How Fashion Propelled Instagram's Growth

Though the fashion industry forged an early love affair with Instagram when it first hit the scene in 2010 — thanks largely to the platform’s refined aesthetic and aspirational tone — the relationship hasn’t cooled.

This year, more than 150 million people experienced fashion month through the lens of Instagram, a three-fold increase from 50 million users the year before. Despite it’s success, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom and designer Marc Jacobs never anticipated they would be on a stage together discussing Instagram’s role in transforming fashion, and vice-versa.

The pair, speaking on a panel at Vogue’s inaugural Forces of Fashion conference on Thursday, discussed how Instagram’s stronghold on fashion has strengthened over the years. Now, with the addition of features like Instagram Stories, Instagram Live and products tags (making featured items shoppable), fashion brands have even more incentive to engage with the platform than ever before.

Systrom said a major focus for Instagram moving forward will be advancing offerings like the poll sticker it launched last week. Users can add polls to Instagram Stories in order to get feedback in real time, by asking questions and setting the response parameters. For brands, this could be a helpful tool to collection customer feedback, and companies including Alice + Olivia have already started using the sticker to glean insight.

“[Polling has] gone nuts. Everybody is using it, and people are posting [to Stories] way more that they used to,” he said. “What we realized is a ‘like’ is a form of feedback, but so too is answering a question. We’re going to be doing a lot more of that — more than just judging whether or not a photo is good, but getting feedback from customers, friends, fans and family.”

Kyle Wong, CEO of visual marketing platform Pixlee, said that as early adopters, fashion and beauty brands have become leaders in assisting in the evolution of Instagram. Additions like polling allow users to “become tastemakers,” he said, by weighing in on queries on style and silhouette.

“Creating a two-way dialogue, where followers can vote on things like which style, outfit, shoe or color they prefer, will be an incredibly powerful way for fashion brands to engage with and grow their communities,” he said.

Jacobs, despite being a self-proclaimed luddite, has made waves of his own on through both his personal (840,000 followers) and his brand (6.7 million) accounts. His New York Fashion Week show was the third-most-buzzed-about on the platform, according to Instagram. His focus on Instagram strategy is a significant departure from the early days of the platform, when he decried it to be a distraction at his shows.

“I was really frustrated that I was offering a life experience which I worked on for months, only to have everybody holding up an iPad or an iPhone, and not actually experiencing something live,” he said. “One of the reasons I was such a late-comer to Instagram is because I consider social media [to be] anti-social media.”

Jacobs himself didn’t even personally join the platform until 2015, enlisting his digital team to man the Marc Jacobs brand account for years. (It now has more than six million followers.) Today, Jacobs has acquired a reputation of being outlandish and outspoken on the platform. He confessed at the Vogue Forces of Fashion conference that in his early days on the platform, he accidentally posted a photo of his bare butt for several hours. He thought he was sending it to a man he was flirting with via direct message.

This “anti-social media,” now has 800 million users, nearly twice the population of the United States, said Systrom. Systrom — who got his start at Odeo, the company that eventually became Twitter — said that while he never anticipated fashion’s fervent following of Instagram, it feels organic, given that he was inspired to create it because of his affinity for imagery over words.

“[Odeo] didn’t feel like it was home for me because I didn’t feel like I was someone who was funny. I didn’t say quippy little things like a lot of people do; the way I communicated was with the pictures I was taking,” he said. “At the time, I would lug a big camera everywhere and share photos on Tumblr with my friends. I wanted to be able to communicate with an image. I didn’t want to say anything.”

This nugget of an idea grew into Instagram, aided by the explosion of smartphones that paired high-quality cameras with mobile internet. Now, Systrom said, Instagram has been focused on developing its capabilities to best serve users ranging from the average user to brands and businesses that are using it to sell products.

“The fashion world took advantage of it because, like me, its visual. Like me, its art and its work is visual. The two of those combined led to a natural marriage,” Systrom said.