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The Business of Fashion

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How to Keep Up With TikTok’s Lightning-Fast Trend Cycle

Fashion aesthetics such as “coastal grandma” and “coconut girl” can rise and fall in a matter of weeks on the social media platform. Brands looking to be a part of the next big trend must move quickly, but carefully.
The "coastal grandma" aesthetic is the latest look to take over TikTok
The "coastal grandma" aesthetic is the latest look to take over TikTok (Stylight)

Key insights

  • TikTok has given rise to a number of niche fashion trends, such as "coastal grandma" and "cottagecore" that can rise and fall at a quick pace.
  • Searches for linen pants increased 66 percent in May on Poshmark, thanks to “coastal grandma,” while searches for pleather bodysuits spiked 83 percent on Google during late March, just as videos featuring “fetishcore,” flooded TikTok.
  • Brands should evaluate which trends already work with their own DNA and incorporate them into the faster-moving parts of their business, like social media marketing.

According to TikTok, the hottest style right now is “coastal grandma,” inspired by relaxed, oceanside minimalism and lots of linen. Before that, it was “indie sleaze” — a hipster look of plaid shirts, beanies and leggings under dresses. And before that, it was “twee,” a retro-feminine style heavy on Peter Pan collar shirts and colourful tights. Tomorrow, it might be “royalcore,” “night luxe” or “Miley Stewart summer.”

Keeping up with TikTok fashion can feel impossible. Trends move at lightning speed, and while some terminology becomes a permanent fixture in fashion’s evolving lexicon, others disappear with a swipe.

But with a user base of nearly 1.8 billion, designers and merchandisers at all sorts of brands feel compelled to pay attention to what’s trending on the platform. J.Crew, for instance, promoted its linens using the “coastal grandma” Instagram hashtag in May; the post saw some of the highest engagement that month, said chief marketing officer Derek Yarbrough. Aéropostale and River Island have used the term “cottagecore” — a countryside-inspired aesthetic featuring floral, ruffled-covered garments — in their email blasts, while Asos and The Iconic have name-checked “indie sleaze” on their websites. Aerie even has its own “coastal grandma” edit page on its website, which includes linen cover-ups and straw hats.

TikTok trends and their associated sales bump, however, can be fleeting. Crochet products, huge on the platform this past spring, experienced a 23 percent decline in sell-outs at the end of April compared to last year, according to Edited. By the end of the season, many were heavily discounted.

To effectively capitalise on TikTok trends, brands should identify which quirky aesthetic speaks to their DNA and would work in their marketing materials — and which they should sit out.

“There are so many trends happening at the same time so you need to understand how your brand fits,” said TikTok trend forecaster Agus Panzoni. “There’s a real danger in over-investing in something that will not sell for you.”

Why TikTok Aesthetics Take Off

TikTok trend aesthetics are something of an evolution from people looking to magazines for style inspiration — only TikTok users can participate in their creation rather than consuming fully formed looks chosen by an editor.

“TikTok is tribe mentality and when you’re attached to a [subsculture] that’s niche, it has massive consumer power,” said Benji Park, a TikTok forecaster and brand consultant.

Experts are quick to note that most TikTok trends aren’t new. Eileen Fisher, for example, has sold “coastal grandma”-esque breezy linen and beachy wide-legged pants for decades. The “coconut girl” aesthetic, inspired by surf and island themes, was on shelves at Delia’s and other tween stores in the mid-aughts. TikTok has inspired some more-adventurous trends too: searches for pleather bodysuits spiked 83 percent on Google during late March, just as videos featuring “fetishcore,” or dominatrix-inspired apparel, were flooding the social platform.

Gen-Z is embracing these styles on TikTok because they are packaged with whimsical names and sociological explanations, said Panzoni. On Poshmark, searches for linen pants increased 66 percent in May, thanks to “coastal grandma,” said Chloe Baffert, Poshmark’s senior manager of merchandising and curation. Requests to Stitch Fix stylists for white linen staples were also up 15 percent since last year, while surf and island-inspired requests jumped 26 percent as the “coconut girl” wave crested.

“It’s a great way to attract the Gen-Z customer because they are the ones fuelling the trends, and they [appreciate] the humour and style shifts,” said Kayla Marci, a market analyst with Edited.

Working With TikTok Aesthetics

Many digital-first brands have built their entire business model on churning out TikTok-inspired styles. Legacy labels, however, are still figuring out their own ways to incorporate TikTok aesthetics into their merchandising and marketing.

Earlier this summer, Forever 21 launched a rebrand and brought TikTok influencers like China McClain, Griffin Johnson and Olivia Holt into its design and trend forecasting process, said CMO Jacob Hawkins.

“When you used to go into [Forever 21] stores, it would just be an ocean of assortment, but it’s much more curated now,” said Hawkins, who added that the company’s social, marketing, and design teams all work together now. “There’s more of a conversation with influencers happening there than ever before, and all that feedback is plugged into what we’re designing and buying.”

Brands like Revolve and J.Crew, on the other hand, are evaluating how to highlight existing merchandise that works with a TikTok trend. Revolve plans to use the “corporate cutie” aesthetic, which promotes workwear attire, as more professionals head back to the office, said Raissa Gerona, Revolve’s chief brand officer.

“It’s a dangerous game to play, to chase something, because everything moves so quickly,” said Gerona. “So instead of chasing a trend on TikTok with a buy, it’s more, ‘what do we already have on the website that can accommodate this.’”

Park said it’s better for brands to use TikTok subcultures in faster-paced social media marketing, rather than banking entire wholesale orders or advertising campaigns on a trending look.

“Balletcore is really big now, so shoot a gorgeous video in pointe shoes, or if it’s cabincore, take us to the mountains,” said Park. “But there’s no use in selling your soul to the devil for a million knitwear jumpers that you think are going to break off because they’re crocheted with nipples.”

Trending With Caution

Park said most TikTok trends run in “90-day cycles,” with a life span of six months at most. Crucial to keeping up with trending TikTok aesthetics is understanding their nuances and why shoppers are flocking to the look.

“It’s always good to understand the mentality of who is driving this trend,” said Panzoni. “What’s the emotion that comes behind it? What are the societal shifts that have taken us here? If you understand the narrative, then you can understand how to market a trend and also decide if it’s right for you.”

For brands that might not feel comfortable aligning with trendy aesthetics, there are still other ways to activate on TikTok. Gerona said Revolve has found success promoting products on TikTok with the Get Ready With Me (#GRWM) format, where influencers and celebrities are using makeup and outfits to get ready while talking about a particular topic. Telsha Anderson-Boone, owner of luxury New York boutique T.A., said she avoids TikTok aesthetics and instead uses viral TikTok sounds to promote her store.

“I think the biggest thing is just remaining consistent,” said Anderson-Boone. “When you focus on a niche, it’s hard to shift when something else comes along, but if you are true to your branding within these platforms, you’re able to live anywhere.

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