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I do this thing on Instagram where, instead of scrolling down my feed to keep in touch with people I have deliberately selected to follow, I hit the search tab and get lost in an overwhelming archive of unfamiliar photos posted by people I do not know. These have seemingly been picked for me by some algorithmic taste barometer that knows I am a sucker for European beach photos, grocery store fruit and women wearing ridiculous things. I’m not sure why I prefer to treat Instagram like a snapshot roulette, to sneak into the lives of people and brands I don’t know as opposed to the ones I do, but I think it has something to do with making me feel like an adventurer or discoverer in a way that familiar faces or things just don’t. On a recent spiral through the vortex, I met an account called Maison Cléo, for which this photo was the gateway drug:

Puffed sleeves in the AGNÈS blouse 🌻☀️ #madeinfrance #handmade #madetoorder ✂️🇫🇷

A post shared by MaisonCléo (@maisoncleo) on

I clicked in to learn that this wasn’t a person’s account, but rather a very small brand run by a mother and daughter who hand-make all of the garments (~10 pieces) sold through their website. I found the top (which retailed for 80 euro), and bought it immediately. It was the first time I’d conducted an impulse purchase through Instagram. Following said purchase, a “customer service rep” (either the mother or the daughter, I’m not sure), reached out personally to thank me for my order. And then it took two weeks to arrive, but once it did, I was like Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyesssssss!

Pandora Sykes, a friend and Man Repeller contributing editor who is arguably as passionate about a shoulder puff as I am, dutifully informed me that she ordered the same top. Ditto that for Juliana Salazar, another friend and similarly occasional contributor who looks cool all the time.

Top by @maisoncleo, wine stains courtesy of Dicktoria Diez

A post shared by Juliana Salazar (@julianasalazar) on

This further substantiated a theory I’ve had about the efficacy of Instagram’s algorithmic taste barometer — it is really good at showing you shit it thinks you will like, and not just that, it picks up on the taste level of your friends, too. There’s a sense of pride attached to finding something small and niche amid the exposed global shopping world for which we are all citizens. To illustrate just how small and niche Maison Cléo is, there is a notice on their site currently that reads, “Mum is on holiday for two weeks so all will be available again when she comes back. Subscribe to the newsletter to be noticed when all is available to order again when she is back.” And the mutual investment in one particular top, among people who you know and respect? That’s pretty reinforcing.

So then I wonder, is this the direction that consumerism is heading in? I don’t mean that we’re all going to start shopping via mom-n-pop Instagram shop, but the retail system certainly feels more scattered. There are so many great things to be discovered in so many different places that the value in committing to the centralized space that is a singular specialty retailer or department store doesn’t quite hold as much weight as it used to. But then again, it is extremely comforting to know that one specific place will be able to accommodate every consumerist itch that you have, right? This is why the one-stop shop came to exist and subsequently flourish in the first place.

People talk and talk and talk and talk about the end of retail and the future of commerce as we both do and don’t know it; it is a complicated conversation but I believe that the way to fix the problem is probably simpler than we think. That though the retailer isn’t actually inside the uptake yet, it is picking up on it. You can use the more generous suite of very new, very small designers who show up (and then sometimes disappear) on a site like Net-a-Porter, or who have become an integral part of the Moda Operandi engine, as proof of this concept. But if we’re not buying into brands anymore, if we’re only concerned with product, are we missing a major piece of what makes the shopping pie taste so good? I’m talking about soul! We buy stuff to feel more like we’re part of something that is bigger than us. Brands make us feeeeeeeeeeel in a much more satisfying way than actual products do. But maybe that’s changing. And maybe, just maybe shit isn’t broken as we think it is. It just needs new stuff on its shelves.

Get more Fashion ?
  • Yes! I love shopping on Instagram 🙂 It’s how I discovered the SUPER cute Bembien basket bags: https://www.instagram.com/bembien/

    I love that Instagram is a platform for small business owners — I know SO many people (bloggers, designers, artists, make up artists, photographers!) who’ve grown their businesses astronomically, thanks to Instagram. Such a great platform for creatives and people who are passionate about what they do 🙂

    • Jennifer

      I found Bembien the same way! My Rose bag has been used so much this summer.
      I agree that IG is a fantastic place to find unique products from small businesses that you might not find through a google search.

    • Marta

      I bought the exact same style round bag on Etsy for a fraction of the price of the Bembien one, AND it’s lined in a pretty print: https://www.etsy.com/shop/EllennJames.

    • wine_monger

      As a Creative who has been using Instagram to grow my Wool & Leather handbag & clutch line, I was initially excited about IG being a Social Media platform for growth. But in the past few months, creatives & sellers have noticed changes in engagement levels. IG now has an algorithm that penalizes sellers for using hashtags repeatedly in consecutive posts. First they tell us to reuse hashtags to grow a following and then when your following grows you get penalized for doing what they recommended. WTF? I’ve been on an IG hiatus on my @wovenhome biz account due to family tradgedy & a home purchase,but plan to ramp up biz growth in a few weeks from my new home studio…yet I wonder if IG will give me the exposure it once did. We’ll see…

      Heidi

  • Hayley

    How many more follows do you think Maison Cleo will get within 24 hours? I certainly contributed to that number. Great stuff.

  • Ismad London

    So great! check us out for handmade and sustainable leather bags.

    🙂

  • Meg S

    I follow lots of small designers on social media, and often buy pieces they’ve posted. I have some really cool pieces thanks to twitter. I need to follow Maison Cleo on IG and that shirt might be mine. Statement sleeves for 80 euros? Yassssssssssssss.

  • Babs

    This is so interesting, and it definitely seems like a trend via your anecdotes. Would love to see some data on it!

  • Aisya Putri

    Just did the same thing, impulsive bought a crisp shirt with some artsy handcrafted floral beads on it from a small Indonesian brand (@mote__mote if you wanna check it) that i saw someone wearing on their ig stories earlier today, and it’s only like 30 dollar

  • I’ve also been noticing a lot of vintage sellers on instagram. I welcome the opportunity to buy something second hand from the comfort of my couch- while I really enjoy sifting through the musky racks of Salvation Army, some days I’d rather shop with a cat in my lap and a glass of wine in hand.

  • me

    Interesting post … starts out as a simple blouse purchase & then morphs into ruminations re possible future fashion industry trend. Thanks for flagging these observations.

    As always, love your writing, sis.

  • Anne Dyer

    We seem to coming full circle on a lot of consumer products. For example – what we saw in food trends with farm to table, organic and sustainable foods. People seem to want to find connection with the “stuff” they consume. So as we seem to disconnect from each other in daily interactions because of technology it seems as if we crave connection elsewhere. Clothing is another way to make a connection, buying something with a story is so much more fulfilling than a mass produced tee shirt.

  • Maggie Clancy

    I have been window shopping on Instagram for so long (mostly beauty products) and have been so nervous to take the plunge – I’m a creature of habit! This is making me reconsider though, especially since I am trying to build up my own brand on instagram. Seems logical to support other niche shops in this virtual venue.

    maggie
    http://www.shopean.etsy.com

  • Pandora Sykes

    pufffffffffff

  • Kristin

    I’m jealous of your lurker feed—mine is pregnant people/babies, rob and chyna updates, and before/after fitness shots. I feel like I need to start a new curated account a la Amelia 2015ish to better myself

    • Maren Douglas

      Wow same. Let me know if you figure out how to get a new discovery page

      • Kristin

        I think you have to start a new one and not follow all your pregnant friends/kardashians. Or you could maybe diversify a bit?

        • Laura Guarraci

          I wish you could mark things you follow so instagram leaves them out of your algorithm like “this is just my friend but I don’t want her clothes, her baby, or her life”.

  • Darling and darlings and anyone I might call dear , this really is the old meets new commerce . Our great big world 🌎 is becoming a village again . Our tools are different but the results appear to be the same .
    You met a mother and daughter cottage industry online , it could have been in an Italian market , a Thai shop , or out of the back of a truck . You’re in the process of a creating new brand “Mother & Daughter Sews ”
    Jandrew
    Dress The Part
    http://www.jandrewspeaks.com

  • Great observations, but what was that about not buying into brands anymore? Did I miss something? Are people no longer batting each other over the head for the last Gucci cat sweater? Don’t get me wrong I’m all for this, it’s my shtick see http://www.primadarling.com/fashion/year-of-living-designer-free/ but I didn’t know we were there yet. Maybe brands have overshot their mark. Once the corporate side began exploiting the emotional pull towards a product they noted the lowest hanging fruit, our need for validation, and started messing with our heads and wallets. The time is ripe for small companies to give people what they want, something chic to wear with no emotional strings attached and a chance to reclaim their own personal style without going into hock. It’s a great time to be a small business, the old rules don’t apply, go Instagram!

    • Adrianna

      I think people are still very much into brands, if not more because we document everything through Facebook and Instagram. Like with anything, it depends on where you live and your social circle. I’m in downtown Manhattan, and it felt like KITH was suddenly everywhere overnight. Girls I grew up with in NJ are posting photos of their Michael Kors bags and Coach sneakers. I still see NYC tourists carrying hoards of bags from stores they went out of they way to shop in, such as Victoria’s Secret. A woman next to me yesterday in Katz Deli was wearing boldly printed Burberry sneakers.

      Maybe people in the fashion/blogging/influencer industry are seeking small, independent brands over the Gucci sweater because the Gucci sweater is not as exclusive as it used to be.

  • I find people still buy into brands. But since e-commerce is so convenient now (esp. integrated with social media sites like instagram, pinterest, and even through featured brands on MR), people discover more local/small brands. I definitely find instagram a good way of showcasing/adversing products since I can click into brands’ tagged photos and see how they look on regular people. And places like twitter and instagram also made customer service a lot easier for those smaller brands and consumers since a lot of their social media people just read through DMs/comments and answer questions. I also find sites like moda operandi useful like you said they feature some brands I’ve never heard before.

  • Caitlin Crow

    About 40% of my current wardrobe is Instagram purchases from various vintage/consignment/handmade shops…I love discovering clothes this way; the world is quite literally your oyster, plus it’s an introvert’s dream.

    • Elle

      ohhh any recommendations? Love a good instagram shop!!

      • Caitlin Crow

        see below! <3

    • yes, please give us some tips!

      • Caitlin Crow

        consignment: noihsaf.bazaar, noihsaf.vintage, noihsaf.men

        vintage: smallneeds, noble_shop, iamthat_shop, recapvintage, tiendamarin, courtyard_la, minimalismvintage, persephonevint, scoutla, kissingtreevintage, mercyvintage

        handmade: flowers_and_skin, opalpineapple, lykkewullf

        • Thanks for the recommendations. noihasf.bazaar is addicting; way too many impulse purchases for me. OTOH I sold a pair of clogs in 35 seconds, so can’t complain.

          • Caitlin Crow

            Agreed! After a while I had to limit myself to 1 noihsaf.bazaar purchase per month. *cough*

  • Jayne

    I came across this brand on instagram a few weeks ago and instantly and it certainly is a refreshing approach to fashion in the saturated fast fashion market of today, the pieces are certainly a lot more enticing than those available on the high street at the moment. I’d love to find more brands like this.
    http://www.jayneemma.co.uk

  • Néo Bourgeois — Christum

    The internet is public and democratic, this is the beauty you are pointing to. You can buy and sell anything you want anytime.

  • Julie Turkel

    Love this article, Leandra (and the top:). I saw you speak at the Fashion Culture and Design Un-conference and I was inspired by what you had to say about this topic. I am writing a piece about this shift for my blog that is launching next month – my blog is about designer brands and the business of collaborations/licensing, as I am a licensing agent. The feeeeeelings that consumers have about designer brands have fueled my little licensing business world for many years and I guess I hope heritage brands do not become extinct. Having said that, these Internet startups are fascinating – they are collaborating with each other and with influencers and specialty retailers like Moda to become bigger and bigger (at least some do). But how do they become actual brands like Ralph Lauren or Gucci? It is hard to imagine, but it is possible. After all, RL started out as a guy who liked ties back in the day, or look at the story of the Jimmy Choo brand and how that got started. Lots to ponder… Happy to chat with you about this any time!

  • Anna Muller

    I find all the best clothing/jewelry/lingerie brands through Instagram discover feed. Not only are the places really intimately run like the one you described but they’re more affordable and more unique than a lot of similar quality products on the mainstream fashion market.

  • angela

    Instagram is a great way to shop for one-of-a kind pieces because the platform allows for the seller and consumer to foster a relationship in an intimate setting. While you can certainly bond with mom and pop shop owners IRL, it’s fun to see what else they have going on in life through their Insta photos and stories. I recently started a vintage home goods shop and use Instagram as part of my marketing / sales platform and a way to connect with other shop owners, as well. etsy.com/shop/hermosahomevintage & instagram.com/hermosahomevintage

  • Elise Troister

    Hey guys! Check out my shop @secondcousinv // http://www.secondcousinvintage.com
    I never do this kind of shameless self promotion but I feel it is somewhat appropriate 🙂

  • Jen

    “There’s a sense of pride attached to finding something small and niche amid the exposed global shopping world for which we are all citizens.” You nailed the reason why I love shopping on Instagram.

  • Tasch

    Love this! We do made to order (in NYC) contemporary womenswear taschnyc.com and just started customizing vintage one of a kind band tees

  • Ellena

    Love it!!!! That’s how I found Ferrah, or Ferrah official? Bought a silk slip from them and adore it.
    http://www.instagram.com/ferrahofficial/

    I do agree, when we buy, it’s also nice to feel like your item is special – that there’s a story there or your supporting some independent brands.

    • Tracy

      Probably checking out every link shared on this thread. As someone said earlier, my current feed is mostly babies, kardashians, makeup tutorials, or kardashian makeup tutorials… Thanks for sharing!

    • Lela Christiana

      Thanks for the mention Ellena! Glad to hear you are enjoying your Ferrah piece.

  • @thechicafrique

    So cool! Love ❤️ this as I just started my passion project @thechicafrique where I curate unique handmade items with soul and style from all over Africa. It’s so reinforcing to hear that people truly appreciate one of a kind handmade products that aren’t made in a factory and have a story behind them.

  • Aydan

    I think its a mix of both–both stale product and the new shopping personalities of millennials. We crave digital which is why social makes sense, but yet social and m-commerce conversions are still hovering until 10% for retail. We’re def in a period of flux and I think the most successful brands coming out the other side of this will be those that have figured out how to marry interesting product, good marketing, with digital savviness!

  • I feel Instagram is a mental boost for creatives. I recognize that deep-down, to be really seen, is what I desire. Instagram lets me passionately create and then quickly show the world. It is an awesome buzz…
    @silveredit_

  • Rebecca Lippert

    This is great! Im trying to use instagram to grow my own fashion business. I make custom swimwear and small collections of swimwear, and instagram is a great place to connect with people. http://www.instagram.com/maderasbeachco

  • Larry david

    Send it back…you got ripped off

  • ea1988

    speaking of SHELVES and STORES…i recently had an idea that would be perfect for a new MR series: cool people, cool apartments but with retail stores. not only the niche boutiques but maybe some of the upscale brands that are too intimidating for regulars like me to enter. i love going to those places not necessarily for the clothes, but because they often have really interesting art/design/window displays etc. i think it’d be lovely to explore and capture the brick and mortar stores, especially in this age where people are literally buying clothes on instagram 🙂

    • Alyssa

      YES!! Sometimes those places are too intimidating to go into when you know you’re not going to buy anything. Some times you just want to marvel at the space!

  • prairie dogs

    Ooh, I do this with handmade/made-to-order stuff on Lithuanian linen stores on etsy. TRUST that shit is gorgeous in person.

    • 808kate

      Any recommendations on stores?? This sounds right up my alley!

      • YOUSAKO is European – got a dress from them made of the most beautiful baby soft linen, it blows all my other pieces out of the water. Other recommended linen-centric Etsy shops: LinenStudioB, MissesCountry. Notperfect Linen gets a lot of love and yes it’s nice but it’s not all that better than other shops. Looking forward to seeing other recommendations!

        • prairie dogs

          Ooh, I’m going down a linen rabbit hole now 🙂

      • prairie dogs

        Oh totally! I’ve gotten things from not perfect linen and they’re amazing quality. Really great! I’ve also been eyeing some things from D96P (also etsy, I have no clue what the name of this shop is referencing). I think the challenge with some of the made to order etsy shops is to look past the often-amateur photo skills (for me anyway– I love a well styled photo!) and to read tons of reviews so you get a feel for what you’re getting.

        Etsy also has a wealth of affordable block printed cotton fabric and block printed caftans from India, I haven’t taken the plunge with any of those yet but it’s so fun to look.

        • 808kate

          Oh my gosh those dresses on D96P! i’m gonna have no money pretty soon!

          • prairie dogs

            I know, right? sometimes my etsy fantasy cart can get scary 🙂

  • Natcha Auttasart

    In Thailand, we shop on Instagram more than other platform. Not just vintage fashion but the brand itself because people here love to talk with seller more than just click on website and yes we can ask for discount too.

  • Bonnie Nabors

    I totally feel the same way. Like I thought I found something original on ig and liked it, but didn’t shop. Then I saw like 3 other beautiful girls wearing exactly what I saw on my feed! Like woah! I’m not the discoverer of this gem! Mind blown.

  • belle

    does this story end with an entire circle of friends having the same clothes selected by an algorithm? i feel like this method of shopping only works for a normal person if you’re also supplementing it with vintage or second hand finds.

    • prairie dogs

      Ha, I think it kind of does end up like that! Didn’t MR post a story about that one Reformation shirt that every instagram ‘influencer’ has worn this summer?

  • Marko

    Check out XMKD.com super cool shop!

  • cariciela

    We sell most of our rings through Instagram and its great because it brings us close to the people who might love us! https://www.instagram.com/car.ici.ela/

  • The web is open and equitable, this is the magnificence you are indicating. You can purchase and offer anything you need whenever.
    Shilpa Malhotra

  • Ashley Minyard

    I’ve actually fallen into the habit of buying furniture on Instagram. Equally curated and fun, far more expensive and dangerous.

  • Mademoiselle Catastrophe

    I really find this discussion interesting. On the one hand, I do believe that classic retail cannot survive if it doesn’t find the way to take advantage of online retail. On the other hand, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. I mean… the internet is not exactly neutral. It has a democratizing impact as much as it can crystallize power imbalances (fake news anyone?). When buying on the Instagram from smaller firms, how do you know the way in which the product was made? Or the real story behind it? Obviously, the quality, safety, environmental standards and what-not favour some firms over others – those that already have the resources to comply with them – and leave others out of the game. Also, big firms can send parcels at almost no cost, so they are already favoured in the world of online retail against smaller competitors. And the internet adds a new layer to the complexity of power (im)balances. There at not equal players: there are a few companies that control our data in ways we cannot even imagine (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple). And they also control the algorithms that determine what we see and what we don’t see. Are we gonna trust they are neutral in what they choose to show us? Here in the EU, Google has been fined for favouring its own advertises against those of competitors by manipulating its algorithms. How accountable instagram/Facebook is?
    I really have no idea. I do know I want a diverse market where creativity and uniqueness can thrive and where sustainable production is the norm and not the exception. And also I believe that as many dangers as the online revolution brings, it also brings opportunities. But yes, discussion is important to know what kind of market we want and what boundaries we want to draw.
    (Ah, the PhD researcher in me)

  • Rachel Rosenfeld

    i got started just as a lurker on noihsaf, but have had my own insta shop selling vintage and designer brands and it has completely changed my life, and is totally how I shop now.
    instagram.com/chezrachelpower