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Models walk the runway on the fourth day of London Fashion Week on Sept. 17, 2018.NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images

When the fashion world was first introduced to the See Now, Buy Now concept in 2016, it promised to revolutionize the way we consume clothing.

Traditionally, during fashion weeks around the world, collections make their debut on the catwalk around six months before they hit the sales floor. But that September, four brands – Tom Ford, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Rebecca Minkoff – shook things up by presenting collections that were available to shoppers in store and on websites the second models stepped off the runway. See Now, Buy Now was touted as the next big thing in fashion, and luxury brands such as Burberry and Mulberry soon followed suit, with the former even offering its audience transportation to a pop-up retail space immediately after a London show.

Many mid-sized brands, however, were quickly resistant to the idea. Adopting a more immediate approach would have essentially doubled the workload of already overstretched design studios and manufacturers, as they worked to develop collections available to wholesale buyers following the traditional early calendar, while producing additional pieces to sell immediately after the show. Unless the designer had a substantial e-commerce business, it was too much of a gamble. New York-based Thakoon, one of the few smaller brands to adopt the in-season model, placed the business on hold due to disappointing results.

Some early adopters have already abandoned the See Now, Buy Now approach. Explaining why, Tom Ford cited how show and shipping dates didn’t align, meaning he lost out on a whole month of sales.

It may be tempting to write off See Now, Buy Now as a quick, unsuccessful chapter in fashion history. But a closer look shows that it lives on in another form. Companies clocking the method’s successes, and inspired by Instagram’s shopping feature, have rebooted the ways they use social media to serve consumers fresh-off-the-runway wares.

Whereas previously companies would have to hire marketing consultants to get detailed data on their buyers’ preferences, now Instagram and other social-media sites offer a way for buyers to speak directly to the label, through comments, polls and “likes.” This means that companies can offer more targeted wares at lower risk.

The message from the designer is no longer "this is what you should wear,” says Tamara Szames, Director and Fashion Industry Analyst at The NPD Group, "but it’s a conversation between the brand and the consumer.”

In 2017, Instagram launched its shopping feature, effortlessly linking an image to a brand’s e-commerce site with a simple shopping tag. Its ease and success inspired New York label Opening Ceremony to sell select pieces on Instagram from its spring 2018 collection immediately after its show – See Now, Buy Now with a twist. More recently, Burberry extended its See Now, Buy Now approach to Instagram and WeChat, a social-media channel popular in Asia. Limited-edition pieces from the spring 2019 collection, the first by the brand’s new designer, Riccardo Tisci, were made available through 24-hour product releases on the two platforms.

“We’ve seen brands do that with one sneaker at a time,” says Szames, citing how many labels have moved toward the streetwear approach of releasing smaller collections that they sell directly through their own channels, not other retailers. “If you look at sneaker drops and limited-edition and social [media] campaigns, those are all the evolution of the See Now, Buy Now trend.”

Comme des Garçons recently announced it will be launching a new direct-to-consumer brand available only on its website. New York-based Milly and Theory have both pivoted toward direct-to-consumer models with special collections not available through their wholesale partners, and have utilized their Instagram channels to sell those goods.

“Consumers love the online exclusive. Anything that is limited is appealing these days,” Toronto-based lingerie designer Mary Young says. “We see a lot of marketing efforts succeed on Instagram and traffic to our e-commerce store from the app.”

Szames’s research has shown that fashion startups such as Mary Young have an advantage because they really know their consumers. “They are smart because they are using data to explore smart product choices to eliminate risk."

For the first time in history, brands can see exactly who is buying the moment they make the purchase – and start to parse why.

“The online exclusive and shopping through Instagram benefit our ability to build a community and learn more about our customer,” Young says. “We often use online exclusives as product testing – maybe a new style or material – and from the sales we see, we can determine if these features should be included in our seasonal collections that are then sold to retailers for upcoming seasons.”

“The consumer feels like they are part of the conversation, the experience and the process,” Szames says. “They feel important, they feel empowered and that’s what today’s consumer is looking for. It’s a whole change in perception, and within a year or two, we are really going to see the changes in the landscape happen.”

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