada also regularly breaks news. Recently, the account published evidence that Kim Kardashian photographer Marcus Hyde tried to coerce model Sunnya Nash into sending him nude pics, prompting further allegations of sexual misconduct against him. The story went viral and led Facebook to close Hyde's account.

Diet Prada has more than a point of view; it has a mission. The feed first attracted attention for calling out design copycats but has since expanded its scope, becoming the fashion industry's watchdog. In the last year, Diet Prada has highlighted evidence of racism (Stefano Gabbana's disparaging remarks about China) and sexual misconduct (Turkish photographer Timur Emek), as well as corporations copying young labels (Victoria's Secret and Fleur du Mal). It is what so many fashion outlets are not: addictive, urgent, internet-fluent, attuned to the socio-political zeitgeist and unafraid to speak truth to power and take the establishment to task.

Diet Prada has also managed to build an active community of “Dieters” who are hungry (no pun intended) for its take on fashion news and send tips to Diet Prada the way people in and around the media industry tipped off Gawker in its early glory days.

Yet Diet Prada has struggled to find a robust business model. The founders declined to comment for this story but told the New York Times in March that they earn less money doing this than they did at their previous jobs, although they work on Diet Prada "around the clock."

They have experimented with branded content, a popular way for many fashion media companies to make money. But this approach seems fundamentally at odds with Diet Prada's content mission. The account has already attracted criticism for treating certain brands with kid gloves — notably Prada and Gucci, which were both slammed by the wider internet for products resembling blackface but escaped the kind of wrath that Diet Prada has directed at brands like Dolce & Gabbana. A host of brand partnerships would surely pose challenges to Diet Prada's independence and further the perception that the account isn't what it once was. The last "paid partnership" post in its feed, for Matches Fashion, went up on February 2 and felt incongruous amidst its stream of callouts and other fashion news. Indeed, some commenters bristled at the ad.

That said, the unusually cozy relationship Diet Prada has with its followers means that it's much more likely to create winning brand extensions than many other media properties, which rely on algorithms that may or may not send clicks their way from one hour to the next. Diet Prada's followers actually want to hear from Diet Prada, which is why the founders are able to sell merch through an online store. Though it's unclear how much they earn from this, it's easy to imagine followers wearing a Diet Prada sweatshirt or drinking from a Diet Prada mug (and post evidence of this to Instagram). How many fashion media brands engender this sort of audience loyalty?

Merch may not be enough, however. Like many fashion media brands, Diet Prada is likely to need multiple revenue streams to thrive. There are other options. A Diet Prada Con, for example, could easily attract thousands of ticket-buyers, but attracting speakers from the fashion establishment would clearly be tricky. A Diet Prada podcast, too, would likely rely on industry ad dollars and talent (though many, myself included, would certainly listen to the founders dissecting the week’s biggest fashion news stories without insider guests.)

To be sure, Diet Prada wins because it covers the stuff fashion magazines won’t tell us. And if fans feel like they can’t trust Diet Prada to deliver unfiltered news, it might lose some of its power to both break news and sell Diet Prada mugs. Then again, it’s ardent approach, which can sometimes feel immature if not dangerous — the words “digital judge, jury and executioner” come to mind — could pose big risks for the brand that go beyond forgoing advertising deals and access to talent. If Diet Prada issues a defamatory report or simply upsets the wrong person, just like Gawker did with Peter Thiel, it might find itself in a costly lawsuit and subsequent fire sale.

Alternatively, Diet Prada could mature its editorial approach, adopting journalistic norms like giving subjects the opportunity to comment, and more rigorously fact-checking tips and corroborating accusations. It’s certainly not easy or cheap to run a team of professional journalists and do this kind of work, but it could give Diet Prada greater longevity and open the budding media brand up to traditional revenue streams like advertising or subscription.

Fans might resist the change of course. Then again, they might welcome the approach and support Diet Prada in its next chapter. If Diet Prada is breaking important stories now, imagine what it could do with a team of Dieters on payroll.

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