Many luxury fashion brands have been blurring gender lines among their products since the 1990s by designing menswear and womenswear that traverses the gender elements. The study explored how consumers are reacting to this fuzzification by luxury brands because it has significant implications for how brands maintain relevance within the target market.
A mixed methodology combining qualitative approaches including a survey of luxury consumers and focus groups, to collect consumer reaction, while physical store observations of selected luxury brands and their websites was undertaken to observe products stocked and evidence of fuzzificaion. Literature and primary data collected was analysed quantitatively in order to draw conclusions and answer the study aims.
The study findings confirmed the continued rise of fashion androgyny as a major contribution to brand fuzzification by fashion brands. The selected brands clearly evidenced stocks of gender blurred products in-store and online. Focus group and survey respondents confirmed gender neutrality is on the rise within fashion brands and that they responded and engaged much more favourably with brands that evidenced signs of embracing gender fuzzification. Website monitoring and observations revealed that brands use social media marketing to communicate and build relationships with consumers within these target markets. The study further revealed that fashion brands are using fuzzification to remain relevant to their consumers.
The study’s original contribution to existing knowledge and literature is that luxury fashion consumers’ buying motivations are influenced by whether or not a brand implements fuzzification which would consequently affect its competitive strategic position. These findings have significant implications for fashion brand management and is crucial in informing how brands communicate and build relationships with consumers and how they remain relevant in the target market.
Chapter One: INTRODUCTION
The introduction chapter gives a foundation and background of the research. The contextualization of the research problem and the aspects of androgynous fashion and influence on luxury fashion product management strategies.
Many luxury fashion brands have been blurring gender lines since the 1990s with major luxury fashion brands such as Gucci, Dior, Tom Ford, Burberry and Vetements designing menswear and womenswear that traverses the gender elements. The brands have male designs with feminine elements including bowknot and floral print while Dior has female designs with masculine attributes including perfumes, astronaut jumpsuits and flight suits (McIntyre, 2013). Generation Y are increasingly becoming more mindful of their dressing, particularly because dressing is one of the ways in which people can communicate themselves in todays’ world (Finn, 2014). With the evolution of technology and mass media and the subsequent use of these media for marketing of fashion designs, young people have become active participants in the creative, positive pursuit of fashion (Barry and Dylan, 2015).
Kaiser (2012) notes that women and men are not born into femininity or masculinity respectively, but are instead acculturated into such norms and gender categories by social constructs. Given the lack of a universal or natural foundation for which these genders are based, these contracts are prone to individual and cultural interpretation, giving the young men and women the freedom for individual interpretation and challenging of such norms (Marcangeli, 2015). Kaiser (2012) notes that gender is bound to social interpretation as it is not a hard-wired concept. According to the proposition of scientist Fausto-Sterling, gender is denoted as a complex articulation of cultural space, psychology, time and body. Through the recognition that gender is a performance of individuals through their choice of clothing, and that such clothing has different meanings according to social context, it is possible to denaturalize the arbitrariness behind women and men fashion (Edwards, 2006). Entwistle (2000) explores the blurring of the gender boundaries in today’s fashion world as a way of defining and redefining gender boundaries.
Vibrant contemporary menswear is largely characterized by a growing preference for fashion designs with characteristic feminine elements such as bold styles and bright colours. However, there is evidence that young men are still concerned about looking much feminine in terms of their fashion expression (Caraciola, 2015). On the other hand, women have embraced the masculine elements in fashion design as a way of promoting the concept of gender equality. Nevertheless, research indicates that both men and women are becoming more experimental with their dressing, thereby defying the safe spaces from where they traditionally operated. According to Carreño (2014), the gender dress conventions are defied in the modern fashion world with many consumers demonstrating interest and taste for designs and fashion trends that fall outside of the conventional gender dress codes.
Examining the dress code worn by Marc Jacob in red carpet gala, Carreño (2014) notes that he wore an outfit with signifiers of both genders. This trend is consistent with Hyland’s (2015) observation in the New York Magazine where modern androgyny has resulted in the blurring of gender lines in fashion shows.
In the article, men such as Kurt Cobain posed in housedresses and ball gown while women donned combat boots and lumberjack shirts. These trends have by far been embraced in some of the most conservative societies where the pubic frowns even on public display of affection such as in South Korea. Even in such societies, designs with both feminine and masculine elements are socially accepted and easily accessible with women wearing hoodies, unisex sweaters, sneakers and skinny jeans (Kass, 2011).
1.3 Rationale for the Research
It is widely acknowledged that the performance of brands in the luxury fashion market is highly dependent on the perception and acceptance of consumers. With the vast long term growth opportunities for the luxury fashion companies, there is a gap in the lack of familiarity with the global environment in which the brands operate. Companies demonstrate a limited ability of tapping into their optimal potential (Bilge, 2015). Various fashion brands like Gucci and Dior are moving beyond a safe and comfortable position to venturing into unsex designs or designs that defy the gender constructs and appeal to the dynamic market environment. Both Gucci and Dior have been performing well in the global luxury fashion market, which can be attributed to an understanding of the generation Y tastes and preference.
In the 2014, Christian Dior show in Paris, the designers demonstrated feminine designs with masculine elements as the collection was a fusion of several patterns from astronaut jumpsuits, to long line coats, flight suits, pannier dresses and elegant silhouettes. The multiple themed collections incorporated past, current and future designs. Moreover, Gucci plans to showcase a 2017 fashion show at Gucci’s new Milan HQ at Via Mecenate with a collection that features both feminine and masculine designs. The company’s masculine designs have notable features of masculine design including floral print, bright, multiple colours and bowknot in what is referred to as Gucci androgyny (Brough, 2008).
Understanding consumer behaviour and their expectations of luxury fashion products is vital for various business operations including communications management, branding strategies and product development (Nakata and Sivakumar, 2001). The designers, retailers and producers of luxury fashion brands need to understand the needs of the consumers, especially how changing trends affects how they consume fashion brands (Joy et al., 2012). They need to be in constant knowledge of the target consumers and the trends in the market growth. This necessitates the need for a proactive examination of luxury brands reaction to gender neutrality among its customers and how it is influencing luxury brands’ extension strategies.
This study seeks to produce important insights with practical implication for marketers in the luxury fashion markets by providing them with valuable information about the reaction of luxury fashion brands consumers to the designing of products with blurred gender boundaries undertaken by fashion brands.
The study also has academic implications to students pursing fashion management and other fashion related courses, such as marketing, by adding an important perspective required to advance literature in consumer behaviour and strategic fashion marketing of luxury fashion brands.
1.4 Research Aim and Objectives
“How are consumers reacting to the brand fuzzification by luxury brands?”
(1) To determine consumers’ attitudes to fashion androgyny.
(2) To explore aspects of consumer behaviour that influence gender fuzzification in luxury fashion brands.
(3) To determine to what extent luxury fashion brands, enhance brand relevance by using the concept of gender fuzzification in brand communications.
(4) To discuss the implications of the research on luxury fashion brands’ management of their brand communication strategies in relation to gender fuzzification.
1.5 Chapter Outline
Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION
The first chapter is the introduction chapter, which is designed to give a foundation and background of the research. The contextualization of the research problem and the aspects of androgynous fashion and influence on luxury fashion product management strategies.
The rationale for the research topic will be addressed as well as the research aims and objectives.
Chapter 2: LITERATURE REVIEW
This chapter will contextualization of the research question and objectives of the study within the realm of gender neutrality, fashion androgyny, and consumer behaviour and luxury fashion brand extension strategy.
Review of previous literature with regards to blurring of gender boundaries in luxury fashion brands will be explored. The aspect of gender identity fashion and the consumer will also be explored and it will review literature on the manner boundaries within gender lines are diminishing. Theory supporting gender neutrality in fashion from a historical and current perspective will be evidenced to provide clarity and give context to the study.
This chapter also looks at how relationships are created with consumers through brand communications tools such as social media and online technologies. It will also look at the brand management strategies undertaken by luxury fashion brands as a response to changing consumer behaviour and needs.
Chapter 3: METHODOLOGY
Chapter 3 of the dissertation explores the research design and the methodology of the study. In this regard, the chapter is meant to forward the methodological consideration of the research and the steps that were taken to implement the research. Both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection will be presented in this chapter. The chapter will then conclude by examining various statistical analysis techniques to investigate the proposed relationships.
Examples of luxury fashion brands that have embraced the concept of gender neutrality and undertaken brand fuzzification strategies, in response to the growing gender neutrality such as Gucci and Dior will be briefly introduced as part of primary and secondary research.
Chapter 4: FINDINGS
This will be the results chapter. The results will be drawn from the literature review section (qualitative) and the methodology section (quantitative) sections. The chapter will explore the manner in which various concepts are interconnected. There will be some analysis in this chapter supporting the concept of gender neutrality and luxury fashion brands brand extension strategy activities.
Chapter 5: – DISCUSSIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
This is the final chapter and is the discussions and conclusions chapter. This expounds on the results set forth in the previous chapters. The results obtained will be integrated with the objectives of the study to give conclusions. Implications for fashion product management strategies will be explored. Strategic, management and fashion business contexts will be developed in order to fulfil the requirements for a piece of work undertaken for the fulfilment of a business degree attainment. This chapter will be used to answer the research questions in full.
Recommendation for further future research will be given based on the conclusion obtained from the main research objective.
Limitations of the outcomes and their wider application will be cited.
Chapter Two: LITERATURE REVIEW
This chapter will contextualise the research question and objectives of the study within the realm of gender neutrality, fashion androgyny, and consumer behaviour and luxury fashion brand extension strategy.
Review of previous literature with regards to blurring of gender boundaries in luxury fashion brands will be explored. The aspect of gender identity fashion and the consumer will also be explored and it will review literature on the manner boundaries within gender lines are diminishing. Theory supporting gender neutrality in fashion from a historical and current perspective will be evidenced to provide clarity and give context to the study.
2.2 Fashion Androgyny
Fashion androgyny can be described as when there is no clear characteristics between masculine and feminine in the types of product being made a fashion company. In Fashion androgyny, there is still ambiguity as to whether this is about a sexual lifestyle only or to do with other forms of identity such as gender or sexual identity. At times, it can also refer to one’s voice when singing, as such there is no definitive definition for this. (Brough, 2008).
It has been gaining popularity lately although its origins can be easily traced to early popular culture. However, it is in fashion and music where it is most prevalent with fashion in the lead by creating what is termed as the “androgynous’ look in which a number of celebrities being credited as trendsetters in that regard.
Historically, the flower power and the hippie movement in the 1960s were instrumental in challenging gender stereotypes and can also be associated with gender neutrality and androgyny. It could also be argued that the rise of the metrosexual in the early 2000s was a form of a phenomenon related to the trend.
Musicians David Bowies, Boy George are credited for challenging the norms of fashion in the 1970s with defined cross gender wardrobes. ‘Leo Mania” which was a departure from the traditional masculine look when Leonardo DiCaprio was seen in a ‘skinny’ look was a trend that followed on from that of the artists cited above. (Lindsey, 2016).
Also in the 1990s the musical band Placebo not only used make but also clothing to create a culture that could also lay claim to androgyny. Infamously or famously South Korean G-Dragon was another pop star who famed for androgynous looks.
As the rise and affinity for unisex clothing grew so did the rise of fashion designers who begun to pick up on the trend in their collection. Designers like Pierre Cardin, Giorgio Armani and Helmut Lang could be heralded as the pioneers for a look that hit public mainstream in the 2000s. There promotions featured clothes that prominently embraced this look and catalogues were filled with different hair highlights, hairstyles that were long. Men were also seen to start wearing designer stubbles, jewellery and make up. It could be claimed that it became very significant in Asia and the western world in the 21st century. (Cavendish, 2010) According to Craik, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto could be credited as being the two designers who made the most powerful impact through their distinctive Japanese style which had a very gender neutral theme in the 1980s. This is credited with being a major influence on the current rise in fashion androgyny. Craik (2000)
Their designs which were large part of reinvigorating ‘Japanism’ followed an approach that was also termed ‘anti-fashion’ which deconstructed garments as a way of moving away from what they considered more mundane features of current western culture. This ended up leading a change in western culture that produced far more gender- neutral construction of garments. In the 1980s. Designers like Yamamoto, promoted the idea that androgyny should be celebrated arguing that it was fashion is one’s self- expression and clothes were simply a catalyst.
Lately, luxury fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton the likes of which was worn by Jaden Smith as a foray into androgynous collections. It is because of events like this, that gender neutrality in fashion has become of significant importance with the concept being cited as a key market driver in the business environment of luxury fashion brands.
2.3 Understanding consumer behaviour (Luxury fashion consumers and buying motivations)
2.3.1 Shopping Motives: Utilitarian vs. Hedonic consumption
‘People’s motives for shopping are a function of many variables some of which are unrelated to the actual buying of the products.’ – Tauber (1972:46)
The fundamental function of shopping is to buy or obtain a product in order to satisfy human requirements of need or desire; aside from shopping to fulfil our physiological needs necessary for human survival we also shop to achieve emotional fulfilment. Ulterior shopping motives have been discussed by numerous authors that conclude shopping is an activity that enables to satisfy both an individual’s emotional and functional needs.
The theory stated by Tauber was provoked by an earlier influential concept by psychologist Abraham Maslow (1954, 1970) who proposes a ‘Hierarchy of needs’ (figure 2.1.) to approach reasons behind consumption motivation. The model which was originally developed to recognise personal growth and achievement theorises the different levels of satisfaction consumers seek to fulfil while they shop. Maslow formulated the hierarchal approach to specify the levels of ‘biogenic’ and ‘psychogenic’ needs that influence consumer shopping motives (Xie et. al., 2012).
The model begins with the most basic and primitive needs as the foundation for our shopping motives then furthering to progress to more complex reasoning based upon civilised and cultural desires. Maslow (1954, 1970) further implies the order of growth is permanently fixed and sequential once one level of satisfaction has been attained another need then takes over insinuating that people are unlikely to be able to develop and meet their growth needs until deficiency needs are met (Eggen and Kauchak, 1999).
Figure 2.1 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Source: Maslow (1954, 1970)
This theory has been of particular interest to Marketers as it attempts to recognise the consumption benefits consumers are seeking in their purchases. This theory has been considered to lack empirical backing, thus inevitably resulting in its criticism. Trigg (2004) detects the main problem with Maslow’s theory to be concerned with an individual’s needs, describing them as ‘innate’ and dependent upon cultural and sociological variables. The hierarchy could be criticised as an assumption towards western culture and restricted by what materialistic possessions signify to different cultures, concluding the order of the hierarchy inconclusive (Xie et. al 2012).
Consumer behaviour research has supported the ideology that shopping has far more complex implications than being merely based upon our practical needs. Brands are now focused upon consumer behaviour, attempting to identify the shopping motives of consumers and understand what influences their spending. Shopping motives explain the underlying reasons that provoke certain types of behaviour, it is important that the understanding of shopping motives also consider the satisfaction the actual shopping activity can generate as well as the utility from the product purchased (Tauber 1972).
Holbrook (1986) strongly believed that the emotional costs and benefits should not be ignored, if consumer marketers can harness the power of personal needs to consume they can gain market share, build brand recognition and increase profitability (Danziger, 2004).
Hedonic consumption is associated with the emotional and sociological fulfilment and how shopping purchases can result in satisfying those need possessions can influence the way we feel about ourselves and the way we see others.
2.3.2 Consumer self-image and brand identity: Symbolic consumption
The consumption of goods holds a stronger psychological role than merely making a purchase to attain a product for practical use, products are chosen as they are representative of value and are means of regulating emotions and gaining social status, as well as ways of expressing our identity and aspiring to an ‘ideal self’ (Dittmar 1992). Piacentini and Mailer (2004) refer to these consumption processes as ‘symbolic consumption’, it directly associates a consumer’s self-concept with individuals using products as instruments to create, develop and maintain their identities. Levy (1955) a pioneer of symbolic consumption contributed largely to this study, considering the symbolic aspects of products (Levy and Gardner 1955) arguing “People buy products not only for what they can do, but also what they mean” (1955:18).
Consumption is indicative of how individuals may perceive their ‘self’, as they tend to make purchasing decisions based upon products or services that signify an appealing symbolic importance. Kim et.al (2007) explains that consumers evaluate the goods or services whilst in pursuit of their self-identities, seeking to satisfy identity needs through consumption, describing these ‘identity needs’ as analogous with Maslow’s hierarchy. Belk (1988) refers to possessions as a contribution and a reflection of an individual’s identity. The possessions are an influential factor to the self-identity constructed by the consumer, the loss of which would be considered as a “lessening of self” (Belk 1998:142).
The growing interest in symbolic consumption could be directly associated with the rise of consumer culture, recent years have witnessed the retail industry become subject to major changes with regards to retailers and competition. Lury (2011) defines consumer culture as the availability of large and increasing amount of manufactured goods, noting that more aspects of human life are being made accessible to consume through the marketplace.
An essential aspect of consumer culture is the emphasis on lifestyle; consumption is to many an element of social position, (Kim et. al, 2007) with the purchasing of material goods helping to attain a level of happiness and satisfaction. Research indicates that consumers also construct and represent their self-identity through their consumption choices of brands, products and services. McGoldrick (2002) suggests that targeting an audience via lifestyle makes for more effective differentiation as opposed to demographics as brand images are as diverse as shoppers’ self-images. Consumers seek to express their ‘self’ choosing brands and products that reflect their identity (Chernev et. al., 2011).
Figure 2.2. Lifestyle Brands cornerstones model. Source: Saviolo and Marazza, 2013
Figure 2.2 aims to summarise the effects of brands with a particular identity or employ a brand culture/lifestyle has on consumer ‘self’ image.
2.4 Luxury fashion marketing communication strategy
2.4.1 Creating brand attachments
Brand strategy is often associated with the long-term activities and plan for the development of fashion brands with the purpose of achieving specific aims, objectives and goals. A successfully executed strategy must affect all aspects of the brand and impact on the needs of consumer’s needs, emotions and the competition. (Kapferer, 2012). Building emotional consumer attachments is the part of the process of a fashion brand’s marketing and communicating strategy. The strategy is used for presenting their value in order to gain loyalty and build consumer relationships. It is directly linked with consumer ‘self’ and brand identity as the representation brand identity and values should synonymous with their consumer.
Bartone (2011) argues that corporations should implement “consumer-orientated perspective” when developing the identity of their brand, they should take the “selves” of their target audience into consideration. Keller (1993) explains brand relationships are dependent on the resonance of the brand and their audience, and whether consumers are “in-synch” with the brand, he uses a customer-based brand equity model (figure 2.3) to demonstrate the stages of consumer-brand association. The more an individual can relate to a brand the more they consider the brand to be an aspect of their identity, hence, developing an emotional bond (Park et. al., 2010). Brands that are able to evoke emotional consumer attachments are more likely to build a loyalty that has the potential to lead into long-term relationships.
Figure 2.3. The Customer-Based Brand Equity model. Source: Keller (1993).
2.4.2 Building brand communities
The term ‘brand communities’ is a concept introduced by Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) it refers to a community formed on the basis of joined brand admiration. The concept of brand communities focuses its attention upon the relationships between the brand and consumer communicating the brand’s identity and values. Brand communities can develop within brands big or small, what is essential to create a brand community is to clearly communicate the brand and its point of differentiation, the brand must represent a substance of worth through its identity and values which must be identifiable amongst their customer audience (Kalman, 2009).
Consumers within a distinguishable brand community often represent a unified group which can associate themselves with a brand’s identity and reflect its core values. Kalman (2009) also identified that in order to build brand communities there must be ways in which consumers can engage in public brand experiences. Positive customer experiences connect the brand to the lifestyles of their consumers, these experiences stimulate emotional values that overcome and substitute functional values (Schmitt, 1999). Through creating positive consumption experiences and strongly communicating brand identity and values to appeal to an audience Marketers hope they can convert consumers to brand enthusiasts (figure 2.4.).
Figure 2.4. Brand community model Source: Kalman (2009) .
The framework is a brand community model demonstrating the different degrees consumers affiliate themselves with the brand also representing the variances in purchase intention. Brands must try to channel the ways in which they can gain the value of their consumers in a hope to change and enhance brand perception, consumers must value the brand rather than solely the products.
Loyalty schemes have been employed by several brands, they are used as an incentive to give customers a higher share their retail spending (Reynolds, 1995) thus, improving the number of customer retention. Customer loyalty schemes are not merely based upon rewarding consumers for their custom but as an influential factor for constructing long term relationships (Butscher, 2002).
2.5 Building and maintaining brand relationships through online technologies
2.5.1 Online brand communities
The internet has become an intrinsic part of our everyday lives; according to a report carried out by ONS (Office for National Statistics) in 2016 76 million adults accessed the internet on a daily basis, the result accounting for 73% of the UK population. It was further reported by ONS that mobile commerce is a fast-growing market having doubled its statistics from 24% to 53% between 2015 and 2016. These figures indicate the ever-growing digitally connected consumer; the internet has become the public’s primary method of sourcing businesses and services (Gordreau, 2014). The rapid advancements of the internet have given businesses a new place to build communities and relationships at an even lower cost, internet media provides a strategic opportunity to develop online brand communities which may give brands the opportunity to broaden their brand identity (Wirtz et al., 2013).
Online brand communities refer to the communities created online surrounding the functions of a particular brand, due to the vast development of internet technologies fashion and beauty brands have become more accessible to everyone. This exponential growth has empowered the formation of numerous online brand communities where brand affiliates can share information, opinions and experiences, serving as a platform for consumers to engage with brand functions.
Marketers are now considering the development of these communities as an important and influential aspect of brand business as it further enhances the relationship between brand and consumers without the restrictions of time and place. With the rise of new age internet technologies often referred to as web 2.0, activities such as blogging, social bookmarking and social networking have encouraged the interaction between consumers (Brogi et al., 2013). Web 2.0 technologies are an advancement of web 1.0 (traditional World Wide Web) – the main distinguishing factor between both technologies is the capability to participate with online content enabling the collaboration between internet users and content providers. Prior to its recent developments, Borges (2009) categorises the web technologies into outbound and inbound marketing practices, he describes 1.0 web technologies as ‘intrusive and interruptive’ offering only a one-way form of communication similar to traditional marketing such as TV, radio and print. Inbound marketing focuses its attention on creating interactive content in an attempt to offer a more valuable experience that engages with their consumers to build customer relationships. These media have come a long way from that characterisation.
2.5.2 Social media networks
In recent years, social media has become the most favoured online activity as reported by the telegraph (Barnett, 2017). Internet technologies are rich with information changing the way we consume both information and our products (Borges, 2009). It is easier than ever before for consumers to source information on brands, products and services, in 2016 Mooshmedia reported that 74.2% of the UK population are now actively online (Mooshmedia, 2016). Brands can no longer ignore the opportunity to reach their consumers via the internet, with social media serving as a communicative platform to improve on existing or create new customer relationships. Kabani (2012) explains how brands can use social media as a tool to introduce new customers to their business (figure 3.1).
Figure 3.1. Successful online marketing tool Source: Kabani (2012)
The model demonstrates the actions brands are required to take in order to build new customer relationships. Kabani (2012) clarifies this model by breaking down each step, attract – refers to findings ways to get people’s attention to traffic them to the brand’s website/store, convert – changing a visitor in to a consumer, this can be achieved by creating positive experiences or through desirable merchandise, Transform – is when you have managed to do the previous steps successfully.
Social-media marketing is both a form of online advertising and public relations, it allows companies to manage information and communicate it directly with their consumers. It is an influential marketing tool with the potential to facilitate a strong engagement between brands and their respective audiences. Retailers are using social-media sites to build the awareness of their brands, it enables brands to communicate their identities and values which can enhance the perception of the “brand as a person,” thus strengthening the personality of the brand (Tuten, 2015). Social media refers to the range of online communities and networks that allow users to participate with online content; Tuten (2015:20) advocates the effects of social media participation:
“The term can encompass any online community that promotes the individual whilst also emphasising an individual’s relationship to the community, the rights of all members to collaborate and to be heard within a protective space, which welcomes the opinions and contributions of participants.”
This highlights the opportunity for brand promotion and engagement whilst enabling brands to gain brand value amongst their customers. Gleeson (2012) further promotes the communication between brands and customers on social media platforms as a method to gain the trust of their audience, he states that if consumers are able to reach out to companies via social media and are encouraged to do so it provides an opportunity to deliver great service before a large audience.
Furthermore, Gleeson (2012) explains the potential this method of communication has on an audience’s perception, demonstrating the company of being capable of great service and valuing and handling their customers concerns with care, as a result the customers are likely to feel valued and value the company in return. Figure 3.2 below shows the potential uses of social media in building brand relationships with their consumer base.
Figure 3.2. Social media functionality. Source: Kietzmann et. al. (2012)
Social media acts often as both a pre-and post-purchase touchpoint, it allows the opportunity for consumers to contact brands easily and share their experience to other consumers whether it be positive or negative. Social media enables to allow brands to offer their consumers a high level of involvement (Kittle and Ciba, 2001) contributing towards building a consumer bond. Social media also allows for consumers who don’t know much about a brand to source out information and become familiar with the brand’s personality and its core values. This could be an influential aspect to converting a first-time buyer into a customer. Brand social media activity is a persuasive method to lure customers to transition a pre/post-purchase experience into a purchase experience, using visual images and content to inspire or motivate browsing or product sourcing.
2.6 Fuzzification and brand management strategy
Fuzzification, according to the Oxford English dictionary is ‘to blur, difficult to perceive; indistinct or vague’ or make even less pronounced. (Oxford English dictionary online, 2017). In fashion, gender fuzzification is the process through which fashion brands blur the lines between male and female products. In doing so they make the products ‘gender neutral’ or ‘non-binary’ “denoting or relating to a gender or sexual identity that is not defined in terms of traditional binary oppositions such as male and female or homosexual and heterosexual. (Oxford English dictionary, online, 2017). The consequence of this is that the brand and, in particular, its products are not perceived to belong to a single gender.
Okonkwo has suggested that good effective brand management has to be responsive to its environments, as markets change, so should brands (Okonkwo, 2007). Kapferer has suggested there are several ways in which brands can choose to evolve in order remain relevant in the wake of changing consumer tastes and buying motivations among its target audiences; this includes brand extensions, brand stretching, brand collaborations and modifications (Kapferer, 2012). He suggested that brands can create new or modified versions of existing products as a way of, not only creating or entering new markets but meeting customer changing preferences. He has suggested that brands that do not respond to changing consumer tastes risk losing competitive advantage in the long run.
It can be said therefore that gender fuzzification is an ongoing brand management strategy that luxury fashion brands have used to not only create but respond to the changes in consumer buying motivations fuelled by the growth of androgynous fashion.
Kotler, says among the many aspects of brand management, it is about marketing activities that ensures a brand develops positive associations with its name in the target market and continues to be relevant in the target customer it serves. (Kotler, 2012) One could argue that fuzzification is part of brand management that ensures fashion brands that have embraced this concept maintain positive associations and relevance with their consumer markets.
This chapter was important in establishing the theoretical approaches that will be undertaken to inform the study. It put into context the various strands of theory and was intended to provide a better understanding of the relevant topics. The next chapter will explain how the research was designed to address the main research aims and objectives.
Chapter Three: – METHODOLOGY
This chapter explores the research design and the methodology of the study. In this regard, the chapter is meant to forward the methodological consideration of the research and the steps that were taken to implement the research. Both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection will be presented in this chapter. Examples of luxury fashion brands that have embraced the concept of gender neutrality and undertaken brand fuzzification strategies, in response to the growing gender neutrality such as Gucci, Dior, Burberry, Tom Ford and Vetements will be briefly introduced as examples of luxury brand that have embraced fuzzification and to add context. This will be part of the primary and secondary research to inform the study.
3.2 Research Design and Philosophy
The research topic of brand fuzzification and the influence on luxury fashion brands brand extension strategies was investigated and developed by utilising an inductive approach (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015).
Existing theories surrounding the general topic areas of gender neutrality and consumer behaviour specific to luxury fashion consumers – moving from the general to the specific as suggested by Babbie was completed via a variety of trusted methods: academic sources such as peer-reviewed journals and textbooks which provided theory whilst current market research, broadsheet newspaper articles and the identified brands were used as examples (Babbie, 2010) which provided context to aid the study. This helped the study examine what androgyny and gender neutrality form a literal perspective is as outlined in research aims. In addition, literature on luxury brand management and communication was explored in order to support the exploration of luxury brand management and communication in relation to creating awareness about specific brand fuzzification activities. This approach was important in drawing a clear conceptual and literature framework to underpin the work.
Primary research considerations were made to ensure the most suited data collection tools were employed. The scope and nature of the research project was taken into account and so was the expected analysis and style in which the outcomes will be presented and reported in the findings chapter. The primary research methods and data collection tools are presented in the next few paragraphs.
3.2.1 Primary research and methods data collection
A mixed method was applied to data collection, integrating both qualitative and quantitative data to build a more complete understanding of the key themes (Creswell, 2014). Relationship between the growing gender neutrality among luxury fashion consumers and luxury fashion responses in form of brand realignment (although necessarily extension strategies) will be evaluated. The idea is to explore to what extent brands make deliberate changes to their product offerings in order to respond to the growing fashion androgyny within the target consumer markets.
Quantitative data was collected in two ways. The first was an online, self-completed questionnaire (Bryman and Bell, 2015). The questionnaire was created to establish how the respondents behave towards luxury fashion brands that have embraced brand fuzzification through the introduction of gender neutral products. It was also intended to collect data to form an understanding of consumer appreciation of gender fuzzification and therefore help to answer the main study aim i.e. how are consumers reacting to brand fuzzification by luxury fashion brands.
This was followed by the virtual structured observation, monitoring and recording of social media platforms created by brands model suggested by Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015. These Social Media comments (such as YouTube and other social media comments like Instagram) were also analysed based on the creation of the categorisation of YouTube comments by Madden, Ruthven and McMenemy (2013) was utilised in order to generate a large quantity of easy to analyse the data (Bryman and Bell 2015).
Qualitative data was collected via another two methods. Firstly, physical store visits were undertaken to establish luxury fashion brands stocking gender neutral products. This was simply to establish which brands have such collections. This was supplemented by visual analysis of websites and own social media marketing promotional platforms including video observation on YouTube using film theory from academics such as Nelmes (2003) to spot gender neutral collections or products present in these luxury brand collections.
Finally, two focus groups were carried out in a semi-structured format (Fisher, 2010) to help develop on from the other methods to create a richer understanding of the correlation between gender neutrality and luxury brands’ extension strategies.
The online questionnaire participants were a volunteer sample, specifically a self- selected sample (Gill and Johnson, 2010), gained via social media with the potential to snowball. The target obtained was 100 fully filled questionnaires. A volunteer sample was selected as it was easy to organise. Volunteer samples means there was no requirement to incentivise the participants monetary or otherwise which was ideal as the researcher who is a student would not have the means to provide the incentive. Rather by volunteering it meant the participants were took part of their own volition. Consequently, volunteer participants are keener to participate full as they are driven by self-motivation which was of great benefit to the study.
Additionally, recruiting the volunteers online suited this study and was appropriate due to the consumer type being investigated being high users of social media as suggested by a Mintel report on luxury fashion consumers (Mintel 2017).
Once the questionnaire was designed it was piloted on a selected number of individuals in order to remove any uncertainties as regards what the questions really wanted to achieve and also to ensure any bias was minimised as researchers indicate that bias in research cannot be completely eradicated.
3.2.3 Ethical Considerations
Whilst there are a variety of ethical considerations to take into account, there were a few key ones to pay particular attention to. The issues of informed consent, anonymity and confidentiality (Dawson 2009) were addressed in terms of the questionnaire and focus group. Informed consent was gained through focus group participants signing consent forms (See Appendix 4-19) and being fully briefed and debriefed, pre-and post-focus group used the research participant information forms (Appendix 2 & 3). Focus group participants were required to read the information form prior to each focus group, whilst online questionnaire participants received this in writing whist completing the questionnaire. Both groups were reminded of their right to withdraw at any time, and all participant results were coded to ensure anonymity (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015).
3.2.4 Data Analysis
Qualitative data was analysed in a variety of forms, working along the qualitative continuum. The focus group were fully transcribed (See Appendix 20) with relevant quotes picked on suitability on representing the main themes that occurred from discussions on gender neutrality – resulting in reflective data. On the other hand, the analysing of YouTube and social media comments allowed for qualitative data (viewers opinion and conversation) to be analysed in a quantifiable way, representing the other end of the qualitative continuum (Bell, 2010).
Data analysis took place after the collection of all data, which occurred simultaneously. This prevented data results from analysis influencing other findings.
Additionally, this allowed triangulation to demonstrate if the data collection methods and subsequent analysis, from a variety of methods, accurately articulated what the methods intended to (Gill and Johnson, 2010), in respect of establishing the relationship of gender neutrality and new brand extension development within luxury fashion brands.
In consideration for the research design and methodology it is very important for a researcher to take into account data and information that is already readily available so as not to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and waste a lot of time looking for data and information that already exist.
Secondly, it is important to realise that literature searches and methodology design should consider to fill the information gaps as regards the research being undertaken and this was also implemented by the study.
Finally, the premise set in designed the secondary literature and primary search was that, once it was established that luxury brands were blurring their products through fuzzification, it was then important for the study to clearly establish to what extent are consumers responding to these strategies? This was, not only at the centre of the study, but was key in evidencing how the study would contribute an original perspective to the existing theory and knowledge on the study topic.
The methodology findings provided a rich collection of data that was relevant to the study aim and objectives. The sequential approach in which the collection task was undertaken allowed for information to be sorted by relevance, importance and themes. The process of collecting data using questionnaires provided the bulk of the information in a very short period. The focus group allowed for a much deeper interrogation of the respondents including an opportunity to clarify (and add details) to information collecting from the questionnaires. Physical store and observations were complemented by website and social media monitoring. This triangulated approach was important and eased the coding and collating exercise that allowed for ease of analysis. The following chapter will now present the key findings from the research and commence the analyses of these raw data in order that the study can make sense of these.
Chapter Four: FINDINGS
Chapter 4 is used to present the findings of the primary research undertaken by this study. The findings have been presented both in qualitative and quantitative data formats with relevant explanations were required.
The following are the findings from the 5 primary research methods that were used to achieve this study namely: Questionnaires, Physical store observations, Website monitoring, Social media marketing monitoring and Focus group discussions.
The table below matches the data collection tool to the research objective achieved.
Objectives covered by primary research data collection tools. (Source, Author, 2017)
4.1.1 Questionnaire outcomes
The following is a summary of the key questionnaire outcomes. See Appendix 21 for detailed outcomes.
The questionnaire survey was completed first and resulted into 100 fully completed surveys. 50 percent of the respondents identified themselves as ‘gender neutral, gay, lesbian or transgender’ (Question 3) which was helpful in relation to the study question of these 65% spend over £1000 pounds per website or store visit (Question 4). Of the brands being observed by the study, Burberry, Dior, Tom Ford and Gucci were the most visited with Vetements the least with 5% of the respondents having visited a store or website.
Gucci got the highest scores as the brands most associated with gender neutrality and fuzzification with Tom Ford being the least (Question 6) while 30% confirmed that a brand’s gender neutrality is the most influencing factor on purchasing decisions (Question 7). 100% of respondents shop online while 30 of the 100 respondents have used a mobile device to buy products (Question 8 and 9 respectively). Brand’s social media marketing was the highest source of product information at 60% (Question10).
70% indicated being influenced on the choice of brand to buy on whether or not if it showed signs of gender fuzzification (Question 11) while 45 % strongly agreed that adopting gender neutrality is very important for brands. (Question 12). Instagram had the highest percentage at 60% in terms of social media usage by the respondents.
Overall, the questionnaires confirmed the following:
- Consumer’s behaviour is influenced by luxury brands fuzzification.
- Androgynous fashion is an important part of a brands communication strategy.
- Social media is an important source for building relations and product information for brands who have embraced gender fuzzification.
4.1.2 – Physical store observations
Physical store visits were undertaken to conduct observations in order to see the extent of gender neutral products present stocked. The stores visited in London are Tom Ford, Burberry, Dior, Gucci and Vetements.
Overall, it is clear to see from the websites monitored that luxury fashion brands have embraced gender fuzzification in their collections and product lines as a response to the change in consumer behaviour. In most cases the imagery used to promote the products were a designed such a way as to be deliberately neutral in line with the products being offered.
4.1.4 Social media marketing monitoring
Social media marketing activities outcomes for monitoring the social media marketing activities for the following brands; Burberry, Gucci, Dior, Vetements and Tom Ford are presented below.
Overall, there is clear evidence that luxury brands are using social media marketing platforms to communicate their gender fuzzification credentials and create relationships with consumers.
On most of the social media platforms, the products displayed used imagery or models that were deliberately designed to project a non-binary message or communication.
In addition, most of the social media platforms had clear evidence of consumer engagements through comments and likes. This indicated an element of community building due to the interactive nature of social media.
4.1.5 Focus group outcomes
Focus groups presented some interesting findings as they allowed for more detailed and subjective discussions to take place. A summary of the transcripts of the focus group discussions and answers is presented as Appendix 20 (Focus group 1 and 2).
70% of the respondents consider gender fuzzification as being an important part of a brands communication strategy (Appendix 20: Line:22-28, Focus Group 1). The focus groups revealed that consumers have a positive attitude and perception of brands that evidenced fuzzification and gender neutrality in the product lines as evidenced by 85% agreeing that it was an important part of their consumer buying behaviour (Appendix 20: Line:45-52, Focus Group 1). 80% of the focus group respondents indicated that they would lose interest and probably not buy from a brand if it did not embrace gender fuzzification (Appendix 20: Line: 182-189, Focus Group 2) confirming the study’s objective 3 which was to explore whether fuzzification helps with brand relevance.
Focus group findings also confirmed the growing consumer’s influence on brand’s fuzzification, with 80% of the respondents indicating that more and more brands are responding due to consumer demands (Appendix 20: Line: 29, 31, 33 Focus Group 1: Line: 134-140, Focus Group 2). 95% of respondents indicated that if brands did not manage their activities strategically to include gender fuzzification, it would eventually impact on their competitiveness in the market as they were evidence to suggest a growing market for androgynous fashion offering (Appendix 20: Line: 77-84, Focus Group 1; Line: 142-149, Focus Group 2). Growing interest by consumers in non-binary fashion was also cited by focus group participants as an important market driver to which brands were responding through gender fuzzification.
Overall, focus groups were very helpful in gathering qualitative data on the study aims and informing the answer as to how consumers are responding to gender fuzzification by brands and equally how brands are using it to maintain relevance in an ever- changing market environment. Focus groups allowed for deeper probing of respondents’ answers and opportunity for expanded answers.
The research findings clearly indicated that brands have embraced fuzzification and consumers have taken notice to which they are responding positively. There was also evidence of the growing attitude by consumers to fashion androgyny. The findings were helpful in realising the study aims and establishing implications for fashion brand management for those blurring the gender lines in response to consumer needs. Physical store observations and website monitoring was important in giving an idea of the extent to which the luxury brands observed undertake fuzzification. It was also important to note the clever use of social media to communicate and create communities with consumers.
The next chapter will now be used to discuss these findings and analyses in order that discussions are made and conclusions drawn of the study. It will explore them in much greater detail, make theoretical links with the literature review and establishing relevance of the findings while confirming the research outcomes.
Chapter Five: DISCUSSIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
The final chapter of the dissertation is used to provide a comprehensive and conclusive discussion on the research findings and analyses. It is used to demonstrate that the aim and objectives have been fully met. It identifies the management implications of fuzzification as a way for luxury brands to response to customer needs and maintain relevance in the wake of continued growth of fashion androgyny. It is also used to confirm the original contribution made to the study topic. Limitations of the study are provided and suggestions for further future research made appropriately.
5.2 Discussions and conclusions
This dissertation has confirmed, through the literature and primary research findings, that consumers are reacting favourably to luxury fashion brands that have embraced product fuzzification. It has also confirmed that fuzzification helps brands to maintain relevance in the minds of consumers by communicating and creating relationships using online communities brought about by technology and social media platforms.
According to the study findings, androgynous fashion is continually growing and this is fuelling fuzzification within luxury fashion brands; this was corroborated by focus groups findings (Appendix 20: Line: 77-84, Focus group 1 and Line: 142-149, Focus Group 2), the online survey findings and the literature review. Maslow suggested a hierarchical way of looking at the motivations for consumer buying based on consumers ‘biogenic’ and ‘psychogenic’ needs that influence consumer shopping motives (Xie et. al., 2012), this model is of particular relevance in discussions about fuzzification as it suggests that the higher you go up the hierarchy the buying motivations are a lot more about ‘self-expression’ and is in line with what was corroborated in the dissertation primary research findings (Appendix 20: Focus group 2 Line: 45-46)
Holbrook (1986) strongly believes that, if consumer marketers can harness the power of personal needs to consume they can gain market share, build brand recognition and increase profitability (Danziger, 2004). Certainly, this dissertation confirms that those brands that have harnessed the ‘personal needs’ of consumers and blurred gender lines seemed to have benefitted with brand recognition as confirmed by 70 % of respondents for Question 11 (Appendix 21) who said there were influenced in the selection of brands from who to purchase if they felt it considered their personal needs. Another important discussion for this study is that ‘people buy products not for what they are but what they mean’. Gender neutral products have a specific meaning in consumers mind and this is vital for a fashion brand to recognise. Piacentini and Mailer (2004) refer to these consumption processes as ‘symbolic consumption’ focus group respondents confirmed the importance of meaning in clothes as a key consideration for purchasing (Appendix 20: Line: 135-142; Focus group 2).
According to Chernev et al, consumers seek to express their ‘self’ by choosing brands and products that reflect their identity (Chernev et. al., 2011). These ‘lifestyle brands’ have a clear manifesto and expression, this study has identified the luxury brands used as examples for embracing fuzzification such as Dior, Chanel, Burberry, Vetements and Tom Ford to have a clear ‘brand expression’ through their product collections observed during the store visits and website monitoring which denotes that they are lifestyle brands by catering specifically to a gender-neutral consumer’s lifestyle.
It can be said that the fact that respondents both in the focus groups’ and online survey findings consider gender fuzzification an important factor in the way they relate to luxury brands, there is therefore an urgent need for brands to implement brand management strategies that not only promote relevancy and but also profitable relationships with consumers as argued by Okonkwo, 2010.
Website and social media observation and monitoring revealed interesting facts about brands that have embraced fuzzification as a way of remaining relevant to the customer which is the use of marketing communication, especially social media, to build relationships with consumers through building brand communities. The term ‘brand communities’ is a concept introduced by Muniz and O’Guinn (2001), it refers to a community formed on the basis of joined brand admiration. The concept of brand communities focuses its attention upon the relationships between the brand and consumer communicating the brand’s identity and values. It is clear from the findings of this dissertation that it is certainly the case for Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Burberry, Tom Ford and Vetements which were the brands observed.
These brands have sought to maintain ‘brand presence and voice’ in the branded communities by creating emotional attachments through the content used in their social media marketing. This dissertation proposes that at the heart of this communication building has been the realisation of the efficacy and power of social media for relationship creation and building as confirmed by focus group findings (Appendix 20: Line: 69-76: Focus group 1)
Primary research findings confirmed a majority of consumers access the brands through social media. Equally literature confirmed this as Kapferer said building emotional consumer attachments is part of the process of a fashion brand’s marketing and communicating strategy. The strategy is used for presenting their value in order to gain loyalty and build consumer relationships. It is directly linked with consumer ‘self’ and brand identity as the representation brand identity and values should be synonymous with their consumer. (Kapferer, 2012)
Bartone (2011) argues that corporations should implement “consumer-orientated perspective” when developing the identity of their brand, they should take the “selves” of their target audience into consideration. This has certainly been identified in this dissertation as the store visits are corroborated by other findings in illustrating that the brands observed in this study have implemented ‘consumer-oriented perspectives when developing their brand identities. This was equally confirmed by focus group 2 findings.
Kotler and Keller (2013) explains brand relationships are dependent on the resonance of the brand and their audience, and whether consumers are “in-synch” again this is confirmed by how much the brands this study observed have embraced fuzzification as a clear sign of being ‘in-synch’ with consumers. The dissertation finds and the literature and focus group findings confirm this point as well.
It was also interesting to note the number of online ‘followers’ for the different brands monitored in the dissertation; giving an indication on just how much a large audience exists for an online community for brands. Online brand communities refer to the communities created online surrounding the functions of a particular brand, due to the vast development of internet technologies. 100% questionnaire respondents shop online while 75% use social media for product information. However, Kabani suggests, through the ‘successful online marketing cycle’ that to be successful online brands must perform the three key stages of the cycle effectively. (Kabani, 2012). Not all online experiences are successful and therefore careful planning is required.
The focus group discussions confirmed that brand name is, at times, more important than the actual products when it comes to evidencing fuzzification. They confirmed that favourable brand associations are becoming more important especially when it can be seen to have embraced fuzzification; that they would look upon brand favourably even if they did not buy any products from it. This was particularly interesting as it confirmed the literature claimed by Kalman (2000) through the Brand community model when he said “Brand’s must try to channel the ways in which they can gain the value of their consumers in a hope to change and enhance brand perception, consumers must value the brand rather than solely the products.”.
This dissertation concludes that at the heart of its findings include the fact that long- term brand and customer relationships are key to fuzzification success; ‘brands that are able to evoke emotional consumer attachments are more likely to build a loyalty that has the potential to lead into long-term relationships’ however the success of these relationships is largely dependent on social media networks. More than 85% of primary research respondents use a social media network platform. The importance of social media for a brand is confirmed by this statement:
“Social media enables to allow brands to offer their consumers a high level of involvement contributing towards building a consumer bond. Social media also allows for consumers who don’t know much about a brand to source out information and become familiar with the brand’s personality and its core values”
(Kittle and Ciba, 2001)
In line with the aims and objectives of the dissertation it can be concluded as follows: The dissertation has answered fully the question ‘to determine consumers’ attitudes to fashion androgyny’ by enlisting responses which confirm that luxury fashion attitudes are positive and view brands that have incorporated this in their brands much more favourably than those who do not. This objective has been met using the findings from questionnaires and focus groups during which respondents clearly expressed their attitudes towards brands’ fuzzification activities.
The dissertation objective requiring the study to explore ‘aspects of consumer behaviour that influence gender fuzzification in luxury fashion brands’ has been answered by through the focus group and online surveys where consumer clearly explained their consumer buying motivations which brands are responding to. Consumer clearly confirmed that they more likely not to buy from brands that do not stock gender neutral products. This has influenced brands to undertake fuzzification in order to respond and remain relevant and consequently act in line with what the literature confirmed including Kapferer, Kotler and Keller who have argued about brand relevance can be enhanced by brands adopting ‘consumer oriented’ and a ‘self-image’ approach in motivating consumers to buy.
The dissertation has also answered clearly the objective ‘to what extent luxury fashion brands, enhance brand relevance by using the concept of gender fuzzification in brand communications’ by exploring various online platforms including websites and social media marketing platforms for the brands used as illustrative examples. The outcomes of the observation of brand activities through websites and online social platforms clearly confirms this and indicates how the objective has been fully answered.
The final objective of the study requiring the discussion on the ‘implications of the research on luxury fashion brands’ management of their brand communication strategies in relation to gender fuzzification is clear from the literature and primary research findings of the focus groups and online surveys. Respondents in Focus group 1 and 2 overwhelmingly confirmed that they are more likely not to buy products from brands that do not embrace fuzzification It can be therefore be concluded that brands that fail to instil strategies and managements approaches that involve fuzzification do so at their own peril and risk losing relevance among the consumers they wish to attract.
The study’s original contribution to the topic was to establish how and to what extent consumers of luxury fashion brands are responding to the fuzzification undertaken by luxury fashion brands. The gap in the knowledge and literature was to obtain first-hand information from consumers about their reaction to brands that are blurring gender lines between their products. Although this is at a small-scale level study, we can deduce that this is the beginning of a much better understanding of consumer reaction towards brands that are undertaking fuzzification obtained first hand from consumers of gender neutral products. This research is probably something on which further research would be built upon. In that regard, the aim and objectives of this study have been fully met.
5.3 Limitations of the study
The study was only focused on a limited number of brands and therefore the findings may not have wider application of results.
The time frame in which the observations and monitoring of websites and social media marketing was very short meaning there was only a limited of scope to be observed.
The study did not have a voice from ‘inside the brand’ to give their first-hand views rather it was heavily dependent on a consumer perspective.
5.4 Recommendations for further study
A much longer duration study would be recommended in order to increase the scope and improve the validity of study findings. It is recommended that this can be done to concentrate on a specific demographic e.g. Gen Z (those born 1995 to 2012) who are considered to be the generation that utterly defy the gender binary.
APPENDIX 22: REFLECTIVE STATEMENT
The dissertation is the final major project on my BA Fashion Management course and effectively marks the end of my undergraduate study. When I look back to when I started this journey I feel a sense of accomplishment for all the learning that I have undertaken on the course. Although everything has not always been easy and plain sailing, I am happy to be at this stage in my life. Completing this course is a real success story. The graduation itself will be a very proud moment for me and I look forward to it with great eagerness.
Undertaking the work for the dissertation was very challenging yet exciting. One of the reason for this is because of the nature and amount of the work. After spending two terms of the final year working on projects with much clearer outlines and direction, suddenly you arrive in the third and final term facing the unit with the most credits and with so much weighting on your final degree classification and yet it has the least guidance as you are expected to work largely in a self-directed manner. The adjustment is really hard and demanding and with less than usual contact time with lecturers and friends, it can be quite lonely at times.
Asking me to make my own choice of topic, albeit with a little guidance from the lecturers, really hit and tested me. Initially, I was really stressed about the whole thing and really did not know what to do and was literally stuck for ideas but then rather than let this knock my confidence, I decided to embrace the challenge and apply myself to the process. The first thing I did was make a mind map of all possible topics starting with the ones I enjoyed the most on the course and others that I was interested in pursuing in the fashion industry generally. Through a process of elimination, I settled on my research topic.
As soon as I had overcome the obstacle of selecting the topic, I began to feel a lot more relaxed about the whole process. I set myself a plan or action on how I was going to go about doing the work, this involved setting milestones, having a daily ‘to do list’ and sticking to it, regular reading around my topic area and keeping a reflective journal. As I ticked off my list, my confidence and self-belief grew and keep me on track. This new-found energy and enthusiasm is what kept me going especially on the odd occasion when enthusiasm was waning and I lacked energy but I preserved and I am glad I did.
In approaching the dissertation process I conducted a personal SWOT analysis in order to help me manage the process. I found that my key strengths were my personal motivation and commitment to doing well and this has stood me in good stead while doing this work. I would say my major weakness was trying to organise all my work in one place which I overcame by being a lot more organised than usual and this really helped me achieve my work to this standard.
Another skill I have developed is getting myself ready for tutorials. In the past, it was easy to ‘hide’ when doing course work in seminars or within a group but with the one – to-one is the dissertation process, there is nowhere to hide. As a result, I had to learn, and master, very quickly how to get my work organised so as to get make the best of the allocated time and make the best use of my time. I think will benefit my time management skills long term. Working with my supervisor has also been a very enriching experience in terms of asking the right kind of questions. I found the meetings were very useful, reassuring and helpful in developing my topic.
To topic of a gender fuzziifcation is very topical and current for the fashion industry at the moment, it is one that has interested me for some time now, therefore undertaking my project on this topic made the process even more engaging because it is something ensured my enthusiasm and engagement was maintained at a very high level. I have certainly learned a lot about this topic and is probably something I will be developing for my MA and or career in future. Another area of my study topic of personal interested is the creating of brand communities using digital and social media platforms. This topic combined perfectly the two subject areas I am really interested in and this made the well less of a hassle to do.
As indicated earlier, I hadn’t undertaking such a big piece of work requiring the levels of self-direction as was required for this project as such doing it successfully means there have been a lot of learning lessons, I have learnt that I can actually negotiate my way when required, for example when I needed to take photos inside the Burberry store for my primary research, I managed to negotiate by successfully proving that the images were going to be used for an academic piece of work. I have also identified personal growth when it comes to prioritising personal and social life over college work without which I would not have completed this work successfully.
I have worked extremely hard on this project in order to get an outcome that can make me proud but there is also another reason, I am planning to apply for MA study and it is extremely crucial that I get an excellent mark for this work so that I have the required overall grade. I have done my absolute best and worked to the best of my abilities. I am so proud of myself and my work. I have enjoyed this journey for doing the dissertation and my course in general.
This part of my life is done but it is the beginning of the next chapter in my life and I am really looking forward to seeing what life will bring.
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