Online Fashion Explosion: The Growth of Cheap & Cheerful E-Tailers

Boohoo.com’s recent expansion into menswear under the brand of BoohooMan marks a pivotal point in the industry for low-end, fashion e-commerce. The launch comes only a few months after being named the UK’s second largest ‘online only’ retailer/ ‘e-tailer’ after market leaders ASOS. But it seems Boohoo.com is not the only e-tailer enjoying extremely fast year-on-year growth.

For me personally, it was only in the last 6 months or so did the rise of cheap and cheerful online fashion really start to make some significant inroads. From TV adverts, to blogger endorsements and entertainment sponsorship, these e-tailers are becoming the favoured places to feed the market’s addiction for fast, disposable, but highly on-trend fashion.

Turn back the clock to only about 3 years ago and Primark was perhaps the sole, go-to place for these cheap purchases. Now even Primark is using ASOS for its online channel. The traditional stigma that online shopping can be a hassle due to varying fit of garments and products looking starkly different to its images (a particular issue when it comes to cheaply-made clothes), has certainly made a critical shift in consumer perception. But why has this changed? What has increased buyer’s confidence in online shopping for cheap fashion? Is it the increased marketing and exposure through celebrities and bloggers? Is it because e-tailers are getting better at providing quality online shopping experiences? Well, it’s both. But I must also tout the power of social media in particular as a key driver behind these two factors.

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Above: TV presenter Laura Whitmore posts Instagram photos of herself wearing dresses from Motel and snapped in Motel at a red carpet event.

We only have to look at Instagram to see the hundreds of fashion hashtags and tagging of ‘people’ in posts to see the impact of this. Ingeniously, companies can now be ‘tagged’ in Instagram photos, which means users can be taken directly to a brand’s Instagram account, therefore directing traffic towards the final shopping sites and increasing potential sales. As a fashion and business enthusiast myself, I believe this is only the start of an exciting emerging area of the market. This opens up incredible digital monetization opportunities and the need for new analytics tools to be deployed. RewardStyle for example, has already eyed this concept by offering a digital marketing tool that does exactly this, for top-tier publishers. You can see the tool in action on Olivia Palermo’s blog site.

What companies will have to bear in mind however, is the over use of web tools that could clutter a user’s social media experience. Whilst it’s convenient to provide customers with a way to instantly shop for clothing they like, from the moment they see it on a friend’s/ style blogger’s/ celebrity’s photo; users also like following images and blog posts for the simple reason of appreciating photography. And if photography becomes overcrowded with tags and ‘what-not’, the user experience could potentially be negatively impacted and back fire.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how this exciting explosion of cheap and cheerful fashion e-tailers develops in the near future. Whether the fast growth is only for the short-term, I think we can expect a definite change in future shopping habits and social retail media experiences.

Here is a list of the most popular e-tailers and my verdict so far:

  • Boohoo – I have only purchased 3 dresses from here so far. Quality is on par with Primark, but on average the dresses are cheaper and the styles are much better in my opinion. Primark has a knack for making garments too ‘on-trend-heavy’. I love this Paisley ‘Liberty-esque’ printed shift dress (purchased in blue/green):

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  • Missguided – the fabric of most of the dresses and tops are very thin. But their basics collection in particular is very good for stocking up on staple minis, vests, crop tees and those easy-to-wear skater dresses. I particularly like the ‘Sweet Deal’ Missguided is currently running, with items from £2.99.

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  • Pretty Little Thing – this is very similar to Missguided in not just the website feel and layout, but in terms of categorisation of basics and trends. But personally I think it lacks in design and originality (of course all these sites follow the same ‘trends’ but some do manage to design items with a slight twist and less predictability) in comparison.
  • Glamorous – this also sells higher-end dresses from boutique brands, which is great if you are looking for something different but don’t want to risk that high-street, Topshop clash with someone at the party. Dresses and basics here are generally extremely cheap (£4-£15 average) and the trend edits are particularly good. Keeping with the popular cami trend, I recommend some of these cross-back, printed styles:

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  • Motel – this is by far the best in terms of quality, however it is slightly more expensive than the other sites on average (£40 for a dress rather than £20-£25). Motel has actually been around much longer than the majority of these other clothing brands and technically is not an online-only retailer. Its clothing is also sold in boutiques across the UK. My favourite pick of the week:

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And just huge thank you to Millie Mackintosh’s amazing style diary for redirecting me to some of these great e-tailers! If you haven’t discovered Millie’s inspiring fashion blog yet, where have you been? I love how it is testament to my belief that fashion is all about being able to pick out the right pieces – no matter your budget, the brand and where you buy it from. It’s also great to see a style icon mixing high-end with low-end, despite clear financial advantages! Some of my favourite Millie looks, incorporating cheap fashion e-tailers are below:

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That Wedding in Singapore

The sun beamed with intensity as we walked under a pure, blue Singaporean sky towards Marymount, to attend the morning tea ceremony of my dear cousin and his beautiful bride. It was a bright morning. Just like every other one had been in Singapore, where the sunlight was strong all you saw was white. And the soaked backs of men’s shirts was a reminder of the usual humidity.

But despite the unbearable heat, the groomsmen and bridesmaids successfully conducted the traditional Chinese ‘gate crashing’ in style and the bride nevertheless emerged in the most stunning ‘kai po’ I have seen to date. The tailor-made dress had an incredible lace back (think the high quality crochet type) which fitted her perfectly. Of all chinese kai po’s I have seen, this one is the closest to the stunning design worn by Hong Kong model Kathy Chow. Needless to say, I immediately noted down the name of the tailor!

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Several hours after the warming buffet at the bride’s lovely home, where some of the best local Singaporean food was served (although 90% of it was super hot and spicy, and by this point of my holiday I was desperately craving something that wasn’t) it was time to get ready for the main wedding ceremony held at the great Raffles Hotel.

At first it seemed doubtful that we would watch the happy couple get married in the courtyard, with the indecisive rain clouds hovering and causing a stir. The hotel staff were constantly on guard and ready to stack up all the chairs as soon as a couple of drops came down. This happened at least 3 times, before it was decided that Plan B had to be implemented. But this plan certainly wasn’t secondary in terms of impact. Taking place on the sheltered stage in the courtyard and looking out onto the beautiful lawn, we watched the groomsmen, bridesmaids and super cute nephews and nieces walk up the rich, red carpet. Not to mention the dramatic and emotional music in the background – it was safe to say I was already sobbing after one minute!

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So the big moment came, the bride arrived. An elegant, one-shouldered white gown, with light ruffles that were so airy they almost looked perfectly ‘under-styled’ – of course it was Vera Wang. From Vera Wang’s lower-end collection, this gown not only had a fantastic price tag, but the upmost quality and grace that only a designer gown would bear.

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As for myself, I wore a simple, fitted skater dress in dusty, pale blue by French Connection, teamed with nude courts and accessorised with a statement necklace I purchased from a local Singaporean boutique.

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Have you or will you be attending any summer weddings this year? Please share all your wonderful experiences, I hope you have enjoyed reading mine.

Dress Shopping That Pays Off

It may not feel like May in the UK right now, what with all that erratic change of weather from hail one hour to blinding sunshine the next. But many of us have had to start planning early for summer party occasions nonetheless. Whether it’s that senior prom, University graduation ball, you’re heading to ASCOT or perhaps like myself you have a family wedding coming up – shopping for the ‘perfect’ dress can quickly become a stress. And the last thing you want to do is resort to the leftover party dresses on the ‘last chance’ rack in Topshop. Or even worse (and probably an all-too-familiar situation for most girls), you end up frantically buying any dress you see online that has your size. Then, either it doesn’t arrive in time or you realise it looks awful and end up resorting to that safe LBD that already has over 200 tags on Facebook. So what can be learnt from these experiences?

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(Image via Sphere.)

This year I’m lucky enough to be able to attend a wedding abroad and will be jetting off to Singapore for part 1 of my cousin’s special day. Part 2 will take place a week later here in the UK. So not only did I have to shop for a dress for a big family wedding, I had to look for two – one suitable for humidity and one that is ‘rain-safe’! And after scouring the market since March, I’ve not only managed to find two dresses that I absolutely love, but I’ve even bagged myself a bargain party dress which can be worn at upcoming occasions for later in the year. Here are some useful tips for organised dress shopping:

Timing – As soon as the first batch of Spring/Summer collections are launched online/ in-stores, have a look what’s there! It’s very easy to think that it’s too early to look at summer party wear in February, but if your dress size sits on either end of the spectrum it is likely that your size will be out of stock very quickly.

Buy it, decide later – if you’re dithering over more than one dress and not sure which one to buy. Purchase both and try them on again at home with different heels/ accessories etc. which will allow you to make a more informed decision on which one you prefer. Also, you then won’t be gutted if you go home and realise you’ve made the wrong decision, only to go back to the store and find the other dress gone!

Do your research – sounds intense, but essentially that’s what you’re doing when you’re shopping around anyway. It’s helpful to bookmark pages or take photos in store (obviously when the sales assistants aren’t looking) and keep a log of the styles that you like. It is much easier to then go back and compare everything that you have seen.

Know what suits you – there’s no point wasting time looking at dresses that you a) wish you could wear, but “think you need to lose 10lbs before going there” b) will only wear once because it is too over-styled and only appropriate if you get invited to a red carpet event and c) know you can not afford! (Well, to be fair I’m rather guilty of the latter myself and it does actually make you see everything on the main high street in a very negative light – so be careful!) By all means, try on as many different styles of dresses to find what you like and see what suits you if you’re not sure. But I have found myself wasting entire shopping trips because I was looking at the wrong things before!

Budget and be realistic – I think this one will come hand-in-hand with doing your research. If you don’t want to be spending anything more than £35 on a proper party dress, you have to know that you will struggle. Generally a dress for special occasions will average at around £60-80 on the high street. Having said that, more and more low-end, very on-trend online clothing stores are popping up. Besides the wonderful world of ASOS, the following sites have some extremely cheap party dresses, with new designs in every 2-3 weeks: boohoo.com, misguided.co.uk, meemee.com. I would also advise going on the dedicated websites of the concession brands that retail at Topshop and Newlook such as: InLovewithFashion and AXParis.

The two dresses below are the ones I have chosen for the Wedding. First one is a skater tailored, fitted dress from French Connection in a gorgeous summery blue £120 (though I don’t think the photo does it justice). The second is a bodycon ASOS midi-dress (although I had mine shortened) in an amazing tattoo print £35 (bargain!).

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I absolutely love this strapless black dress from H&M’s Conscious Collection, which priced at £49.99, I think is a bargain! It has delicate organza details around the bustier and comes with an arrangeable, couture-esque feature. The only downside is that the fitting isn’t quite right, with the bustier section being on the tight side and the skirt too baggy. Perhaps this is why this was the only dress out of the collection with plenty of sizes left! Nevertheless, I will be taking the skirt in at the side seams for a better fit and I’m hoping I will not have to bend around too much when I do wear this dress – as I do love it so much. I think when I find a dress on the high street that could easily be a product of a Parisian fashion house, I am willing to do anything to ensure I keep it!

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Do you have any dress shopping tips you would like to share?