Rarely a day goes by that I don’t discover a new brand on Instagram, usually while browsing through the Photos Based on People You Follow section, a roundup of the latest images your followers have liked. Intriguing images abound, and soon enough, I’ve clicked on one and lost more time than I’d like to admit scrolling through a new account (and then some). Because I'm a fashion editor, it’s no surprise that many of the people I follow are prone to liking photos posted by brands, but interestingly, a handful of friends who work in other industries also attest to discovering their favorite new brands on the app. One even claims to only buy clothes from the selection of young brands that she follows, telling me, “It not only makes my life easier, but I get a much better sense of their values overall, which, for whatever reason, makes me feel better about my spending.”
It’s a fascinating phenomenon—this increase in brand loyalty via social media—and one that has blossomed at warp speed almost solely on Instagram. Of course, this begs an interesting question: If our wardrobes are being transformed by all these new discoveries, what might the app be doing for these young brands themselves? And is all of this snap-based seduction as spontaneous as it seems? I spoke to a host of young brands whose trajectories have been seemingly transformed by Instagram to find out.
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Today, certain brands decide to launch on Instagram before they even have a website or, for that matter, a product to sell. Sean Barron, a co-founder of the wildly popular denim brand Re/Done, tells me that after debuting Re/Done's Instagram, the line quickly developed “an amazing following without having a site up. [It created] a ton of brand awareness so that as soon as we did launch [the site], we sold out.”
Jude Al-Khalil, the founder and CEO of Bikyni—a minimalist bikini line founded on being well priced and well made—was of a similar mind. “I started with Instagram because I had a vision for Bikyni that I wanted to share long before we launched our site or physical product,” the former Reformation COO tells me, further explaining that she “wanted to show potential customers and partners the brand’s aesthetic and build [up] our following.” Instagram, it seemed, was the perfect platform for the job.
But those brands that began with websites are equally aware of Instagram’s power. The eco-friendly brand Amour Vert, beloved by none other than Blake Lively, happened to launch in 2010—the same year as Instagram. According to creative director and co-founder Linda Balti, “There was a significant change in brand awareness once we joined Instagram. In fact, some of our customers discovered us [on the platform] and continue to.” Another creative director, Han Chong of Self-Portrait, admits that although Instagram-as-driving-platform was never his original plan, the global community that it quickly provided led to a much larger brand following than a website alone would’ve allowed.
“For a young brand like ours without advertising,” he tells me, “[the app] has played a big part in our growth, particularly [from] the support we’ve received from fashion bloggers.” Barron concurs, noting that the Re/Done customers look to these influencers and what they’re posting to discover what’s relevant. This helps to explain the seemingly endless wardrobes of our favorite fashionistas.
Yet, all of this being said, there are many other platforms out there today with which to promote your brand, conceivably along similar lines. So why is it Instagram that brands turn to above all others when promoting their lines? And why do we, the customers, find ourselves returning most to this app in particular when we need a fashion fix?
Well, the answer is in the icon—that tiny little camera upon which the Instagram ethos is founded. All photos, all the time, and with straightforward editing options that can render almost any photograph 10 times more appealing than it actually is. Lily Kwong, the street style favorite and director of brand strategy for Amour Vert, believes it comes down to inspiration. “It offers a chance to invite people into [our] world,” she elaborated. “It’s a more whimsical place [where we can] share the brand’s mood, DNA, and the overall spirit of the company.”
It makes sense then that for some brands, it’s the images they share that aren’t of clothes that actually receive the most engagement. Raissa Gerona, who co-founded Alliance Apparel—which owns It-girl favorites like Lovers + Friends, Tularosa, and Raye the Label—tells me that, across the board, it’s when one of its brands shares imagery with quotes that followers get most excited. That, and when a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the brand is provided. While brands once felt inaccessible or elusive, they’re now open for exploration at the tap of a screen, and younger brands especially are taking advantage.
Consider Tamara Mellon, now heading up her eponymous label, who notes, “When I was at Jimmy Choo, the follower didn’t always know I was the creative director. [Now] I can lift the curtain and show my design process firsthand.” Pictures from company headquarters, photo studios, and events—not to mention sneak peeks at upcoming collections—give customers a sense of intimacy that’s hard to provide on less visual platforms. “[Instagram] helps to break down barriers,” Philippa Thackeray, co-founder of Paper London, tells me. “Our followers are sharing our journey.”
But underneath this more creative connection is a very practical reward: instant customer feedback. As Andrew Parietti, president of the omnipresent activewear line Outdoor Voices, explains, “Instagram dramatically shortens the product feedback loop. Within a few hours of a post going live, we have insight into [how something might sell].” Every brand I spoke to agreed, pointing to comments, reposts, and the simple fact of seeing how customers wear their designs as crucial information provided by the app. And by helping a brand understand what styles or colors to continue offering (or suspend), Instagram often moonlights as a financial safety net.
“We are [also] able to address a product question and direct them to purchase,” Tamara Mellon pointed out, revealing the app’s stance as a hassle-free customer service line (a much-needed relief if ever there was one).
Given how lucrative the app has been for all of these brands, I was curious to know if that result had affected their posting strategy. It turns out that a few of the companies now plan their Instagram content ahead of time, as you might an editorial calendar. “We spend so much time and energy defining the brand imagery and voice for our lookbooks, website, and retail spaces [that] we realized it was a missed opportunity to not give the same attention to our Instagram channel,” Kwong told me of the team at Amour Vert. For a lot of brands, this involves selecting a new theme or color story to base the week's posts around.
Parietti explained that at Outdoor Voices, they attempt to plan out their posts a week prior to going live but that it’s not always easy. “Instagram requires us to shoot from the hip in order to stay current to what’s on our community’s mind,” he explained. This spontaneity was championed across the board as being crucial to customer attraction. As Thackeray, of Paper London, noted, it’s more appealing when the snaps are “an instant reflection of the brand at that point in time.”
Just as Instagram transforms our wardrobes and aesthetic inclinations, the app appears to be equally integral to the foundation and growth of young brands. So, would all of these brands be where they are today without it? “That’s a hard question,” determined Sean Barron. “The simple answer is that Instagram is critical in today’s fashion space, [but] equally important is the brand message and [their] actual product.” Others, like Al-Khalil of Bikyni and Gerona of Alliance Apparel, were more settled on the matter, allowing that Instagram was just too much a part of their success to deny. “We’re a generation that is digitally native,” concluded Parietti, “[and] Instagram is our number one discovery point.”
Scroll down to shop our favorite products from the brands we spoke to!
Paper London Short Adamello Culottes in Mint ($461)
Outdoor Voices 3/4 Two-Tone Warmup Leggings in Dove & Slate ($85)
Self-Portrait Arabella Guipure Lace Midi Skirt ($410)
Tamara Mellon Phoenix Suede Mule in Black ($595)