Creative solace: Samata Angel on what social media means for fashion

Samata Angel is an award-winning fashion entrepreneur, author and designer whose work in the fashion industry has appeared in Vogue, Look Magazine, ITN and Red Magazine. She guest lectures at the London College of Fashion and has addressed former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prime Minister David Cameron on the subject of Fashion Enterprise. Her womenswear clothing label Samata specialises in evening womenswear and has been worn by the likes of Dawn Angeliqué Richard and Jennifer Lopez. Angel is relaunching her brand in 2012 and currently runs the Red Carpet Green Dress campaign for Suzy Amis Cameron.

.Cision: You started out in the fashion industry ten years ago – what changes have you seen?

Samata: When I started, there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no YouTube. To get my voice out there, I had to know people and push as hard as I could to secure interviews – both online and in print. Those platforms dictated who was listened to and who was important. I used a mailing list to communicate my comings and goings, news and progress.

Fashion is tough, my industry is competitive and often lonely. Talent is not the be all and end all – your proximity to the ‘in crowd’ can determine how successful you are. But at least in 2011, the struggling creative has a voice, and if that voice is clear enough, opinionated enough and agreed-with enough, it can be heard. And there’s a global audience out there, although granted it can be hard to find the right tone, message and style.

How does that “tone, message and style” differ from that required for traditional platforms? Is it actually easier than it used to be – when you were working hard to secure interviews – or is it just different?

It’s still hard to find a unique way to communicate. You want to stand out and be original whilst also following key trends, keeping in the loop and staying relevant. Everything moves so fast! Social media  has a response that is so immediate compared to that of traditional media, and while communication must be just as considered, there so much less time to do so.  On the flip side it is easier than it used to be to reach out and receive instant feedback. It’s all very appropriate for an industry which thrives on constant change.

So is the much-trumpeted shift from “the expert” to “the crowd” happening faster for fashion than other sectors? Is the “expert” now redundant, or is there a balance of power with the “the crowd”?

There has been a definite shift in power, and with fashion being a dynamic and ‘of- the-second’ industry a tweet or blog comment can leave an indelible mark. While the power struggle between the expert and the crowd is in full swing, it’s clear that information is more accessible and people can form their own opinions and question the experts. The expert then requires real conviction in turn to restate it.

Of course, social media is also creating a new breed of expert. The Sartorialist, the talented photographer behind Art of the Trench, started out by simply sharing his pictures on a blog. He has now created a street style campaign for DKNY, has a monthly page in GQ, recurring guest blogs and videos for Style.com, while Art of the Trench – a project for Burberry undertaken in conjunction with Facebook  – received more than 100,000 sign-ups in three days.

The Sartorialist example is an interesting one – do you think Burberry itself has been important in promoting this activity? Had the Sartorialist not had the leverage of the brand, would it have achieved the same success?

Burberry gave the Sartorialist a mainstream platform, or at least access to a mainstream platform, but I am confident that even without this brand/expert leverage the Sartorialist would have achieved cult-cool status…because the work was just that good, anyone could see that. No blagging involved. It may have taken longer to get there admittedly, simply because in fashion it’s not what you know it’s who you know that is relevant, regardless of the platform through which the collaboration takes place is.

Can you tell us about your own use of social media?

My personal favourites are Twitter, for real-time sharing of content from all the channels that I use; Facebook, where I upload photos from fashion week, quotes from your favourite fashion designers, videos of your shows; and YouTube – because the comments are always brutally and refreshingly honest.

Is that a good thing…?

One thing that we all know but don’t like to admit, is that ultimately, we’re looking for approval. There, I said it. Because for so many people all those Facebook ‘likes’, all the shared content, means ‘I like you’, ‘I see you’, ‘I love what you are doing’, ‘you exist’. And there’s also validation in the opportunity to not be told what is cool, but to do some of the telling.

But what about when those “likes” and “shares” represent not genuine enthusiasm, but rather network-building. Aren’t such endorsements the equivalent of what David Foster Wallace called the “professional smile” of service-industry employees?

Slightly yes – I agree with that. Without real facetime the solace sought can be delusional, and no real comfort. Even though at times the communication can be shallow, surface-level, it is communication nonetheless. Sometimes that communication can be touching and just what you need to hear from someone sitting behind a laptop across the globe: ‘Your work is amazing’, ‘You inspired me to start my clothing label’, ‘Check it out – I blogged about you!’

Sharing with a global audience, connecting with like-minded people, critics, editors and buyers, encouraging friends to support your work, come to your event, become your ambassador, or simply to read your article – it’s empowering. It shows that you are a serious designer with a following, or a focused fashion journalist who writes effectively.

Right now I am in the process of developing a range and even posting pictures of some of my process has engaged other designers to talk about where they buy their fabrics and share resource. Setting up a brand or going it alone is at times lonely, so it’s great that social media opens the doors for communication.

I love to use social media for the same reason I love designing: to connect, to share and be inspired.



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