TikTok has had a big impact on fashion retail in the past 12 months, with brands increasingly using the platform to both determine trends and drive sales. If you are of a certain demographic or a regular online shopper – it is likely that fashion brands often fill your FYP (‘for you page’), and that viral videos tempt you to buy the next ‘must-have’ product.
Here’s how fashion brands are getting involved with TikTok and how the platform could impact the future of online fashion retail – as well as drive social commerce.
A platform for unfiltered creative expression
Unlike Instagram, where fashion content tends to be highly filtered and aspirational, fashion on TikTok is rooted in unfiltered reality. This is largely because the majority of content is created by regular users, and TikTok is overall seen as a platform for authentic creative expression.
Fashion content on TikTok tends to be more accessible and ultimately more influential – hence why fashion videos (and the products featured) often go viral. From a pair of Aerie leggings to Zara jeans, many fashion items are hard to come by or, in some cases, sold out due to this phenomenon, also known as ‘TikTok made me buy it’. Gap has even started re-manufacturing a vintage hoodie after it started appearing on resale sites for more than $200 (on the back of a single viral video).
Of course, this type of exposure – and subsequent sales boost – is hard to orchestrate, as many videos are created by regular and unbiased consumers. However, brands are able to capitalise on the hashtags that shoppers on the platform use and search under when seeking out new trends. The hashtag #TikTokfashion, for example, now has more than 17 billion views. Other, more niche, hashtags also generate plenty of interest; #cottagecorefashion has over 14.6m views.
Brands are tapping into hashtag challenges on the platform, and re-purposing user generated videos for content on their own channels. Take the ‘Gucci Model Challenge’, a viral trend which saw users pitch themselves in an unofficial Gucci model casting. As it stands, the hashtag #guccimodelchallenge has had 261.5m views, with the luxury brand itself jumping on the trend to reach TikTok’s Gen-Z user base.
Indeed, it is this demographic (and their spending power) that is driving most of the traction for fashion brands on TikTok. More than 60% of platform users are Generation Z, and with a spending power of over $150 billion, brands are naturally keen to further connections with this target audience.
Viviane Paxinos, General Manager at student network UNiDAYS, told Econsultancy that she believes the success of the platform stems from an algorithm that drives content to these young users based on their unique interests – not just people that they follow (like on Instagram). This content, says Paxinos, is “driven by meme culture, unfiltered and authentic videos from real people, entertainment and humour from creators, and bite-sized ‘life hack’ advice.”
Paxinos also cites a recent UNiDAYS study of 20 million Gen Z student members as further proof of TikTok’s potential for brands in fashion. The survey found that fashion purchases made by 49% of respondents were influenced by brands they see on social media. As such, she says, “TikTok is a growth opportunity for fashion retail marketers looking to drive brand awareness and social commerce.”
Capitalising on influencer reach
Another way that brands are reaching young consumers on TikTok is based around big events and the influencers that drive interest in them.
As Glossy reports, Olympic sponsor brands are currently gaining exposure from influencers on TikTok who are giving users behind-the-scenes insight – while wearing said brands. Olympic gold medallist Tom Daley has been wearing his sponsor Adidas in TikTok videos throughout the Games, while surfer Caroline Marks has been representing Ralph Lauren, who designed the uniform for Team USA.
Brand sponsors usually gain exposure through TV coverage and in-person spectators, however, with the latter reduced this year, and overall, more consumers watching less TV and spending more time on social media – TikTok is a proving to be an effective marketing channel.
Indeed, influencer partnerships are a natural choice for many fashion brands on the platform, with some using this strategy alongside paid ads to generate both awareness and sales. One brand that successfully does this is Shein – a Chinese retailer that became the most talked-about brand on TikTok in 2020. This was achieved through a combination of influencer partnerships, with both micro and macro-influencers participating in ‘Shein hauls’, as well as paid advertising.
Interestingly, Shein is also tapping into the desire many users have to become influencers themselves, with many people (often with low amounts of followers) creating their own Shein hauls in the hope of being noticed and featured by the brand, as well as to earn money via its popular affiliate programme. Shein’s low price point means that this is easily attainable, thereby feeding into Shein’s marketing engine.
Loving the fits from this haul✨ @nanalee2908
This strategy aligns with TikTok’s early advice for marketers using the platform – “Don’t make ads. Make TikToks’. Indeed, UNiDAYS’ Viviane Paxinos told Econsultancy that “half of Gen Z (56%) say they don’t follow fashion brands on social.” Consequently, she suggests “brands that collaborate with creators – particularly those which resonate with Gen Z consumers – are gaining organic reach in a way that feels more authentically tailored to the TikTok experience.”
Live-streaming runway shows and events
With Covid impacting in-person events during the pandemic, many luxury and designer fashion brands chose to live-stream runway shows instead, with this activity culminating in TikTok’s first ever virtual fashion month last September. #TikTokFashionMonth saw the platform live-stream two events a week for brands including Saint Lauren and Louis Vuitton. The final show, TikTok Runway Odyssey, also saw TikTok creators being featured on the runway, and exclusive collections being put on sale for TikTok users to buy.
According to TikTok, the live streams generated over three million views altogether. And while this doesn’t sound like a huge number (considering the amount of views that some individual videos can get) – it is ground-breaking for luxury retail brands who tend to struggle on the platform in comparison to cheaper fast fashion brands. It has also enabled a younger demographic – who would otherwise be unable to access runway shows – the chance to have a front seat via the platform they use the most, thereby giving luxury brands a chance to connect.
Join #LouisVuitton on TikTok
Live-streaming on TikTok isn’t only dedicated to runway shows. Interestingly, TikTok is also experimenting with a new live-stream shopping experience, enabling users to interact and directly buy from brands and creators during live videos. Walmart was the first retail brand to get involved, initially back in December 2020 and once again in March of this year. According to Walmart, while it did not disclose sales figures, the first live stream generated seven times more views than expected and grew the brand’s TikTok followers by 25%.
Of course, live commerce is big business in China, where more than 100 million consumers are said to watch a live online video event every month. And while it might not reach this level, with TikTok now serious about investing in the concept, we could certainly see it gain traction in western markets in the coming months.
More shopping features (and opportunities for emerging fashion brands)
Live streaming isn’t the only commerce feature that TikTok is testing. Back in May, Bloomberg reported that TikTok was trialling an in-app shopping feature that will enable users to directly buy from the platform. Bloomberg states that streetwear label Hype was part of the test, and that “the label’s storefront under its TikTok account displays a range of merchandise with product images and prices, according to a screen grab provided to Bloomberg News.”
This comes on the back of TikTok’s partnership with Shopify to allow merchants to access core functions of the ‘TikTok For Business Ads Manager’ directly from the Shopify dashboard. In other words, this easily enables them to create In-Feed shoppable video ads, as well as connect tools to track conversions.
Despite these developments in social commerce, Viviane Paxinos offers a word of caution to youth-focused fashion retail brands getting involved. This is because, according to UNiDAYS’ survey, 75% of Generation Z do not trust shopping directly from social media. As a result, “how [Gen Z] consume culture and advertising is often at odds,” says Paxinos. “When one platform loses its appeal because of too much advertising and brand messaging, they switch to another. Fashion marketers need to bear this mind when it comes to TikTok, or any other platform.”
More importantly, suggests Paxinos, is that brands need to consider the ‘value exchange’, something that is increasingly important to Gen Z – a demographic that is “the definition of thrifty, practical, and determined,” she says.
So, with TikTok increasingly becoming a discovery platform for consumers, new brands are grabbing the opportunity to reach audiences by delving into specific and value-driven interests, with some even originating on TikTok itself. One example of this is Vintage Stock Reserve, a small and sustainable fashion brand that up-cycles vintage clothing.
As Vogue Business explains, the company was borne out of the creators’ passion for DIY fashion, with the page starting out as a place to share designs alongside an ethical message. Now with 1.9 million followers, Vintage Stock Reserve sells select pieces on their own website, with the aim of continuing the cycle of thrifted and sustainable fashion.
As TikTok continues to invest in social commerce, it is likely that more fashion brands will jump on board. However, as Viviane Paxinos says, “fashion brands also need to be looking at ecommerce and social commerce as part of wider omnichannel retail strategies, driving consumers in-store for those brands where bricks and mortar still plays an important role in delivering sales.”
But, another note of caution – it is vital that fashion brands do not lose sight of the reasons why the platform resonates so deeply with users (particularly Generation Z) in the first place – hint: it’s not brand involvement. In contrast, those that are able to embrace the fun, authentic, and often random side of the platform are the brands that are most likely to find success (and drive sales).