We’re familiar with fast fashion. It’s ethically troubling yet often assumed to be the more affordable option against sustainable alternatives. It thrives on social media and the speed with which trends emerge in this era of immediate gratification. It relies on influencers to maintain excitement – or at least aspirational curiosity – around the clothes. It’s fascinating, worrying and appealing all at once. But what actually goes into pioneering a multimillion-pound brand these days, and is it all as glamorous or even as frivolous as we think it is?
Taking us behind the scenes of one of Britain’s youngest fast fashion brands is BBC Three’s new documentary, Breaking Fashion. Headed by 32-year-old CEO Adam Frisby, In The Style has been running since 2013. The series takes us inside the brand's Greater Manchester headquarters while they’re prepping for the summer season and how they plan to challenge their biggest competitors, Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing. The answer, it seems, involves releasing a new collection every two weeks over the season which, to anyone who’s particularly conscious of the damage throwaway fashion is doing, won’t be pleasant to hear.
"When people think fast fashion, that it means it’s not sustainable and it means they don’t care, I like to challenge that," Adam tells the camera. In the first episode at least, it's not explicitly clear how In The Style does so.
What we do see is just how vital influencer input is to the brand’s success, and how strategic these brands have to be in order to create a winning line of clothes and sell them online. "Social media, celebrity and fast fashion wasn’t really linking together, and I just thought, I really think I can link this up," Adam explains. "People want to look like celebrities. They want to look like influencers and if you get the right influencer attached to your brand for the right reason, it can be massive."
Enter Lorna Luxe. If you haven’t already stumbled across her feed, Lorna is a super successful fashion influencer with more than 850,000 followers on Instagram and her own collections with In The Style. Adam admits that there was a moment when he worried about landing the collaboration: "I thought to myself, Maybe even I’m punching with this one because she’s very high end." But when we tune in to the documentary the pair are meeting to coordinate the launch, which is just a matter of weeks away.
Lorna wants to do the promotional shoot in the south of France – she says she’s been influenced by the Sky Atlantic show Riviera. Investing in the most expensive influencer trip in the company’s six-year history, Adam spends £20,000 taking Lorna and other influencers who she has hand-picked to join them, to Cannes for a couple of days.
Of course, there are setbacks, the biggest being that just two days before they’re all due to fly out, there aren’t any samples of Lorna’s clothes ready for her in her size. In The Style’s clothes are manufactured in factories in China and Leicester. At this point in the show they're trying to work out how to get a new top made – yes, made – and shipped from the factory on the other side of the world in 48 hours before Lorna needs to be in Cannes wearing it. Though things look dicey for a while, they manage to pull through.
Seven influencers against the beautiful backdrop of a villa in the rolling hills of France, all wearing the new line of clothes and Instagramming themselves over glasses of rosé. As delightfully social as it all sounds, this is very much at the business core of Adam’s vision of how this new collection will do well.
"Although tonight is for Lorna and for everyone to have a bit of fun, I think the key thing for me is that they get good content," Adam explains. "Content produces sales. The more they post about it, the more they show the collection, the more people are interested and want to buy it. So, it’s really key we get enough assets out of tonight as well. The business has put hundreds of thousands of pounds into this so I hope it works and Monday it’s a sellout collection."
A few days later it's all done. Lorna's collection is live, pictures of it are spreading across Instagram and Adam and his team sit back and hope that it hits the £10,000 mark on its first day of sale.
Over the rest of the series, we follow similar journeys as In The Style works with Lottie Tomlinson, actress Emily Atack and Love Island's Dani Dyer to create profit-producing clothing that'll be purchased by millions of loyal followers. There's an episode where Adam decides he wants to create his own version of a knitted bodysuit spotted on Kylie Jenner and one where the company is challenged with tackling "empowering slogans on T-shirts".
It's an eye-opening series that lays bare the realities of fast fashion. Speeding through multiple campaigns in only a very few weeks and crafting decisions around the influencers relied on to bring shoppers to site, the cycle of fast fashion is slowed down just enough for us to get a real idea of how brands like In The Style operate. Despite the profit margins and Instagram fanfare, it's not glamorous. It is relentless, though. And it's clear that influencer culture is the glue that holds it all together.
Breaking Fashion is available on BBC Three from Wednesday 18th September and will air on BBC One from Wednesday 25th September at 10.35pm