Feeding the Hypebeast: Fashion, Depop, and the New Democracy of Influence

By Debbie Bray

“I bought some new Nikes the other day, I had to wait in line for a good few hours to get a hold of them” [Moderator: Oh yeah? How did they feel?] “I didn’t wear them mate…”

That’s from a twenty-something year old from North London we spoke to last month. He regularly spends his weekends standing in queues to buy limited edition clothing and merchandise. However, wearing them (at least, more than once or twice) is out of the question… so what’s the point?

Let me introduce you to the Hypebeast. According to Urban Dictionary the Hypebeast is a trend chaser, an icon emulator – a pejorative for someone who wants – no, needs – a particular leather jacket just because it appeared in the latest music video. However, the Hypebeast is also emblematic of a new kind of influencer that is making waves across the media industry.

The Hypebeast sits in the middle of some major trends operating in the UK media market. From the strengthening of personal brands among consumers, to an increased fluency of brands in the language of social media. However, what is most interesting is how the trend participates in a democratising of influence that has affected the fashion industry, and the entire media industry.

Taking a Share of the Voice

It’s clear that social media has a powerful impact on the choices consumers make and their aspirational looks/styles. At the end of a recent interview with a mum, one turned to me and began talking about body image:

‘Isn’t it crazy,’ she said, ‘Just how much influence social media has over what our daughters think of themselves? When I was her age, I wasn’t worrying about what I was going to wear to school– that just wasn’t on my mind at all…’

Her daughter is nine…

It isn’t just big-name celebrities setting the trends in 2017. In the past year or so there has been an increased emphasis on more varied, less-well-known sources. We’re finding more and more young girls talking about the influence of ‘Haul Videos’ (videos showcasing new purchases) from a number of amateur shoppers, or the whimsical – potentially toxic – glitter slime recipes from unnamed mums around the world. These aren’t single influencers who’re leading the conversation but mostly a series of vloggers who are all adding their distinct voices to a global conversation – and people are listening.

Depop – Curation and Influence

Depop is a site that thrives on distinct voices. With a user base of 6 million+, generating over 22,000 sales every day, Depop is where aspiring young Hypebeasts go to feast: an app that combines the curation of Pinterest, the visuals of Instagram, the retail of eBay and the pizzazz of ‘Rent a Swag’.

It works like this: as a user, you set up your own profile and post items you want to sell. Visually, the site design is ripped straight out of the Instagram playbook: Square images dominate the screen, with the bold prices beneath serving as the only text. Selling on Depop may begin as another lucrative side-hustle, but it quickly turns into something more.

Unlike traditional e-commerce sites, once you’ve sold an item it doesn’t disappear from your page. Instead, a bright yellow “SOLD” appears over those items that have been passed into the happy hands of eager buyers. This allows users to curate an enduring profile of themselves and their modish pursuits. Like on all social media platforms, users are encouraged to follow the profiles whose style they rate. Resultantly, a savvy Depop salesperson may quickly find themselves at the head of a passionate online audience that cares deeply about their style and fashion sense.

Where Does Fashion Fit?

It’s these audiences that have fashionistas around the UK nervous. Lucinda Chambers venting to fashion blog Vestoj after her 25 years helming British Vogue highlights the anxieties of an industry under pressure from powerful outside forces: namely, social media. In particular, it is the ability of these sites to offer niche experiences that reflect the nuanced lives of modern consumers – something that established high-gloss magazines would struggle to emulate in their current format.

Chambers’ worry is reiterated by Professor Frances Corner, head of the London College of Fashion, in an interview for the Guardian:

“Fashion is now far more democratic. There is no one bible and there is a marked shift in the way we consume fashion: the sources of our inspiration are increasingly fragmented and tailored to more specific audiences”

This fragmentation is abundantly clear on Depop, where posting to the site is as much a fashion shoot as an ad placement. Profiles range from normcore street shoots to “Handpicked Vintage” and abstract, neon creations – tastes collide in a wonderful cacophony of colour and style. And those with distinct tastes are rewarded with followers in the tens of thousands.

Going Forward

So where do brands (fashion or otherwise) go from here? Addressing the fragmenting landscape head on, Glamour’s August issue was devoted entirely to Instagram influencers that capture the ‘many forms’ of beauty on the platform. At the same time, media brands across the UK are turning to YouTube and podcasts to scope out new and engaging talent for their programmes. As the media landscape continues to break up, brands will need to continually reassess how they are engaging with these new communities – and how new and distinct influencers (like the Hypebeasts) can power up their offering in the future.

Hook Research is a media research and content development agency. We are proud to provide consumer insights and brand strategy to some of the biggest organisations across media, youth, and entertainment all over the world. Want to have a chat about how we can help your business? Get in touch at enquiries@hookresearch.co.uk