For the past couple of seasons, much of the criticism of fashion shows has centered on designers' attempts to create sets and experiences — even clothes — that lend themselves well to social media. There were more examples of this during the spring 2016 season than we can count, but one of the first designers to create such visually interesting presentations — though not with the sole intention of enticing iPhone wielders — was Sophia Webster. Since her first London Fashion Week presentation for spring 2013, where models posed as dolls in boxes, the shoe designer has become known for immersive, fun, fully conceptualized events. Then there's the whimsical shoes themselves, which beg to be photographed on their own.
On the back of this success, Webster became one of the first designers to add user-generated content to her website, featuring the best photos posted by industry insiders as well as consumers. She launched that in 2013, along with e-commerce, bringing in 5,000 visitors on average each day. In the interest of keeping up with new technology and finding more ways to display all the great imagery her brand begets, Webster completely relaunched her website on Monday. "There was a lot of visual content we didn't have a place to put," Webster says. "So the presentations that we do at London Fashion Week and all the look book shoots that we do... I really wanted to have a home for those images."
Webster and her husband, CEO Bobby Stockley, developed the responsive site with London-based digital agency Electric Labs and designer Bradley Bell. In addition to user-generated content, the site also features behind-the-scenes images and a playlist you can listen to while shopping, culled from Webster's own studio playlist. Soon, it will also be home to a three-part documentary series that chronicles the lead-up to her spring 2016 presentation.
"From very early on, we were very social media-driven," says Webster. Her social media channels, which include Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, have seen growth of 160 percent this year. The brand has also tripled its online sales, which surpassed £1 million ($1.55 million) over the past 12 months. Stockley says sales on SophiaWebster.com now make up 10 percent of the brand's overall business, complementing top-tier wholesale accounts like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Selfridges, Net-a-Porter and more.
Besides social media, other marketing channels Webster seems to have mastered are celebrity dressing and street style. The former, she thinks, is the result of introducing more classic, versatile styles into the collection. "But I think that's to do with the fact that I'm learning — I've only done six collections so far, so with every one I learn a bit more about what women want to wear and what needs they have," the Nicholas Kirkwood protégé says. "I still have the styles in there that are really statement shoes and I guess they're the ones that you see more in the street style photographs."
Her current bestseller is style that cleverly blends both: the Bibi Butterfly, a skimmer with butterfly wings on the toes that create a full butterfly when you put your feet together — which you can't deny is ideal for a #fromwhereistand post.
Webster and Stockley's company has grown rapidly, no doubt. The internal team has expanded from three to 30 employees in just a few years. The US is currently the brand's biggest market, making up 40 percent of its online business, followed by the UK and Europe and then the Middle East. He says Asia has been more of a challenge "with the language barrier."
The US may also one day be home to a Sophia Webster brick-and-mortar store — something the company plans to focus on with the website now out of the way. Given her knack for creating visually stimulating environments, we imagine a Sophia Webster store will be a sight to behold.