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Fast fashion's love affair with reality TV

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After a summer dominated by powerhouse show Love Island, Drapers explores the growing influence of reality TV over fast fashion

Following eight weeks of sunburn and romance, reality matchmaking juggernaut Love Island drew to a close at the end of last month. The televised search for love among gym-toned singles, which aired six nights a week on ITV2, rapidly became something of a national obsession. Almost 4 million dedicated fans tuned in to watch the finale and the show also left its mark on the UK fashion industry. Fast fashion retailers such as Primark, In The Style and Missguided have been quick to recognise the programme’s power, selling products emblazoned with its catchphrases.

And it is not just Love Island. As the nation’s infatuation with reality TV shows no signs of waning, an increasing number of brands and retailers are teaming up with the genre’s rising stars in a bid to connect with customers.

These freshly famous faces can have a tangible impact on trends and crucially, sales. Love Island contestants Megan Barton Hanson and Wes Nelson generated more than 50,000 searches for their outfits over the series’ two-month run, fashion search platform Lyst reports. Manchester-based young fashion retailer Missguided launched a product placement partnership with Love Island this summer, dressing female contestants in its casual, summer, festival and going-out ranges. Male cast members donned the brand’s menswear line, Mennace. The partnership appears to have paid dividends. A crocheted patchwork midi-dress worn by the show’s eventual winner, Dani Dyer, experienced a sales uplift of more than 9,000%. Similarly, a white crocheted jumper worn by Barton Hanson experienced a sales spike of 1,060% and achieved a 98% sell-through rate.

Internet traffic tracker Hitwise reports Love Island fans drove a 97% increase to Missguided’s website over the two months the show aired, and fellow fast fashion retailers Boohoo, Shein, Oh Polly, PrettyLittleThing and Nasty Gal all also received spikes in traffic. 

Reality show participants ascend to star status very quickly

Emily Gordon-Smith, Stylus

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Former TOWIE star Megan McKenna launched her line with Little Mistress

“When you see how a reality TV series like Love Island can dominate peoples’ lives and conversations for a whole summer, it makes complete commercial sense to attach your brand to that,” explains Emily Gordon-Smith, director of consumer product at Stylus. “The fact that this is a young, actively engaged audience makes it even more a compelling a reason to collaborate. Reality show participants ascend to star status very quickly and the speed at which they gain attention is unprecedented in traditional and digital media. Working with these stars enables fashion retailers to tap into the zeitgeist and become culturally relevant very quickly. Primark is a great example of this in play. The fast fashion retailer has been incredibly clever in its leveraging of Love Island catchphrases, turning ‘I’ve got a text’ or ‘I sell pens’ into T-shirts in a matter of days.”

Fast fashion retailer Quiz has also recognised the power of working with reality TV stars, teaming up with The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) stars Lauren Pope, Chloe Lewis and Dan Edgar on a clothing collection earlier this year. Earlier this month, Quiz launched a “honeymoon capsule collection”, selected by 2016 Love Island finalists and soon-to-be newlyweds Olivia Buckland and Alex Bowen (lead image). Standout pieces from the 40-piece collection include a striped tailored suit and sequinned fishtail gown.

Growing awareness

“For us, as with all influencer activity, it is about awareness and reach,” explains Quiz head of marketing Lesley Morton. ”Reality TV allows us to be part of a huge narrative and a huge social conversation. A big part of our social media strategy is social listening and looking to see what is engaging our followers and what they’re buzzing about. Shows like Love Island and TOWIE, the [UK’s] longest-running reality TV show, really allow us to be part of that social conversation. Working with these shows also gives us a huge amount of fresh content that keeps our marketing emails and social channels alive.”

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TOWIE’s Lauren Pope and Dan Edgar for Quiz

Mina Melikova, chief executive of occasionwear brand Goddiva, which has launched two collections with The Hills and Made in Chelsea star Stephanie Pratt, agrees: “Reality stars are popular among the girls who are our customers – they are admired by young women who follow their style. Stephanie is a great ambassador for our brand and has a large social media following, so when she wears our dresses on her social channels, her fans become our customers.”

Pratt, who stresses that a good relationship between brands and reality influencers is key to a successful collaboration, adds: “Reality tv stars are more attainable than most tv stars and I believe there is an element of ‘this girl can to’ [among customers.] Because of the growing attention that influencers have, their styles and trends are becoming more of a conversation. Brands within the fashion industry want to be part of that. Those who admire a particular star or are big fans of a show can also feel more connected by styling themselves like their favourite influencers.”


All retailers have to be careful about making sure they stand out

Lesley Morton, Quiz

Quiz’s Morton adds that retailers must be careful to tap into different audiences and have a clear point of difference when working with reality stars: “This area is saturated with other fashion brands because everyone wants a piece of the pie and all retailers have to be careful about making sure they stand out. We concentrated on our USP, which is that we’re very focused on occasionwear and dresses for those special occasions such as weddings and graduations.”

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Pete Wicks at the Hermano launch

Going their own way

At the same time, reality TV stars are using their growing platforms as a springboard to create their own fashion brands. Little Mistress Group has collaborated with Megan McKenna, a former TOWIE star, on her new womenswear brand, Studio Mouthy, which launches at the end of this month. Fellow TOWIE star Tommy Mallet started his eponymous footwear brand in 2015 from his spare bedroom – it is now stocked by Selfridges, Flannels and Choice. Pete Wicks, another TOWIE alumnus, unveiled his menswear brand, Hermano, which is stocked by JD Sports, last month.

“Reality TV can be a great platform, which is why we’re seeing big brands using stars for modelling campaigns or launching collections,” Wicks tells Drapers. “Retailers can jump on reality TV stars social media influence – it is such an easy way to help get a brand out there. However, I wanted something away from TOWIE that was mine and stood alone. This isn’t something that was just thrown together. We wanted to create something affordable and the product speaks for itself.”

Love Island may be over for another year, but the influence of reality TV and its stars looks set to stay. Working with the right famous faces allows retailers to become part of their customers’ cultural obsession, providing a fresh way to connect with young shoppers. But as more and more fast fashion retailers look for a slice of the action, smart brands will need to focus on original, innovative campaigns and clever collaborations that cut through the noise.

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