When fashion designer Martin Bautista posted a photo of Anne Curtis wearing his pink chiffon dress, the photo garnered many likes and a lot of MTO (made-to-order) requests for the exact design.
It didn’t matter that the custom-made dress, although absolutely gorgeous, was not for everyone: It had a sexy back, but the front was long and unstructured. On the wrong body type, the dress could make one seem shorter, bulkier, even pregnant… you get the picture.
But such is the power of social media these days. It sells an image, an idea quicker than your average 30-second TV commercial. And for some of today’s young fashion designers, it’s heaven-sent.
Social media is shaping the fashion design landscape, as it does anything else today. It is a game changer.
Today’s generation of fashion designers must deal with factors its predecessors didn’t—apart from social media, there are the cult of celebrity, the obligatory task of branding, if not marketing hype, and there’s the continuous influx of affordable foreign brands and very cheap mass-market clothes from China.
Followers and sales
Bautista, with fellow designers Boom Sason and Vania Romoff, enjoys a strong social media following.
On Instagram alone, Sason, Romoff and Bautista have over 27,000, 21,000 and 16,000 followers, respectively. (Enjoying a comfortable lead—no surprise here—is the seasoned Rajo Laurel, with more than 100,000 followers.)
And such an Instagram following could lead to actual sales. All three designers are active on social media (mainly Instagram and Facebook) and have their own websites showcasing their latest look book—with no PR person or agency representing them.
Accessories designer Amina Aranaz-Alunan also admits to “relying a lot on social media.”
Jot Losa, another go-to designer for celebrities and stylists, takes advantage of this social-slash-digital phenomenon, too. “Most of my inquiries are really from my social media accounts,” he says. “Social media sells itself; it’s not time-consuming and is very cost-efficient. It’s very simple and really gets the job done.”
It really cannot get any simpler than one photo shared, reposted and retweeted thousands of times, can it? And to have the actual celebrity repost it? That’s a marketing goldmine.
The real work is getting a celebrity to wear your design. If you’re lucky, you’re actually friends with some of these celebs. If not, you’ll have to rely on a third party, such as a fashion stylist.
Word of mouth
Fashion stylists play a crucial role in bridging celebrity and designer, among other things. They help dictate the look of a celebrity, a photo shoot or a campaign, and ultimately decide on which designer the celeb can go to.
Choosing a designer is a task stylists take seriously; after all, it’s their work on the line. “We choose to work with designers who are professional, easy to talk to, and who can deliver on time,” fashion stylist Pam Quiñones says, “those who put a premium on quality in terms of their designs and finishing, and who guarantee that a garment has gone through a level of quality control.”
Losa has worked routinely with industry professionals—stylists, makeup artists and hairstylists—who have sent him referrals. “Maintaining good working relations with them creates a network that is beneficial to all,” he says. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
Eric de los Santos agrees: “Old-fashioned word of mouth is still the best. Recommendations from previous clients lead to a lot of referrals.”
He also gives credit to media, primarily fashion editors and stylists who feature his work. “Fashion shows also help,” he says.
But those are just two venues, not enough for a group of creatives hankering for more ways to showcase their new work.
“I wish there were more well-produced shows,” Bautista says.
Cebu-based designer Romoff agrees. “Fashion shows are important especially to younger designers like me so we can introduce and communicate our look and brand identity to the market,” she says.
MTO, weddings, brand collaborations
The social media exposure, media features, seasonal shows, word-of-mouth advertising, the Instagrammed stamp of approval from both stylist and celebrity, have helped designers build their network and stay busy with made-to-orders, which still make up the bulk of their work.
“Throughout the year most of my work comes from MTO, and that includes advertisements, TVCs and ad campaigns,” Losa says.
De los Santos does mostly MTO evening wear, and it has kept him afloat. “Especially for weddings,” he notes.
The bridal market is huge—Romoff opened her bridal line just last year—but it’s also seasonal.
In between doing two collections a year and MTOs, some young designers collaborate with retail brands, like Laurel, Rhett Eala, Randy Ortiz and Joey Samson did before them.
There’s been Martin Bautista for Cinderella, Vania Romoff for Ensembles, Maureen Disini for Mosaic, Jerome Lorico for F&H.
Depending on his agreement with the brand, a designer can get paid an honorarium per collection piece or for the entire capsule collection, or get a percentage of the sales—or all of the above.
“Collaborations always serve as a good creative challenge for me,” Romoff says. “They have helped my own brand reach a wider audience. Each brand has its own target market, and it’s always a fun process to be able to design pieces that speak to certain markets while keeping in tune with my design aesthetic.”
Longevity amid competition
Fashion designers play in a highly competitive market. Bautista notes: “There are a lot of designers coming out left and right.”
But despite this—or perhaps because of this—most designers today cater to a wider clientele. “My clients are from 16 to 60,” De los Santos claims.
“I make clothes for women of all ages, sizes, shapes,” Bautista adds. “Almost everyone: celebrity, politician, student, housewife…”
The influx of midpriced foreign fashion brands also poses a threat, but these young designers are unstirred.
“As long as you have people believing in your aesthetic and quality of work, you’ll never be left out,” Losa points out. “Those who really understand the value of wearing something specifically tailor-made for them won’t mind the price tag, since they know and value the time and effort given to create something unique.”
These young designers, however, also understand the value and sustainability of having a ready-to-wear line.
“Eventually I want to be able to make my company run by itself—creating ready-to-wear lines consistently, every season, and limiting custom design,” Romoff says.
A real brand, in other words.
Ultimately, what will dictate the longevity and marketability of any designer are the quality of his work, a strong point of view and an even stronger work ethic.
At the end of the day, no amount of social-savvy marketing and networking will replace good, honest work.
After all, social media can make you, but just as easily break you.
Or as De los Santos succinctly puts it, “Stay visible and be professional.”