Either the Federal Trade Commission (the government body that regulates everything from fur disclosures on garments to the rules for sponsored blog posts) isn’t explicit enough in its guidelines or bloggers keep finding new ways to get around the rules. The latest: bloggers charging for Instagram posts. In its March issue, Australian Women’s Weekly highlights transparency (or lack thereof) in  Australia’s fashion blogging industry; this includes the rates being charged by Beaconsfield, Australia-based, Ministry of Talent, a blogger agency that helps facilitate such services. According to the article, the highest rate charged by the agency is $850 for Sydney Fashion Blogger, with the cheapest O’Marge charging $150 for brands to be featured on the Instagram feed. The overall tone of the piece can be highlighted in a quote from Elle Australia’s deputy editor Damien Woolnough who noted: “Some of these bloggers skirts’ may be transparent but their business practices aren’t.” The problem: While Roxy Jacenko, founder of the two-year old, Ministry of Talent, says, “Our bloggers list on their blog posts if a post is paid,” very rarely are paid for-Instagram posts labelled as “Sponsored.”

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image courtesy of onabbotkinney

Jacenko defended sponsored Instagram postings, saying: “I pose this – if Louis Vuitton took a full page advertisement in Harper’s Bazaar would they hope to receive cut through via product placement on the editorial pages of the magazine in the issue and subsequent issues in addition to their spend on the full page ad as part of their added value or ROI? Most certainly! Do you see fashion spreads and flat lay pages saying ‘SPONSORED’? No.”

Interestingly, the article touches on a recent ruling by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission which  released new rules about disclosure and online product reviews with potential fines of up to $1.1m for breaches, but since it isn’t a U.S.-based publication, the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines are not addressed, which is where I come in.

Essentially, the FTC guidelines that apply to blog posts and tweets likely apply to Instagram posts, as well. Last year, the FTC released n update to its existing guidelines, entitled “.com Disclosures.” Accordingly, “Bloggers receiving free products or other perks with the understanding that they’ll promote the advertiser’s products in their blogs [or social media accounts] would be covered [by the guidelines].” How do I know that social media accounts fall under the blogger disclosure guidelines? Well, according to the guidelines, disclosures must be “accessible on all platforms used.” All platforms = your blog, your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. Further, in a statement released in connect with the updated guidelines, the FTC stated: “The FTC revised the Guides because truth in advertising is important in all media – including blogs and social networking sites.”

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A common argument in this context is that the role of the FTC is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anticompetitive business practices, such as misleading consumers as to the connection between a blogger and a brand, and that no one is mislead because we all know that brands pay bloggers to wear certain things, blogs about certain things and attend certain events. However, that’s not necessarily the case, especially when it comes to platforms, such as Instagram, where we are not used to see sponsored material. According to the FTC, “Many bloggers who mention products don’t receive anything for their reviews and don’t get a commission if readers click on a link to buy a product, and while the financial arrangements between some bloggers and advertisers may be apparent to industry insiders, it isn’t apparent to everyone else who reads a blog. Under the law, an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads ‘a significant minority’ of consumers. So even if some readers are aware of these deals, many readers aren’t. That’s why disclosure is important.”

So, moral of the story: To avoid legal ramifications, include a clear and concise “Sponsored” hash tag at the begging on your Instagram post if you are receiving any form of compensation from an advertiser in exchange.

[By TFL] [Read More]

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There is a new obsession sweeping the globe. Online photo sharing sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr have engulfed the world of travel, pulling it into a new era of escapism and social interaction. From beach selfies to montages of exotic cocktails and immense sunsets, the art of travel has perhaps been changed forever, with the birth of a new breed of tourist; snapping, filtering, cropping and sharing their holidays with hundreds of followers.

Travel experiences have been recorded for centuries, with journals and diaries dating back to the Greek empire, but today’s tech society has added a whole new layer to the concept of recording travel. As more and more cafes, hotels and even tour coaches invest in free Wi-Fi, photos can be uploaded to social media sites faster than ever before. The practice of uploading our holiday images when we return home is quickly fading, with a growing trend of sharing photos instantaneously, each day we’re abroad. Such trends have been enabled by the emergence of the smart-phone, meaning that for many, the days of using a camera with a memory chip are becoming obsolete.

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Not only has a fashion for documenting our lives erupted over the past decade, but we have been encouraged to present them in a rather distorted way; adding colours to sunsets that never appeared, cropping landscapes to sizes that barely do them justice and using hashtags we don’t even understand.

The trend of editing the colour, sharpness and saturation of our images goes further than just simple default filters installed on Instagram. There are now numerous apps to edit our photos even further, such as VSCOcam and Afterlight. Such apps have developed an online culture whereby each user tries to outdo one another through their photos.

The practice of uploading our holiday images when we return home is quickly fading, with a growing trend of sharing photos instantaneously, each day we’re abroad

The ‘selfie’, too, has exploded in popularity, and especially since the famous Ellen DeGeneres Oscar selfie, which is now reportedly worth up to one billion dollars. The travel sector has not escaped the rise of the self-taken photo, with tourists snapping away next to iconic world monuments, on airplanes and whilst doing extreme sports.

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Away from our personal accounts, the most popular travel pages appear to be those showcasing fine dining at expensive holiday resorts, crystal white beaches and infinity pools in Asian metropolises. Worryingly, these accounts frequently favour wealth, being owned by users who can afford to travel to exclusive locations.

Perhaps the most extreme case of this is the notorious Rich kids of Instagram account, which documents a variety of wealthy teenagers flying on private jets to elite destinations such as the Maldives, St Barths and California, as well as showcasing luxury yachts and Louis Vuitton hand luggage.

Yet while such accounts hide the societal issues the ordinary tourist might encounter on holiday, such as street beggars, ocean pollution and migrants in painfully low-wage jobs, social media also celebrates world beauty and encourages adventure, open mindedness and self-discovery. Most students today have travelled further than their parents ever had when they were a similar age, and while much of this has been facilitated by developments in transportation and disposable incomes, images of online friends in far flung destinations certainly puts a level of social pressure on students to travel.

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Social media may not only influence our behaviour on holiday and how we present trips to our contacts, but also where we go. The traditional travel agent is dying, with online do-it-yourself sites taking their place, and it seems that social media has become a useful marketing tool for many tour operators. Yet the fear here is that certain destinations dominating photo-sharing sites will boom, leaving locations seen as less ‘cool’ or less photogenic, yet no less rich in culture and adventure in reality, to decline.

Most students today have travelled further than their parents ever had when they were a similar age…this puts a level of social pressure on students to travel

The boom in silky images of travel destinations has, unsurprisingly, descended most heavily on the world’s tourist hotspots. But it has served to over-amplify their magnificence, and hide crushing social problems. By searching Paris on Tumblr orInstagram, you’ll discover seemingly gorgeous and romantic, pastel tinted images of the Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe and various manicured gardens. However, the city has a crippling homelessness problem, widespread pollution and a shocking level of suburban poverty. Yet these issues are omitted from most visual representation.

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However, there are various sites and users that champion unique images of culture, and landscapes of humbleness and history, sharing photos of local people, ordinary side-streets and understated landscapes. These do not champion wealth or westernization, but reveal the raw locations where often the most insightful travel experiences are to be found.

The National Geographic website allows any user to create a profile and upload world images. It has a community of users who frequently post photos of traditional scenes, intrepid travel and unusual nature-human juxtapositions. The site encourages such images, through asking users to categorize their uploads into groups such as adventure, people, architecture or nature. Yet the social aspect is not lost, as other users can leave comments, or add your photos to their favourites.

Despite this, the prevailing theme for travel images on social media continues to be one of luxury, generic beach scenes and the notorious selfie, at various tourist hotspots.

There are now calls for a revolution in the way we represent the destinations we visit. This asks us to venture off the beaten track to seek images with more insight and profundity, that are greater representations of the country we’re visiting as a whole, and to end the worshipping of luxury travel, through favoring images of humbleness, tradition and diversity.

[By Caitlin Kelly[Read More

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All About the Jason Kennedy Wedding

E! News co-host Jason Kennedy and his fiancée of seven years Lauren Scruggs are now officially married! According to US Magazine, the happy couple said their vows at the posh Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas. 

Scruggs, who is a model and fashion blogger, lost her left eye and left arm just three years ago in an airplane propeller accident. She said of Kennedy, "Jason has completely changed my life, and I could not be more thankful for who he is and how he loves me. I can't wait to spend forever with him," conveying how much she appreciates his love and support.

Even before the wedding, she gushed on her website, "I always try to remember that I'm so thankful to be marrying Jason...I know that this whole crazy wedding-planning process is just temporary and life won't be like this forever. We support each other and understand that we're in this together."

Kennedy is similarly appreciative of Scruggs - he stated, "God has blessed me with somebody I've been waiting for my whole life... Lauren changed everything for me and I can't believe I get to spend the rest of my life with her."

According to People Magazine, Scruggs walked down the aisle on the arm of her father, Jeff. She wore a Romona Keveza gown, while Kennedy donned a Tom Ford suit. Because the couple is Christian, they were married by Pastor Matt Chandler and Pastor Judah Smith. They exchanged rings made by William Noble, a local Dallas jeweler. 

After the ceremony, they danced their first dance to Keith Urban's "Making Memories of Us," performed by Cuvée, a local Dallas wedding band. Guests in attendance include Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and his wife, Candice, whose 2-year-old son, Hawkins, served as a ring bearer. Bill and Giuliana Rancic also attended, along with "Today co-host" Kathie Lee Gifford and fashion bloggers Courtney Kerr and Krystal Schlegel. 

[By Marisa Lewis] [Read More

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Meet Our Blogger Crush La Carmina

Globetrotter, style icon, and self-proclaimed pirate-- this week’s Blogger Crush goes out to the lovely La Carmina. La Carmina is a travel and fashion journalist who specializes in offbeat adventures in Tokyo and Asia. Since the launch of her blog over 7 years ago, La Carmina has published 3 books about J-popculture and regularly hosts travel shows for popular networks like Discovery and Travel Channel. Now, La Carmina and her film crew travel all over the world to document and explore youth trends, style, and subcultures. 

This week, we had the pleasure of catching up with La Carmina for an exclusive interview where we talk about everything from cats and holiday parties, to the importance of social media and her next big career move. Read below! 

La Carmina, Japan style blog, fashion TV host

La Carmina showing off her signature style


STEPHANIE: When did you first start your blog, and why? 
La Carmina: I'm from Vancouver, Canada and started my travel and fashion blog to share my love of subcultures and alt beauty around the world (especially Goth and Japanese). I started blogging in 2007, and my site grew to opportunities I never imagined -- including writing three books, and hosting TV shows on networks like Travel Channel, TLC Asia and National Geographic. Today, I travel with my camera team, usually about one destination a month. We focus on stories that appeal to young, millennial travelers - such as boutique hotels, indie designers and nightlife. My blog is particularly known for stories about people pushing boundaries -- such as bagel-head inflation in Tokyo, devil parties in New Orleans, and drag queens in Tel Aviv. 

Wow, that’s amazing! So how has your style evolved over the years since the start of your blog? 
I now put a higher emphasis on quality materials and items. My style is less "club kid" and more sleek, with investment pieces and strong yet minimal accents. Such as a single bird's head silver ring, instead of a stack of different rings. 

Quality over quantity is great style advice. That being said, what is your favorite go-to outfit? 
Leather jacket, a dress with some edgy aspect (like fringe sleeves or a cut-out skull back), and my Yosuke black leather studded boots, which are comfortable enough to walk all day in. And big cat-eye sunglasses. 

Cat-eye sunglasses are definitely a must-have. Where are some of your favorite places to shop? 
In Hong Kong, I'm a huge fan of the Miffy shop, and the handmade Gothic Lolita clothes by my friend Natalie Lam at Spider in Mongkok. In Japan, I go crazy at Closet Child, which has several locations and is full of secondhand yet designer underground labels (Moi meme Moitie, Alice Auaa). 

La Carmina, Japan style blog, fashion TV host

What about in Tokyo, where are your favorite places to shop/eat? 
I usually stay in Shinjuku, since it's easy to take the subway anywhere from here, and there are plenty of great sushi parlors and alternative department stores. I highlight my favorites, along with maps and photos, in my Tokyo shopping guide

As someone who travels a lot, what are some must-haves that you always keep in your bag? 
I always take both my iPhone and my DSLR camera -- I currently shoot with the Song A7 (alpha 7) mirrorless, and highly recommend it. It's a full frame DSLR, yet half the size and light, so I can easily carry it around. I also carry around big sunglasses, wallet, keys (decorated with a Nintendo Boo charm), tissue, eyelash glue, a small tube of lipstick, and sugar-free mints. 

Where is your favorite place that you've travelled to and why? 
It's impossible to name just one place, but the Maldives were pretty close to swept-away paradise. Other favorite adventures include absinthe ice cream in Prague, exploring theme restaurants and cat cafes in Tokyo, and attending the festival Wave Gotik Treffen in Germany. 

Absinthe ice cream sounds intense! What do you do in your free time when you’re not travelling? 
I snuggle my rotund Scottish Fold cat, Basil Farrow! He has his own blog at http://lacarmina.com/basilfarrow

La Carmina, Japan style blog, fashion TV host

La Carmina with Basil Farrow


He’s so cute!! Tell us about Basil Farrow. 
He's the most adorable, round-faced, tiny-eared Scottish Fold cat. (Ronan Farrow is his father, and actress Mia Farrow is his grandma!) Basil acts more like a dog or a baby lion than a regular kitty. He stays close to people, insists on belly rubs, and has a sixth sense about everything. 

It's obvious that you love your job, and as a fellow working girl who also loves her job, I'm curious-- do you ever have moments when work feels too much like work? If so, what do you do to relieve that? 
Unlike other fashion and travel bloggers, I've made a conscious decision to not blog in "real time". I think I do much better coverage by immersing myself fully in the experience, and then taking the time at home to write it up. I can't imagine rushing back to my hotel room and staying up til the wee hours, in order to put up my "look of the day." I also blog less frequently than I used to (every 4-7 days), but do more in-depth stories each time, and write posts in advance so I can just press "publish" during busy periods. By relieving myself of this time-crunch pressure, I'm able to maintain balance and release the best possible content. 

The time and effort that you spend on your posts definitely shows through. What has been your most memorable experience since the start of La Carmina? 
Being Andrew Zimmern's Tokyo co-host on Bizarre Foods (for Travel Channel) was a huge moment. He is absolutely lovely and we continue to be in close touch. You can see more of my travel TV host clips athttp://www.lacarmina.com/pirates

La Carmina, Japan style blog, fashion TV host

You write on your blog that your goal is to portray youth subculture in a positive light, why do you think that this is important? 
I think a lot of subcultures are unfairly misunderstood or portrayed, to the point that people are targeted and bullied. I understand that topics like extreme body mods and fetish parties can be controversial if you're unfamiliar with them. It's my goal to create a positive conversation, and hopefully make people think twice before coming to a judgment. 

I really appreciate that sentiment, and think that’s why so many people are able to relate to your posts. As a blogger, do you think that social media has changed youth subculture? 
Definitely. I see people around the world identifying with Japanese style tribes, wearing the clothes and living the lifestyle, even if they've never been to Tokyo. With social media, youths are now able to connect and share inspiration, no matter how niche their interests are. 

La Carmina, Japan style blog, fashion TV host

Okay, lightning round. Summarize what you do in 1 sentence. 
Alternative Asia fashion & culture blogger, travel TV host, pirate. 

Describe your style in 3 words. 
Gothic, Kawaii, Subculture. 

What do you wear on your day off? 
Pajamas! There are days when I'm just at home with my cat, writing and catching up on work. 

Fill in the blank: I can't leave the house without _____. 
My iPhone. 

When's your birthday and what's your sign? 
August 17th, and I'm a Leo. I think this sign fits me well, especially since I'm a notorious cat lady. 

What's your favorite hair color that you've ever rocked? 
I just changed my hair to a blue-purple-magenta ombre with vampire V-shaped bangs, and it's perhaps my favorite so far. I think I look best in cooler shades: purples, blues, reds. Not a big fan of yellow and oranges in my hair, although I've experimented with everything. 

List 3-5 Random facts about yourself that no one knows. 
1. I'm a direct descendent of Yuen Chonghuan, a Chinese Ming Dynasty military commander who defeated the Mongols, but was later betrayed and killed via Death by a Thousand Cuts. 
2. I enjoy filling out forms. 
3. I can sleep 14 hours straight, no problem. 
4. I've never had any cavities or broken bones, knock on wood. 

So, I’m sure our readers are dying to know-- what are going to wear to this years' holiday parties? 
Alice's Pig gave me a retro-inspired long blue dress, plaid skirt, and blue coat with a zig-zag button closure. I'm excited to wear these winter outfits, since they'll keep me warm and are edgy, yet not over-the-top. You won't be able to find these types of looks in typical malls. 

And finally what's your next career move, and what do you hope to accomplish next? 
I have something big up my sleeve... I can't reveal it yet, but my team and I have been working on this for a year, and we're about ready to launch. You'll be the first to know, once it's out! If you're intrigued, you can keep track of these updates at www.lacarmina.com/blog/ 

La Carmina is more than just a fashion enthusiast and travel TV host; she is also an advocate of alternative youth subculture. Her dedication to creating a positive dialogue about alternative culture, both with her own style and on her blog, is one of the many reasons why we- and so many others- love her work. Whether she’s trying on a dress or trying a bizarre food, La Carmina isn’t afraid to push the boundaries and always looks great while she’s doing it. 

We look forward to seeing what she does next. 

For more of La Carmina, visit: 

Site http://www.lacarmina.com/blog
Facebook http://facebook.com/lacarminaofficial
Instagram http://instagram.com/lacarmina 
Twitter http://twitter.com/lacarmina 
YouTube http://youtube.com/lacarmina 
Pinterest http://pinterest.com/lacarmina


All photos courtesy of La Carmina.

[By: Stephanie  Park] [Read More]

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Do You Know Your Rorschach Test Score?

Where do you fit in the feed? Social media is a Rorschach test that can reveal cracks in your brand’s foundation, argues Grant Van Sant.

Rorschach test | Source: Shutterstock

The fact that many established companies struggle with social media does not simply reflect their inability to learn new tricks. It reveals a deeper lack of self-knowledge. Social media is a test that challenges a company to answer the question: do you know how your brand fits into the minds of consumers?

You must satisfy a specific need in the lives of your audience. And in their feed, you must not only remind them of that role, but have the perspective to also address how you fit into their mental mosaic of hundreds of others brands. A Tweet, an Instagram, a Pin — these are all bite-size opportunities to connect and get consumers engaged with the world you offer. Ralph Lauren, for one, is a large, established brand that does this well. One of the key reasons is that the company has a deep understanding of exactly what its customers are buying from them: not the clothes, but the lifestyle — otherwise known as the brand. A brand is everything that is not actually for sale. Everything beyond the product.

These days, the fundamental difference between most products within a particular competitive set is negligible. If you did a blind test, wearing Nike on one foot and Adidas on the other, you would have a hard time telling the difference between the two. But with your eyes open, the difference is enormous. This is due to brand value. Abstract, but very real. What is your tone on Twitter? What is your palette on Pinterest? Where do you fit in the feed? Answering these questions requires really knowing your brand. It requires a level of abstraction and introspection that many companies struggle with.

This is nothing new. There have always been weak brands and strong brands. Whether in print, television or online, the strong have the ability to conjure and communicate their values across different media, while the weak fumble around awkwardly, consigning themselves into irrelevance. Social media is the canary in the coal mine. It is the mirror into which many companies look but see nothing looking back. This should spur a brand identity crisis, a furious struggle to recapture and restate the value that brought your company into existence in the first place. Look hard at the social media Rorschach test. It can reveal cracks in your brand’s foundation and personality. It is the psychologist’s couch on which all companies must lay their head to be judged.

[BY GRANT VAN SANT] [Read More]

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With social media’s reach more widespread than ever, it is not surprising that it has begun to change the way we buy fashion. This year ushered in two shopping trends that further blur the line between the virtual and physical worlds. These trends are the debut of social currency and social media becoming shoppable venues. 

Buying with Hashtags: Social Shopping in 2014

Shopping Through Instagram 

This year ushered in a big development in social shopping when brands became able to turn Instagram “likes” into opportunities to purchase actual products. The idea is to link people’s liking history with the products featured in photos. One of the early uses of this innovation was when Vogue teamed up with Like to Know to enable Vogue followers to buy items they see on Instagram by simply liking it. Major American retailers, Nordstrom and Target, also made use of the trend by launching Like2Buy with visual marketing and analytics company Curalate. 

Major fashion designers, Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs, also followed suit with their own shoppable Instagram stores in November of this year. 

Tweet Stores 

Following the shoppable social media channels trend, the development of social currency in the form of “likes,” tweets and Facebook statuses also emerged this year. Marc Jacobs started the idea in spring, with the launch of his new Daisy fragrance. A pop-up shop called the Daisy Tweet Store was opened in New York City, where only tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram tags were accepted as currency. These can be exchanged for actual products offered in the store. 

In November, OnePiece also created a pop-up store of their own in SoHo. This social experiment allowed shoppers to exchange social following for purchasing power. At this event, every 500 followers that the shopper had were equivalent to $1 and an added $20 may be awarded if the shopper shares images from the store using the hashtag,#socialcurrency until January. Participants of this experiment are able to earn up to $500 of social currency for use on the brand. 

Buying with Hashtags: Social Shopping in 2014

Location-Based Rewards 

The social shopping trends also found their way to London this fall with Liberty, one of the oldest multi brand boutiques in the industry. It teamed up with Tapestry to offer rewards based on the shopper’s Instagram likes and previous purchases. 

This system made use of the iBeacon technology. When a user enters the store with the Bluetooth turned on, they are notified of exclusive offers, gifts or reward points which can be redeemed at the checkout counters. Since the user’s Instagram likes are being tracked, the brand knows what to suggest without any previous purchase records. 

Technology has certainly come in leaps and bounds with the advent of social media. Brands and retailers have jumped on this bandwagon by creating tailor-made suggestions for customers and endorsing their brands through social media channels. In the information age, it is inevitable that more and more brands will use these innovative trends in the future -making our shopping experience simply a click on the “like” button. 

[By: Fashion One ] [Read More]

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Showpo's Big Social Media Win

Winner: Showpo

With 449,000 followers on Facebook, 429,000 on Instagram and 8000 on Twitter, Showpo’s numbers are impressive. But the online fashion retailer has taken out the best use of social media award not just for the number of its followers, but also for its engagement and innovation with its customers through social media. Showpo was founded by Jane Lu in 2010 and with revenue of $7.5 million last year it made it into SmartCompany’s Smart50 list. Canny use of social media has been key to ShowPo’s success as a business. 

“We are on many social media platforms but our two main channels are Facebook and Instagram,” says founder Jane Lu.

“That said, we have a new focus on YouTube and Snapchat as well.”

Lu says it is important to ensure that content on each platform is native to that platform and Showpo would never post the same thing on all its channels. She says ShowPo’s social media team posts frequently and ensure only great content is posted. Any ineffective posts are removed straight away.

“When deciding what to post my rule is: is this something we would want to share with my friends, as our whole team is in our target demographic,” Lu says.

Lu says Showpo uses analytics tools inbuilt into Facebook and Google and programs such as RJ Metrics to track cost per action and conversion. Showpo has also used growth hacking campaigns for a quick gain. In 2011, the company launched the Face of Showpo modelling competition on Facebook and its following grew from 3000 to 20,000. But Lu advises not to focus on selling but rather providing good content, as this is what builds and retains a community. Lu says you need to be patient and a persistent because understanding the “ins-and-outs” of using social media and how it will work for you takes time.

“Live and breathe social media,” she says.

“Don’t palm it off to an intern, you need to understand it for yourself. Use it to give your company a voice and make it personable.

“You need to cut through the noise and stick out in the crowd.”

Judge Catriona Pollard says ShowPo is leading the way by looking at growing platforms like SnapChat.

“I really loved the fact that they are really focused on online community and they really understand that online is community,” she says.

“I think the growth hacking concept is great as this can really bump up likes. 


Runner-up: Temple & Webster

 

Online furniture and homeware retailer Temple & Webster was founded by Brian Shanahan and Adam McWhinneyThe current website was launched in 2011 and took two months to build by its internal development team. McWhinney says a great website is built around knowing your business model and what drives it. Temple & Webster was last years’ winner for Best Blog, McWhinney says the business uses a variety of social media tools to both create and maintain a community around its brand.  He says key functions include getting content out there and keeping an “eye and ear” on good and bad feedback and what is being said about competitors.

“Get to know your customers every which you can through data, reports, surveys, observations, conversations, social media, customer care reports and anecdotal feedback,” McWhinney says.

Judge Catriona Pollard says Temple & Webster clearly understands that social media is a conversation and a relationship.

“A lot of product-based companies just fall into the trap of promoting their products,” she says.

Pollard also praised Temple & Webster for including video content in its social media offering, “which is so critical”.


Category judge: Catriona Pollard

[CARA WATERS, ELOISE KEATING, KIRSTEN ROBB AND KAREN COOMBS] [Read More]

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The first thing Lola Yerton did after hearing about Brandy Melville from her older sister Bella last summer was to pull up the clothing store’s Instagram (FB) account on her phone. It was love at first sight. There were photos of cool stickers and of clothes she saw herself wearing: T-shirts and sweaters, scarves and beanies. Now, six months later, the 11-year-old visits a few Brandy Melville pages every day—the company maintains different social media accounts for its various locations—looking for items to buy, either online or at the branch in Waikiki, Hawaii, where she lives.

“I like the look of the people that work there,” Lola says, adding that shopping is easy. “A lot of the clothes are one size.”

Brandy Melville is the hottest teen retailer you’ve never heard of—unless you’re a tween or teen girl like Lola or the parent of one. The company has 45 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and it’s growing. It moved into an 8,000-square-foot space in New York City’s SoHo last spring, doubling the size of its previous location.

Brandy Melville doesn’t do any traditional advertising. Storefronts carry discreet signage. The brand’s popularity is fed almost exclusively through social media buzz. It has 2.2 million followers on its main Instagram account, 65,000 followers onTwitter (TWTR), 218,000 “likes” on Facebook (FB), and a robust board on Pinterest.

The popularity of Brandy, as it’s affectionately known, is noteworthy given the recent poor showing of other teen stores. Delia’s (DLIA) said it will file for chapter 11 bankruptcy on Dec. 5. Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) will have closed 60 stores by the end of this year, andAéropostale (ARO) is shuttering 120 stores in the U.S. and Canada. “To me, the DNA of these brands has not evolved,” says teen trends forecaster Sarah Owen of WGSN in New York. “The junior girl consumes information faster than estimated, and product and brand images seem to be from 10 years ago.”

Brandy Melville doesn’t have those problems, and by setting trends, not chasing them, it’s winning over the coveted teen demographic. American teens spend an average of almost $3,000 annually—21 percent of that on clothing, followed by 20 percent on food, according to the latest Taking Stock With Teens survey from research company Piper Jaffray (PJC). The report shows Brandy Melville gaining favor among teen girls, especially online.

Instead of pushing branded merchandise (think Abercrombie logos on sweatshirts), the company sells clothing—loose T-shirts and long cardigans, flowing summer dresses and jeans—that presents shoppers with an opportunity to define their own look. “Brandy Melville is not a logo-oriented brand,” says Erinn Murphy, vice president and senior research analyst for global fashion and lifestyle brands at Piper Jaffray. “Style is more important,” she says. “It’s very basic styling with a unique approach to layering.” Brandy Melville didn’t respond to several requests for interviews.

Brandy Melville is all about knits. The color palette tends toward neutral: gray, black, white. There are stripes, some floral patterns, and lots of graphics, especially phrases on T-shirts, like “You Can’t Sit Here” and “C’Est La Vie.” The company makes every kind of T-shirt—short-sleeved, long-sleeved, fitted, cropped, tanks—ranging from $16 to the low $30s. Dresses are priced from $23 to $35, depending on the length. Sweaters sell for $40 to $60. There are short shorts for $17 and skirts that average $23. Almost everything in the store, except for the jeans and some other pants, come in one size—what Brandy Melville calls “one size fits most.”

Photograph by Molly Matalon for Bloomberg Businessweek

“Millennials want to tell stories and curate what they see,” WGSN’s Owen says. “This group is looking for something more editorial,” she says. The more the brand lets girls build their wardrobes, the broader the demographic they’ll capture, says Tiffany Hogan, a retail analyst with Kantar Retail (WPPGY) in Columbus, Ohio. “That’s the big difference today. Twelve-year-olds used to dress differently from 16-year-olds,” Hogan says. But today, more retailers are producing styles that blend together. “There’s no teen style vs. tween style—it’s all one.”

Brandy Melville is notoriously tight-lipped about its business. Press accounts note the company was founded in Italy in the early 1990s by Stephan Marsan and his father, Silvio, an Italian entrepreneur and manufacturing expert. Stephan’s LinkedIn page says he’s the owner of a company called Marsan & Marsan, at an address that’s listed on Brandy Melville’s website as its Santa Monica, Calif., store.

The company opened its first U.S. store in 2009, in Westwood, Calif.—the perfect base for fashion with a casual, carefree, West Coast sensibility. Brandy Melville stores are bright, with white walls and light wood floors. There’s seemingly little effort put into merchandising; much of the clothing hangs shapelessly or sits in tall piles on shelves.

Brandy Melville, NYC

Photograph by Molly Matalon for Bloomberg Businessweek

Retail analysts estimate the company’s annual sales are in the range of $125 million and growing from 20 percent to 25 percent each year. The brand has cultivated an aura of exclusivity, in part because of the limited sizing. Teens who are into the brand like the idea that the clothing isn’t for everyone. “One size doesn’t fit most,” says Doug Stephens, a retail consultant who’s written about the future of retailing. “That could turn people off.”

Amanda Groenendaal of Norwood, N.J., whose two daughters are Brandy Melville fans, agrees. “If you’re a girl that doesn’t fit that mold, or the parent of that girl, it’s got to be hard,” she says. Still, Groenendaal won’t stop her daughters from wearing the clothes. “They’re teens, so they might not think about it now, but I would hope that one day it would be on their mind,” she says.

Elizabeth Stewart, a celebrity stylist in Santa Monica who works with Cate Blanchett and Jessica Chastain and is the mother of 16-year-old Ivy Bragin, is also bothered by the limited sizing. “Women come in all shapes and sizes,” she says. “It’s hard to spin that.”

That dilemma could take care of itself. Teen tastes and trends change so fast, even Brandy Melville might have a hard time keeping up. Hogan of Kantar Retail says brands that are hot need a plan for keeping their fans once they’re not. “Exponential growth isn’t usually sustainable for a long time,” she says.

The bottom line: Social media has created a lot of buzz and plenty of sales for Brandy Melville; the trick will be keeping teens loyal.


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If you weren’t blogging...
I'd still be penning for print and online magazines, and documenting my experiences on social media! 

Describe your dream collabo.
Touring the world and seeing what it has to offer - all in luxury style. 

What’s Your Idea of Perfect Happiness?
Not having regrets, spending time with family and making the most of what you have. 

What is Your Greatest Fear?
Failure. 

Which Fashion Personality Most Inspires You?
Anna Dello Russo! More is more. 

What is Your Favorite Journey?
All of this is such a wonderful journey! I enjoy expanding my brand, meeting people from across the globe and connecting with my readers. 

What Words or Phrases Do You Most Overuse?
"I'm hungry."

What’s Your Must Read Fashion Mag?
In my books, VOGUE has never gone out of vogue. 

Besides Your Own, What’s Your Must Read Blog?
Business Of Fashion.

What is the Greatest Thing That’s Happened to You Since Blogging?
I've had countless of incredible experiences but Vanessa Hudgens personally giving my site and I a shout-out is probably the coolest. I adore her and it's so humbling that she thinks my style is rad. 

One Thing You Wish You Knew Before You Started Blogging.
Quality over quantity! 

What’s the one thing in your closet you’d never ever get rid of?
I would never think of getting rid of anything, please don't make me choose!
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Giving old or unwanted items a new lease of life by recycling or swopping them with others instead of throwing them away is becoming increasingly popular in Singapore. Thrift stores are reporting that they are seeing more young shoppers, as the quality of the items on sale improves. The stores rely on donations from the public. One such store called NEW2U is under The Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO). It rakes in an average of S$20,000 each month and all proceeds go to Star Shelter, a shelter for abused women, and other SCWO initiatives.

Most items in the shop go for between S$1 and S$5. Upmarket items can command up to S$300. The shop does not advertise but relies on word-of-mouth and a Facebook page. Apart from racks carrying a range of branded goods, one can also find unusual items, like a designer wedding gown. Donations typically increase as the year draws to a close, and more young shoppers are disregarding any stigma associated with pre-owned items. 

Ms Zhang Chen, an SCWO volunteer, said: "The fashion here caters to the young and so they enjoy that at a very good price. They can keep changing fashion because every time they buy something and bring it back to donate, they get a whole new wardrobe again." Young people visit thrift shops not just to find branded apparel, but also to pick up items which they can alter to suit their own fashion sense.

Ms Julia Lee Shi Jia, 17, a customer said: "I love to follow fashion bloggers from overseas. They seem to like thrift shops nowadays and they get really good stuff."

Ms Jasmine Chua Xianhui, 17, who also shops at thrift stores, said: “There are a lot of pretty good deals here. For example, there are brands like Topshop and Ralph Lauren and you can get them at good prices.”

At companies like MediaCorp, activities like Swapaholics, a one-for-one barter trade event, are growing in popularity. Staff members can swap items they no longer want with their colleagues. Into its 9th run, the event saw over 3,000 items collected over 10 days for swapping. The event discourages staff from purchasing new items unnecessarily, and teaches them to be more conscious of wastage. The success of this event has led to plans to host it on a larger scale, and it may even be opened to the public next year. 

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