At the Lagos Fashion and Design Week Fashion Business Series held two weeks ago, one of the discussions was a media panel on Communicating Fashion. It was an all-woman panel (thankfully) and featured several respected names in traditional media outlets including Bola Balogun one of Nigeria’s foremost fashion PR people, Pepper Chikezie of Spice Tv Africa and the head fashion writer at fashion magazine, ThisDay Style, moderated by the amazing Ijeoma Ndekwu of Red Rick PR. The panel itself was somewhat incisive and Ndekwu did a stellar job of trying to steer the panel towards answering many of the pressing concerns of the audience.
But the panel had already failed before it even began, it did not have a fashion blogger, a digital media writer, or even a social media strategist. There was simply no digital media representation.
This was a concern I brought up immediately questions were thrown to the audience. Bola Balogun gave a deeply insightful response about how traditional media is only starting to break free of the tunnel vision that has kept it limited the last two decades and embrace digital media and that it would take a few more years before the integration is complete in Nigeria. But we were also told, that while bloggers had been considered for the panel, they were eventually removed so the panel at the Fashion Business Series ‘focused’ on traditional media.
Here’s the twist; a vast majority of the audience that had shown up to listen to and cover the Fashion Business Series conference were new media. Bloggers, fashion photographers, social media influencers. There were only a handful of traditional media in the audience and literally none of them stayed through the entire conference.
Anyone who is conversant with the Nigerian fashion industry will tell you that Nigerian fashion as it is today, didn’t take off till Uche Pedro began BellaNaija. Designers like Lisa Folawiyo, Lanre Da Silva and Mai Atafo have asserted many times, the importance of Bella Naija in the growth of their brands.
Since then, digital media has become the first wave for many designers seeking to reach wider audiences. Fashion websites write about these designers, put up their look books for free, long before traditional media bothers with editorials that only showcase one or two pieces, and most importantly track all the important milestones these designers achieve, like high profile personalities wearing their clothes and collaborations with big brands.
Many emerging brands have grown into proper contenders in the industry right out of their Instagram accounts. BellaNaija was the first website to have a high profile editorial, and Ono Bello has turned her fashion website into a proper e-zine with editorials highlighting fashion brands. Even independent blogs like Omogemura and Barbara 1928 have promoted Nigerian labels through self funded fashion editorials.
New Media has changed the way fashion is consumed. For one it has made fashion more democratic and expanded the conversation. No longer are trend making and spotting the exclusive preserve of monthly magazines. No longer do we need to wait for a September Issue to hear from a high profile dress maker or photographer. The veil has been lifted and we have access and an opinion, and an audience.
New Media has become so important that Vogue, the single most important traditional fashion media in the world went on to purchase Style.com and subsume it into its online presence because it is important to them. Labels like Chanel, Versace and Balenciaga have totally embraced Instagram and courted thousands of potential buyers through beautiful images. There are plans to make it possible to shop for clothes by clicking a photo on Snapchat or Instagram.
New Media isn’t the future. It is the present. It might not take the place of traditional media but it has sufficiently changed how we consume fashion, that any forum, in Nigeria or elsewhere that doesn’t acknowledge new media is not ready to begin a proper conversation.
For the sake of our emerging industry, I hope there is never another discussion about media and communication in fashion, without an in-the-trenches new media practitioner.