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NEW YORK — Wool-industry executives from around the world attending the “2012 Fashion + Retail Market Report: What’s Working Now and Why” seminar were given wide-ranging insight into the U.S. market.

This story first appeared in the May 22, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Presented by Woolmark International and WWD as part of the 81st International Wool Textile Organization Congress, the event included fashion and business trends for the wool growers, spinners, weavers and manufacturers that filled the theater at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in Times Square, but the overriding topic was social media.

Speakers at the May 8 seminar discussed how social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, is changing the way brands and companies market themselves, how designers interact with their customers through it and how goods can be sold on it.

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Designer Christian Siriano said, “Social media has definitely become a part of my everyday life over the past few years. I constantly share news and thoughts with my fans and followers on Twitter and Facebook several times a day. Doing so has been such an amazing new way to connect and converse with my customers.”

Siriano, a “Project Runway” winner, said being a fashion designer in this age of digital sophistication has afforded him the luxury to connect with customers on a more personal level and on a daily basis.

“I love being able to share my journey and give a behind-the-scenes look at what we’re doing and working on through my social-media networks,” he said. “For those keeping track, I currently have over 324,000 followers on Twitter and over 72,000 fans on Facebook. In addition, social-media channels are also a great way for me to learn what my customers want to see, what they are loving and what is trending. It has certainly been helpful for me as a designer, and is such a quick and easy way to gather information. Most all of the fashion magazines, blogs and writers are on Twitter as well, so it’s an amazing way to connect with them, keep them updated on what I’m working on, and also for me to stay updated on what they are looking for and responding to.”

Siriano said he finds the most responses are generated when he shares something personal with followers, gives them a preview of his collection or engages them by asking a question or for their opinions.

“The point of connecting through social media is that it’s a conversation, and if followers feel like they aren’t being heard or acknowledged, they will lose interest,” he said. “In addition to wanting to follow the news of a brand or designer, people really utilize social media in order to feel a direct connection to a person or brand that they love.”

Siriano said he also relies on in-store experiences such as trunk shows at Neiman Marcus, noting that he “always attends the trunk shows, as well as the sales meetings, so that I can get to know the managers at each store carrying our line.

“Events like these are still so important, and I feel that they are just as valuable as ever, but it is the combination of these in-person interactions and social-media conversations that make my experiences and relationships with customers that much more powerful,” he said. “For example, as a result of promoting a past trunk show on Twitter, I ended up connecting with a new customer, and she showed up to the trunk show and purchased her first dress from my collection. It is instances like this that prove to me the incredible role that social media plays in continuing to grow our loyal customer base.”

Rachel Roy also emphasized the important role that social media plays in her company and in helping her understand what her customer wants.

Roy said starting a secondary line for Macy’s presented challenges because it has many more deliveries and style choices than her designer line, yet she doesn’t want to create anything that is not inspiring. Roy said she gets vital feedback on both her collections from personal appearances in stores and from social media such as Twitter and Facebook. For instance, customers let her know what fabrics work within their lifestyles, and the prices they want to pay.

“The customers need value, and for that garment to work for them in various situations, to be versatile,” Roy said. “The wear and tear of fabrics is important — does it travel, does it wrinkle, does it need to be dry-cleaned?”

Chris Pyne, chief strategy officer for advertising agency MediaCom, said, “Because of the impact of the financial crisis and the continuous rise of digital marketing, firms are pressuring their marketing organizations to ensure that investments in all marketing channels are more measurable, accountable and transparent. More than ever, senior marketers have to demonstrate a direct link with business results and positive ROI for their entire marketing budget.”

Pyne said nearly two-thirds of chief marketing officers think return on marketing investment will be the primary measure of the marketing function’s effectiveness by 2015, based on a recent IBM study. But he warned that it’s as difficult to measure that ROI as it is to choose the best channel for the brand’s marketing.

“With new digital channels comes an abundance of rich but complex data sources that marketers need to translate into coherent metrics,” he said. “In 2009, individual consumers created more data than in the entire history of mankind through 2008. Vendors need to integrate current and emerging data streams into their mix models and help marketers interpret them to inform actionable business decisions.”

Pyne said there are a number of interrelated factors that influence a brand’s marketing success.

“It is everything from your nonmedia drivers, such as seasonality and holidays, to media tactics and even competitive spend,” he added. “The complexity required to gather all of the various component data feeds and conduct analysis leads us to develop a scaled data and analytics solution.”

Linda Fargo, senior vice president, fashion office and store presentation, at Bergdorf Goodman, gave a slide show presentation featuring important looks she identified for the upcoming season.

In colors, Fargo cited dark greens, dark blues and purples as keys for fall, as well as a group she called “iced pastels” for the more daring woman. In shapes, she noted peplums, high-neck looks and volume were important, while head-to-toe prints and engineered motifs could come into play for those looking to be more outgoing.

Overall silhouettes that should be strong for fall included military, “romantic heroines,” “borrowed from the boys” and “crossover looks that mix contemporary styling with designer sophistication and fabric selection.

Asked by one audience member if wool was important for fall, Fargo said it was part of the mix but challenged the wool industry to come up with lighter-weight fabrics and to work more closely with designers, brands and retailers on product development.


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