The selfie phenomenon is easily mocked and derided as narcissistic. Viewed from outside, scenes of teens snapping apparently endless pouty poses of themselves may well appear to be the embodiment of a staggeringly navel-gazing fascination. But, well, that’s kinda missing the point — by misunderstanding the point of the selfie.
The point, as Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel recently took to video to explain, is communication. Selfies (and other socially shared photos) are visual text messages. They are the conversation. And what better canvas for self expression that one’s own face?
With that in mind, a quick but interesting update on Danish fashion-focused social network Fitbay, which last year raised a $2 million seed round. The service is preparing for a partial pivot, that will put photo-sharing front and centre — because fashion selfies are by far and away where it has achieved the most engagement among its users.
Bottom line: Fitbay has found users’ own style photos (or ‘fashion selfies’ if you prefer) generate far more engagement than perfectly groomed marketing shots of clothes or perfectly proportioned models wearing said clothes. Who’d have thunk it!?
“Fitbay started focused on the idea of creating a personalized, fashion-discovery shop — basically like Wanelo or Lyst or something like that. But focused on the whole body double thing and helping you find the right size through crowdsourcing the data,” explains founder and CEO Christian Wylonis, discussing the rational behind the forthcoming shift.
“We got a lot of user growth in the beginning but basically saw that the engagement on the product was very low… It was possible then to also upload photos but it wasn’t the intended behavior. The intended behavior was to add like links to products that you own already and what sizes you had bought and stuff like that.
“What we saw was that our users were engaging extremely heavily with the selfies. So people responded very positively to seeing other people like themselves — like real photos of people like themselves — wearing products and tagging the brand and the size that they were wearing. It was more socially engaging but also more informative. Instead of just seeing well this product fits me, that didn’t really make sense. How did it fit you?”
Fitbay looks to have stumbled upon the crux of the tension at the stitched heart of fashion; which is to say that fashion has never just been about fit. It’s also about style. How something looks is at least as important, and arguably a lot more, than how it fits. And so building a social network where people can browse fashion style — by looking at clothes worn on people of a similar size and shape to them — starts to look rather compelling. Given they are getting a steer on both threads they might like to wear and clothes that might fit them.
Of course Fitbay is by no means the first to figure out people love looking at fashion selfies. Photo-sharing giant Instagram is overflowing with this stuff. But add in Fitbay’s special sauce — its body double feature that slices user data to surface folk with a similar size and body shape — then it has a built-in sorting mechanism for fashion selfies that Wylonis argues makes its content more relevant to users.
“We made the decision to scrap most of the whole personalized shopping aspect of the product, and fully focus on the photo feature,” he says. “What we’ve been working on behind the scenes for the last four months is creating this Instagram-ish type of product where people add photos of themselves every day — of what they’re wearing — and then share it with their body doubles, and also share it with their friends, and share it with influencers as well.”
Interestingly, and perhaps rather unusually for a fashion-focused social network, Fitbay has also managed to appeal near equally to both genders thus far — its users are 51 per cent female, 49 per cent male, according to Wylonis. A factor he puts down to its practical, crowdsourced approach (i.e. by focusing on helping users find clothes that fit by showing them what clothes fit other similarly sized people, instead of purely focusing on fashion aesthetics).
“If I go on my Instagram account, and I search fashion, the top 100 pictures — like 98 of them are women, first of all, and it’s like usually size zero models and things like that… Imagine that if you’re a plus size woman, for example, you’re used to seeing all these size zero models on Instagram sharing what they’re wearing. Which is maybe nice to look at but it’s very not relevant.
“If you sign up to Fitbay as a plus size woman and you see other plus size women being proud of who they are and sharing what fits them that’s super encouraging. And then we get the plus size women to share as well. So basically we’ve created this ecosystem where everybody, regardless of your gender, regardless of your age, regardless of your height or your weight or anything are sharing these fashion selfies.”
Wylonis says the new version of Fitbay is due in two to three weeks. The team is also in the midst of raising a Series A funding round, and hopeful of closing that by the end of the summer. It’s not breaking out active users at this stage but says registered users are now more than 200,000, with usage growing 30x this year (albeit from “a small base”).
And while Wylonis had previously talked about aiming for a million users by now when last we spoke (this time last year), which was clearly overly optimistic, the team can chalk up lessons learnt about the power of the selfie as an engagement mechanism — giving them one telling metric for doubling down on photo-sharing now.
“The issue wasn’t so much that people weren’t uploading [content before], because actually they were uploading quite a lot of the products, but what we saw was that people weren’t engaging with it. If I uploaded a product photo of something I am wearing, you wouldn’t interact with that — because it’s not really social and it’s not really relatable. But as soon as it’s me, actually taking a selfie of me wearing that concrete product that was a lot more engaging,” adds Wylonis. “The engagement was something like 5x more than just the product photos.”
If Fitbay’s fully photo-focused pivot succeeds in sustaining engagement and growing user numbers Wylonis says the long term aim is to build a platform where fashion brands can communicate with relevant users, which would sew in a more valuable thread to an affiliate sales business model.
“We hope to become a platform for brands to get a communication channel out — in that way kind of in the same way that Facebook implemented Pages… We believe that we can become a super relevant communication platform for fashion brands and retailers,” he adds. “But that’s way in the future.”