March 29, 2010

CHICTOPIA.COM: The Business of Stylesharing

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:26 pm by danielearthur

“We are witnessing the emergence of an elaborate feedback loop between the emerging “DIY” aesthetics of participatory culture and the mainstream industry. The Web represents a site of experimentation and innovation, where amateurs test the waters, developing new practices, themes, and generating materials which may well attract cult followings on their own terms.” – Henry Jenkins, “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture”

Chictopia.com, the self-described “people’s fashion destination”, has in a few short years become one of the internet’s largest fashion-oriented social networks. It’s part online community (membership’s required to create a profile, enter contests, post in forums, etc.) part online store, a social networking site designed around the increasingly popular street style blog model popularized by sites like Facehunter, The Sartorialist, and Stockholm Street Style. On it, fashion savants and newbs alike create profiles, post pictures of their most “chic” outfits, share their general likes and dislikes, and discuss “all things fashion”.

Chictopia’s a veritable goldmine of fashion information and inspiration; it’s a site – rather, a community, tailor-made to fit the needs of YOU, the average style-conscious girl. Just take a look at this excerpt from the site’s ‘About Us’ page:

“Chictopia is a fashion destination website that answers the ultimate question: What looks good on you? What defines you? It is your body shape, your skin tone, your age, and your style preference. By connecting style seekers to trend setters that are similar in shape, size and taste, Chictopia offers the most valuable resource for style inspiration and shopping guidance. Chictopia allows you to connect with stylish users of the same shape and style as you. This way, you are learning how to dress from real people like you – a more relevant alternative to flipping through magazines filled with models or movie stars.”

Chictopia’s a refuge, a place “not under ‘adult authority’ and thus (…) an autonomous public space in which users can interact and ‘chill’ with their friends.” (Cote and Pybus, 2007)

More interesting than the content of the site though, is the very idea on which it’s based and underwhich it operates. Keeping Mark Cote and Jennifer Pybus’ thoughts on Immaterial Labour 2.0 and Henry Jenkins’ thoughts on participatory culture/fan-production in mind, I propose that we look at Chictopia.com foremostly as a business. One designed to capitalize on the priceless creativity, free labour, and goodwill of its workers or ‘fans’ (in this case, ‘Chictopians’ as they’re known) . The remainder of this entry will consider the growing trend of participatory culture – that is, the new trend towards “media which encourage average citizens to participate in the archiving, annotation, appropriation, transformation, and recirculation of content” (Jenkins, 2003), and its exploitation by those seeking to make a profit off of the “mining and selling of user-generated content and (…) the tastes, preferences, and general cultural content constructed therein.” (Cote and Pybus, 2007)

In Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks Cote and Pybus consider the “free labour that subjects engage in on a cultural and biopolitical level when they participate on a site such as MySpace.” (2007) This ‘free’ labour – what they call Immaterial Labour 2.0, in its most general sense, refers to “the activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion.” (2007) Such a definition seems apt when describing what happens regularly on Chictopia.com. By posting their pictures, participating in polls, rating styles and trends, and sharing/discussing their general likes and dislikes, members of Chictopia.com are – I would argue – effectively engaging in a form of Cote and Pybus’ immaterial labour 2.0. Regular users of the site are dictating what is fashionable; they are setting standards of taste, generating trends, and ultimately influencing what other members buy and in some cases, where they buy it. Whether or not they realize the value of what they’re doing is hard to tell, afterall, “with the economy of immaterial labour, ‘leisure time’ and ‘working time’ are increasingly fused, making life inseparable from work.” (2007)

The value of this ‘work’ certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by potential advertisers and trend seekers who stand to make a fortune off of the ‘insider’ information gleaned from the site and its forums. Getting your label advertised – even modeled by members, on Chictopia results not only in greater exposure, but, presumably, in greater profits (click here and here for an example). Administrators of the site no doubt understand this, and market themselves to advertisers accordingly as evidenced by the “If you are interested in reaching out to fashion influencers, please contact us at advertise@chictopia.com” line at the bottom of the page.

Chictopia.com, like MySpace, is an “overtly public space, a place where people constantly want to be seen – an extension of peer to peer communication, but, (…) shared within a community.” (2007)  And like most social networking sites, it operates somewhat under the guise of a ‘community’ – a ‘grassroots’ network run by, created for, and catering to everyday fans of fashion (upon whose ‘work’ the site and its advertisers depend). We should look at it then, not “as a unique site of accumulation, but rather as an aggregator, consisting of a complex network generating surplus value all of which is driven by the creative cultural content of user’s immaterial labour.” (2007)

Works Cited:

  • Coté, Mark and Jennifer Pybus. “Learning to Immaterial Labour 2.0: MySpace and Social Networks.” Ephemera 7.1 (2007): 88-106..
  • Jenkins, Henry. “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars?: Digital Cinema, Media Convergence, and Participatory Culture.” Publications. 2003. MIT. 27 March 2010 <http://web.mit.edu/cms/ People/henry3/starwars.html>
  • Chictopia. Web. 27 March 2010. <http://www.chictopia.com/&gt;
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: