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Style challenges, OOTDs and influencers: How fashion jumped on the TikTok trend

By Anna Zwettler


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Fashion |IN-DEPTH

As the pandemic-induced lockdown weighed on the world and in-person interaction became mostly impossible, many depended on social media to connect with others. Though platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are often mentioned first, another player has recently placed these two in its shade - TikTok, the natural habitat of Gen Z. From lip syncs and polished dances to perfectly-styled teenagers dressing like their favorite cartoon characters, the Chinese app has it all.

TikTok allows users to upload short videos under 60 seconds to the platform, with 15 seconds being the default length. While it’s easy for under 18 year olds to fall into the addictive hole of TikTok and continue scrolling for hours, it may seem virtually impossible for anyone older to keep up with the phenomenon. But looks can be deceiving, as many fashion companies like Urban Outfitters and Vans recently flocked to the app to recruit influencers in an attempt to appeal to younger audience groups.

TikTok became an even more valuable tool for the fashion industry as it provided a source of entertainment while simultaneously sparking creativity during the lockdown period, inspiring many to join the platform who hadn’t done so before, including Berlin-based fashion influencer Erik Scholz: “I started with TikTok because of lockdown. I finally had enough time to focus on a second social media platform besides Instagram,” he told FashionUnited.


how do people rotate so damn smoothly in these ##fyp

♬ Dirty Harry - Gorillaz

The 22-year-old uses his TikTok account to post a variety of content, including OOTDs (outfits of the day), lookbooks and “get ready with me” vlog-style videos. “In my case, I love posting outfits on TikTok, no matter if I show how to combine different types of clothes or just one outfit in different angles,” Scholz said when asked what type of content is his favorite to make.

TikTok, an immediate success

As stores closed and sales slumped, the coronavirus pandemic weighed on fashion companies and the occasion to dress up became virtually non-existent. But at the same time, the lockdown period convinced people to explore fashion in a new, creative way. Noteworthy TikTok trends that emerged during this time include the ‘quarantine pillow’ and ‘casual tie dye’ challenges where people wore belted pillows as dresses and revamped their favorite loungewear staples.

Picture: #quarantinepillowchallenge, my_ingga via Instagram

Even before quarantine, young fashionistas and fashion enthusiasts scoured TikTok for the latest viral challenges and the biggest names in fashion couldn’t pass on the fun either. Gen Z-catered fast fashion brands like PrettyLittleThing and FashionNova have blown up on the platform, posting everything from lookbooks, behind the scenes content and product giveaways. But even luxury brands saw TikTok’s potential: Burberry challenged users to upload videos of themselves doing the “Thomas Burberry” hand gesture, while founder Stacey Bendet of New-York-based high fashion brand Alice + Olivia posted a video of her daughters performing a viral TikTok dance and wearing the brand’s new collection.

The short-video app was first introduced in 2016 by Beijing-based internet technology company ByteDance as Douyin. It became instantly popular and saw 100 million users within a year, after which ByteDance introduced the app to markets outside of China under a new name - TikTok.

Fast forward to today, the app’s immense scope is highlighted by its approximately 800 million active monthly users. Last month alone, 104 million people downloaded TikTok, putting the number of total worldwide downloads at over 2 billion. Though the platform’s potential can’t be overlooked, it has recently stood in the negative spotlight: Last month, despite India being TikTok’s biggest oversea market, New Delhi banned the short-video platform over security and privacy concerns. Many Indian users, when trying to open the app, reported error messages or internet connectivity problems.

The natural habitat of Gen Z

Generation Z is the consumer of tomorrow, especially in the post-pandemic era, which highlights the importance of successfully targeting this audience group. However, the behavior and values of this coveted consumer segment have often proved to be conundrum for fashion companies. With 60 percent of TikTok users being between 13 and 24 years of age, it’s no surprise why TikTok is often classified as “Gen Z social media”. It’s therefore also not astonishing that brands from Nike to Levi’s have worked with marketing platforms like Collabary to build a presence on the app to target younger audiences, as well as go into new demographics. 25 percent of TikTok users are not active on another social media platform, said Anna Meyfarth, chief brand and marketing communications manager of Collabary. But exactly what characteristics of TikTok make it so appealing for Gen Z?

One aspect includes their impatience and inability to focus on one thing for long periods of time: “Their attention span on average is just around eight seconds, so short-form videos are the thing they are most likely to still consume”, explained Meyfarth. Collabary belongs to the marketing unit of Berlin-based online retailer Zalando.

Other characteristics of the platform, such as catchy song snippets, filters and effects, also contribute to young people coming back for more day after day. Compared to Instagram, fashion’s current go-to-platform, TikTok’s visual language favors a ‘fun’, ‘raw’ look, contrasting with Instagram’s picture perfect content. When opening the app, rather than being directed to a feed of one’s followed accounts, users are automatically on their ‘ForYou’ page, which is comparable to Instagram’s explore feature. Many TikTok creators strive to be featured on the ‘ForYou’ page, as it increases a video’s engagement and consequently its potential of going viral.

“TikTok puts a lot of focus on content and on its website calls it a ‘content first’ approach, really emphasizing this fun and playful content. It’s not like the high resolution, picture perfect world of Instagram,” Meyfarth continued.


Ready for the ##TBChallenge? Master the Thomas Burberry Monogram now

♬ Some Velvet Morning (feat. Kate Moss) - Primal Scream

The People Agency, a German influencer marketing company, recently launched its ‘thepeoplespotter’ TikTok account in collaboration with street style photographer Jeremy Moeller. Rather than opting for a presence on various social media platforms, thepeoplespotter is only active on TikTok and also experiments with the creative, ‘raw’ features that the short-video platform has to offer. Following the motto “the best fashion is on the streets,” the account, which currently has just over 6,700 followers, features street style content with influencers and German TikTokers across fashion and lifestyle.

“For us TikTok is a new form of social entertainment. You have movement and music in your clips, unlike Instagram, where it’s more tailored and you feed your community with snaps,” Vanessa Losch, founder and owner of The People Agency, clarified when asked why she chose TikTok over another social media platform.

Leonie Hanne for thepeoplespotter

While TikTok’s wide array of music and effects can motivate experimentation, it can also be overwhelming and confusing when first starting an account. Jeremy Moeller, at first, had to spend some time getting used to the combination of video and photography, understanding the algorithm and learning to apply trend songs and hashtags to his work. When asked what has been the most enjoyable aspect since starting his TikTok presence, Moeller said: “The content-language and target group is different in comparison to Instagram and I just got into TikTok’s variety. Besides, I always wanted to try out videography, so our account was perfect for creating our new platform on TikTok.”

A creative paradise full of surprises

According to an influencer marketing report by data provider Launchmetrics, 42 percent of brands within the fashion, luxury and beauty industries have used TikTok in their influencer marketing strategy. While Instagram is still the current leading social media platform for influencer recruitment, 55 percent of brands investing in new channels, including TikTok, do this to engage with a consumer that can’t be found on Instagram.

“Instead of focusing their marketing approach to only one social media, brands and retailers should add TikTok to their existing marketing mix,” said Meyfarth, as no ‘one size fits all’ approach exists and fashion companies who want to add the app to their marketing repertoire should first and foremost learn from its users. “Go there, open an account, have a look around, understand how the dynamic works and maybe even invite some TikTokers to come to the office for a workshop,” she suggested. “Be close to the user base and learn from them firsthand to find out what’s working and what isn’t. It’s not about going on TikTok, putting your brand there and seeing what happens. It’s an interactive process that you have to go through as a brand.”

One brand who cracked the code of TikTok marketing with a recent campaign is Italian fashion house Prada. Rather than posting videos on its own account, the company recruited TikTok queen and the platform’s most-followed creator Charli D’Amelio to attend the FW20 Prada show at Milan Fashion Week. Dressed in Prada, the dancer created publicity for the brand by posting several dances of herself wearing the clothes on her TikTok account. Meanwhile, French luxury brand Céline similarly understood what it takes to appeal to Gen Z when it chose popular TikToker Noen Eubanks as the face of its brand. The campaign photos show Eubanks embracing the e-boy-typical rock n’ roll look by posing in a striped crop top, leather jacket and dark jeans.

‘E-boy’ is the representation of a new fashion style and genre of personality that resulted from teenagers settling on TikTok. The best way to demonstrate the characteristics of e-boys and e-girls is by giving an example. 18 year old Chase Hudson, whose alias is Lil Huddy, checks all the boxes of what a typical e-boy must have: floppy hair with a middle part, black nailpolish, vintage clothing including band tees, chains and earrings. Aside from his distinct look, he has put himself on the digital map by lip syncing to songs that are trendy at the moment, which has led to over 21 million followers on TikTok.


♬ Mariposa (Peach Tree Rascals) - goalsounds

Rather than jumping on the bandwagon without a plan, brands should consider working together with TikTok creators and giving them the creative freedom to create content for their own account, said Meyfarth. She additionally pointed out that, for smaller brands, it’s easier to pick up existing challenges, hashtags and songs and connect them to their brand perception, rather than trying to create an original campaign out of thin air.

“With TikTok’s freedom, it’s advisable to be bold and try to let go of your typical content style or brand style,” Meyfarth concluded. “Just be aware that TikTok creators may interpret the brand in their own way.”

On a given day, it’s never clear what will be ‘trendy’ on TikTok and video styles can go in and out of fashion very quickly. A recent unexpected trend saw JW Anderson’s colour-block patchwork cardigan going viral after it was worn by musician Harry Styles. TikTok’s fashion lovers and crochet enthusiasts took it upon themselves to reknit the cardigan, put their own twist on it, film it and post it to the platform under the hashtag #HarryStylesCardigan, which has since accumulated over 3.4 million views.


i am a different person with this outfit on ##harrystyles ##harrystylescardigan @jw_anderson

♬ original sound - ana_hernand

No large following needed thanks to algorithms

Being active on TikTok takes away the pressure of building a huge following, as is the case on Instagram. Creators can share their creativity, get engagement and connect with likeminded people all within a short period of time. With 68.7 million followers and over 4 billion likes on her videos, 16 year old dancer Charli D’Amelio takes the lead as TikTok’s most popular personality after only being active on the platform for a year.

Berlin-based influencer Scholz currently has 15 thousand followers on TikTok. He decided to make an account after seeing the potential of TikTok’s algorithm, also to simultaneously gain new Instagram followers. Primarily targeting a young, fashion-interested audience, Scholz makes a note to regularly check his ‘ForYou’ page for new trends, songs and ideas: “I kind of found my niche in fashion and lifestyle and then started posting three times a day, which is quite work-intensive,” Scholz said. This has been his strategy to grow his TikTok traffic growth and exposure.

Erik Scholz for thepeoplespotter

While TikTok has a more ‘natural’ and ‘raw’ feel than Instagram does, the Chinese app additionally is unique due to its algorithm: “You can literally have 5 followers but still hit 5 million views on your first video, which is incredible,” he explained. “Simply said: it’s a platform where being able to grow is still possible.”

”We all dress up everyday so in my opinion, fashion is always represented on social platforms on a bigger scale”, Scholz concluded. “In my opinion there is no better way to show fashion than in little videos.”

Photo Credit: main: courtesy of @mocean, The People Agency, my_ingga via Instagram

Anna Meyfarth
Erik Scholz
Gen Z
Jeremy Mueller
The People Agency
Vanessa Losch