What #BamaRush Says About Fashion’s Future on TikTok | BoF Professional, News & Analysis

TikTok users from all over the world were given a crash-course in how to apply to a prestigious sorority during this summer.

Panhellenic hopefuls at the University of Alabama with handles such as “whatwouldjimmybuffetdo”And “dollypartonwannabe02”They flooded the short-video app with their “OOTD” — outfit of the day — the mimetic dresses and skorts they would be donning for cryptically named events: sisterhood, philanthropy, pref and the all-important bid day, when houses accept or reject sorority hopefuls.

It was an unusually public glimpse of a cloistered world. The trials and tribulations that rush week brings are more often discussed in country clubs hallways and magisterial white mansions located on Southern college campuses.

Many people who watched TikTok were as surprised by the clothes as they were by the show.

From their dorm rooms, PNMs (that’s potential new members to the uninitiated) identified their rings, necklacesAnd bracelets as “Shein,” “normal,” and “mee-maw’s.” They showed off their Eirmish (pronounced much like Hermès) bracelets and dress after dress from The Pants Store, whose name proved misleading. Certain brands — Hello Molly, Golden Goose, LoveShackFancy and Kendra Scott — were ubiquitous.

All told, the most popular hashtags, including #rushtok and #bamarush — generated at least $4 million in earned media value (EMV) over the week, according to Tribe Dynamics, though most of the college students may have slipped through the database of influencers it tracks. That’s on par with a major brand campaign; Coach’s “Coach TV”Advertisements featuring celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion or Jennifer Lopez earned an average of $3.8 million per month in EMV. Some labels were surprised to become viral on social media. For many, however, their inclusion in #rushtok was the result years of diligently courting young Southern-based women of college age.

Their success gives us a glimpse into the future of a subculture-gazing, hashtag-driven, creator-centric, and goofy subculture. fashionThe platform is for brands that invest into community-building. A niche segment’s omnipresence can quickly become mainstream exposure and eventually sales.

“The brands that are blowing up — It’s not by chance,”Megan Jones, vice president of marketing and partner at January Digital, said: “They’ve already put this work in. They really aren’t lucky. They’ve prepared for it, they’ve researched this consumer. And most importantly they’ve put forth and invested in a strategy that thrives in this sort of environment.”

Why everyone was watching #BamaRush

Part of #bamarush’s viral success was that many people encountered it, including office workers in New York and moms in Oregon. They were confused about how they had been served so much content via Tuscaloosa PNMs.

TikTok’s algorithm is quick to pick up on recurring topics, however narrow, and recommend them to a broad swath of users. If those early videos see strong engagement, they’ll be recommended to even more people, creating a feedback loop, said Marc Faddoul, an AI and algorithm expert at the University of California Berkeley. The same applies to brands. When college-aged women started tagging Kendra Scott and LoveShackFancy en masse it was likely that the algorithm noticed.

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Faddoul said that the algorithm reinforces biases. Many viewers will watch videos with conventionally attractive people for longer periods of time, regardless of whether they are aware of it. TikTok has been criticised for promoting homogeneous beauty standards that disadvantage creators of colour over the course of its existence. Black creators of viral dance trends may find their videos only reach a fraction the white women who are able to imitate them. The imitators are then famous, gaining brand deals and appearing on Jimmy Fallon.

For better or for worse, the University of Alabama’s rush week, mainly featuring white, thin, blonde women, was tailor-made for TikTok. The history of exclusion is evident in the Alabama sorority system as well as Greek life on college campuses in the United States. Alabama’s Panhellenic Association, the governing body for the school system’s sororities and fraternities, only officially desegregated in 2013. It’s clear from the videos it remains a white-dominated space. Makayla Culpepper — better known as “whatwouldjimmybuffetdo” — was one of the few mixed-race PNMs to go viral on TikTok. All houses rejected her. (She did not respond on requests for comment.

Laying the foundation

Kendra Scott, a Texas-based jewellery brand, spent years gluing itself to the segment that earned it TikTok fame. The jewellery’s bright, sparkly gems are a popular choice among Southern women and is a mainstay of sorority culture. “Gems”Promote the brand on over 100 campuses

#Rusktok has helped the brand reach new audiences. Kendra Scott reported a 17% increase in visitors to its site last week.

“It takes one moment and we are a very blessed beneficiary, right now, of moments going viral,” said Mindy Perry, Kendra Scott’s chief marketing officer.

LoveShackFancy has hosted events and graduation drinks on college campuses before. It is now looking at more elaborate activations, such as a minibus to match its mini skirts and a competition to makeover a sorority house.

TikTok already has a powerful presence for the brand, with organic clothing unboxings and “hauls”Influencers consider them a pillar. The brand responded to #rushtok with a recruitment advertisement outfit “inspo”Video.

Dana Spinola, founder of Fab’rik, a boutique chain whose name was oft-mentioned in the TikTok videos, said a few years ago she banned sales associates from using their phones in the store. She now hires social media-savvy employees.

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Culpepper, one of those employees has almost 150,000 followers on TikTok. She became viral by sharing her story. “OOTD”Posts

“She puts on an outfit from Fab’rik and it will absolutely sell out,” said Spinola, adding that Fab’rik’s stylists work on sales goals, so Culpepper is compensated for the sales she generates. “She just opened up a really bright future for what’s next for her from a career perspective,”She spoke.

The Pants Store — an Alabama-based retailer founded by Taylor Gee in 1950, was one of the world’s most beloved ‘Bama discoveries. Gee built his business out of the back of his car, and the store’”Stand by me” was the motto “stack em high, sell em cheap.”

The company focuses on the sorority and sorority-adjacent segment in its marketing — its TikTok videos regularly received thousands of views before the #rushtok craze. Keeping with the elder Gee’s ethos, it became known locally, and among collegiate transplants, as the go-to spot to grab multiple dresses for under $60, said co-owner and grandson of Taylor Gee, Michael Gee.

Gee believes that The Pants Store is so popular because of its quirky name. TikTok users started making videos that shared funny details about The Pants Store, or commented on women pointing at their dresses and saying matter-of-factly. “Pants Store.”

“People were amazed that there was a store called The Pants Store, and that’s what actually helped us during this whole TikTok sensation,”Gee.

Complete the Sale

For the fashionIt was significant that so few viral videos focused on individual products. TikTok, unlike Instagram, where brands are featured in shoppable posts, is still driving sales.

The Pants Store saw out-of-state customers make up 80 percent of its sales last week, as opposed to 60 percent last season. The retailer’s web traffic and sales increased 465 percent and 652 percent, respectively, and the retailer gained 12,000 followers on TikTok, according to assistant social media director Skylar Fay Fuester.

TikTok users discover videos through the algorithm, not who they follow. Brands need to prioritize working with creators, Mae Karwowski, chief executive at Obviously, an influencer-marketing firm. That can mean trusting an influencer with a brand’s image. Fab’rik found Culpepper’s videos received more engagement on her own channel than when she made content for the store’s account, for instance.

Brands shouldn’t assume inclusion in a viral hashtag like #rushtok will immediately lead to sales. Jones, of January Digital, stated that young Southern viewers might be familiar with the Greek subculture and impulse-buy a dress in a sorority video. A user who sees these videos as entertainment akin to a reality show may not be jumping to purchase a sorority sister’s dress right away. Jones explained that they might remember brands and shop them later.

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Feeding the animal

#Rushtok reinforced emerging ideas about the way people shop — and especially that purchasing decisions can be inspired by more than a brand’s marketing campaign or a celebrity endorsement. Young women, who were not known to their friends, became global influencers overnight. They convinced viewers to buy Amazon jewellery with phrases such as “Golden Goose” and wore Golden Gooses. “feel free to copy”And “Longchamp bags are back.”

Fast fashion brands like Shein have a firm hold on Gen-Z’s wallets. But, Gen-Z also loves being engaged in intimate ways: they want to see Kendra Scott comment on their posts, and Dolce Vita’s president imitate them in heels.

#Rushtok made $500 worth of flouncy dresses for LoveShackFancy. The label’s curated, lifestyle-focused Instagram — full of flowers, garden parties and gilded hallways — helped establish it as the aspirational affluent Gen-Z uniform of the moment.

“It’s like this fantasy world that’s so fun, but also they can buy everything,”Rebecca Hessel Cohen, founder. “So it’s not like you’re walking into Versailles … and you’re like — ‘it’s so beautiful’ but you can’t buy it.”

If fashionIf brands want to build a future with Gen-Z customers they must meet them on their platforms. They also need to learn how to speak their often-misunderstood, meme-driven language.

“You’re not there and you’re not engaging with them in that informal way?”Jones. “Then you can’t possibly create a long-term strategy, where you create a relationship with that customer.”

Gee, the owner of The Pants Store, had spent years meeting college-aged clients on their home turf. The last week has opened his eyes to the possibilities for national business.

“We have a large social media presence and we’re just gonna keep hammering it, just keep feeding the animal — we just try and give them what they want, what they need,”Gee.

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