To say that digital media has fully engulfed the fashion industry may be an understatement. Name a brand, and they're on Instagram, using the platform diligently - often with a whole department of dedicated, tech-saavy PRs - to promote their runway shows, campaigns, and products to millions. The same goes for bloggers, our generation's new archetype of celebrity, whose hundreds of thousands of devotees shadow their every move on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.
These statements are a well-known reality, with Instagram even bringing home this year's Fashion Media Award from the Council of Fashion Designer's of America (CFDA). What's more is that with the change of focus from traditional fashion media to digital promotions, the average consumer of messages from Burberry, Balmain, or Fendi, looks very different than it did, say, 10 years ago. Chiefly, young women are those who use Instagram the most, with 23% of teen girls being active users, according to a Pew Research Center report earlier this year. Where fashion has historically been reserved for wealthy housewives who subscribed toVogue, style bloggers and "social media models" have saturated the feeds of teenage girls globally, shifting the tide towards an increasingly younger industry. Whether they really care about the fashion world or not, almost all of my female friends follow at least a couple of models or style influencers on social media, citing these glamorous women as lifestyle, career, or visual aspirations.
That being said, we tend not to notice the poignant power that comes with our deeply-rooted connection to fashion. The beauty of digital media is that the conversation is never one-sided; followers have the immediate, indefinite ability to respond to the content that brands and influencers put out, through the choice to 'like' a post or not, or with the addition of an insightful and opinionated comment. With a staff of writers exclusively in their teens and twenties, we at Couturesque have the ability to write about issues in the industry that concern us, be it Shailee's response to seeing the bindi worn as a music festival accessory, or Ian's thoughtful analysis of LGBTQ+ rights on and off the runway. The youth of today, in general, have used the Internet to project their voices around the world, and with the increase of fashion media consumption amongst this demographic, it would be nonsensical to suggest that the fashion industry isn't evolving as well.
Amandla Stenberg is just one of the many teens who have used their large social media followings (247,000 on Twitter and 399,000 on Instagram) to comment on the social and cultural landscape of fashion. The 16 year-old actress and filmmaker, known for playing Rue in The Hunger Games, drew headlines earlier this year when her video about cultural appropriation ("Don't Cash Crop on My Cornrows") reached over 1 million views and sparked a heated discourse on the expropriation of marginalized cultures in fashion and music. This month, she covers Dazed&Confused with the words of Black Panther activist Angela Davis drawn on her face, using her prominence in the fashion magazine to discuss the treatment and representation of black women in media. Among Stenberg's close friends is Tavi Gevinson, who founded Rookie Magazine at the age of 15, and stirred things up at fashion week by wanting to discuss intersectional feminism while seated in the front row. And then there is Gevinson's long-time friend and collaborator, Petra Collins, a 22 year-old feminist Canadian photographer whose work has been featured in NYLON, Vogue Italia,and i-D.
Despite their glaring creativity and intellect, the discussion of adolescent female voices in fashion rarely features any of these women. Flip through the average magazine and while yes, young girls are given prominent column inches, these are most commonly reserved for the Hadid sisters, or the daughters of famous actors who have decided to take up modelling. While I don't mean to gang up on them for capitalizing on these opportunities, or for not having a resumé like Tavi's or Petra's, it's unfortunate that few of fashion's most powerful young women use their position to make a mark on the industry, or to at least recognize its downfalls (hint: racism, sexism, environmental costs, elitism, body image pressures, etc).
For one, Amandla notably called out Kylie Jenner this July for posting a photo on Instagram wearing cornrows with the caption "I woke up like disss." This came after Kylie had been accused of donning blackface in a photoshoot a few months earlier, and had caused offense by wearing dreadlocks shortly before that. Where Amandla has used the Internet to make her followers aware of the issues, often pertaining to fashion, that make her feel marginalized, Kylie's 32 million Instagram followers are fed images that subvert this advocacy. As a young women with heaps of press attention, a Balmain ad campaign under her belt, and a TeenVoguecover, her privilege as a prominent patron of the fashion industry has not been used to better it. (It's ironic too that Kylie's following as a white woman sporting black features is that much larger than that of Amandla's).
Where the fashion industry has so much to gain from tapping into the power of its intelligent young fans with ideas and aspirations, the young women with the biggest audiences don't seem to care about changing things. Perhaps for someone like Kylie Jenner to give into the pressure and use her platform to lift up those who don't share her very long list of privileges, seems frightening - these bright young women with loud voices, discussing intricately nuanced issues, are only getting louder, and to give way to their protests might risk losing some of her fame to them as well.
But the fact that there is pressure to begin with - exhibit A: the comments on any controversial Instagram photo, whether it be from @kyliejenner or @dsquared2 - is proof that our power is very real, and very important. With our newfound role as fashion's key market, teenage girls are only just beginning the reformation.
IMAGE VIA AMANDLA STENBERG / INSTAGRAM