Rise of the Fashion Groupies

Why retailers let fans do the marketing.

All it takes to become an authority these days is passion, a point of view, and an iPhone.

Jen Coleman and Laura Wiertzema are fashion bloggers who found each other on the web and bonded over their penchant for mixing vintage apparel with Target designs. Last October, they started a joint Instagram account called Target Does It Again where they post pictures of their latest Target finds. They’ve topped 210,000 followers. In comparison, the official Target Instagram account has 85,000 followers.

It helps that Coleman and Wiertzema—both moms in their early 30s—can make a $12.99 Def Leppard T-shirt look sexy. Wiertzema, who lives in Los Angeles, spent a decade in visual merchandising for Anthropologie. Coleman, in Dallas, has worked as a personal shopper. The Olsen twins are their style icons, and it shows—in their long waves, big shades, slumped shoulders, and knack for styling cheap Target pieces into boho-chic ensembles. They shop across departments, too—a recent Instagram of a multi-colored chevron Crock-Pot got 15,400 “likes.”

At risk of sounding like a bitter traditional print journalist: Haven’t the thousands of people who were excited about a snapshot of a slow cooker taken by two random shoppers ever looked around Target themselves?

“I think the reason why we resonate is we truly, genuinely go in for milk and diapers and find an amazing top,” Coleman tells me. “We’ve had e-mails from new moms who said [Target Does It Again] has reignited their desire to get dressed and buy new things.”

It’s the same reason Mall of America recently gave away gift cards to shoppers who Instagrammed photos of themselves at the mall. And why Macy’s now encourages its guests to snap selfies as they shop. “It’s the greatest thing,” says Martine Reardon, Macy’s chief marketing officer. “Customers do the work themselves.”

But it’s tough to remain sincere while capitalizing on your Insta-lebrity. “Getting paid would be awesome,” Wiertzema says. “We love what we’re doing now, but we see bigger things.”

So does Target.

The retailer has flown Coleman and Wiertzema to New York to attend product launch parties.

And just as I was finishing this column, Target Does It Again earned its first paycheck for an Instagram post touting Target’s coupon app, Cartwheel, with the hashtag #targetpartner.

Five years ago, I believe Target would have put the kibosh on this amateur hijacking of the bull’s-eye. Target publicist Joshua Thomas concurs. Back then, Target had a media strategy and a separate social media strategy. Now, it’s one big strategy. “We’re looking for people who are going to authentically communicate about their experience,” Thomas says. “Consumers are looking across a variety of different channels at any point in the day. I think you need it all.”

We @mspmag agree, which is why you’ll find us on mspmag.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and even Vine. As we worked on our biggest style issue in years, we invited everyone along while we shopped our way through the Twin Cities, previewed new merchandise, vetted the trends, and styled models on locations all over town. (Go behind the scenes at mspmag.com/fallfashion.)

Now comes the payoff: 32 gorgeous pages of fashion highlights, all selected by our team of editors, sold locally, and available for you to linger over, even where Wi-Fi won’t go. #oldschool.

Of course, feel free to also tweet, pin, and post your favorites. I know I will!