Recent reports from Business of Fashion’s Voices conference in England have revealed that Cambridge Analytica, the political marketing firm favored by Trump and the Brexit movement, “weaponized” fashion brands to help elect President Donald Trump into the White House. Information gathered about people’s fashion preferences from their Facebook pages helped the firm to build algorithms to target people who might support Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Christopher Wylie, previous Director of research at Cambridge Analytica, made these insightful revelations about his former firm to explain how vulnerable we are on social media platforms, our alarming susceptibility to mass influencing and how fashion was one of his and former Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon’s primary tactics to manipulate public opinion.


Wylie explained that affinity for certain fashion labels proves a strong signal of susceptibility to populist political messaging. He revealed a matrix illustrating correlations between several fashion brands—including Nike, Armani, and Louis Vuitton—as well as five psychological and personality traits that include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. This strategy was formulated and adopted by Cambridge Analytica to target political messaging. People who favored American heritage brands like L.L.Bean and Wrangler were more likely to be swayed by Trump’s messaging. Meanwhile, preferences for international designer labels, like Kenzo, for example, were less susceptible to pro-Trump campaigns.

Fashion expressively reflects one’s identity; people use it as a form of self-expression and thus, it can be a powerful tool for figuring out a person’s hidden inclinations. This does not really come as a surprise, what is more, alarming is the majority’s obliviousness to the fact. The entire fashion industry thrives on identity, values, self-conception, and ideation which is the more reason why the digital age should keep people more guarded about being analyzed than they are currently inclined. Wylie doesn’t believe that the brands themselves are neutral in this whole process. Fashion labels carefully cultivate their identities, and it comes as no surprise that L.L.Bean and Wrangler were connected to people who might be open to a populist ideology.  The owners of L.L.Bean, for example, have themselves propagated Trump’s campaigns. Wrangler as well has marketed itself as a prominently masculine brand and has been actively connected to traditional American ideas. Emphasizing on this highly probable link between fashion, psychology, and politics, Wylie suggests that it might be possible for these brands to purposefully wield this power, by creating and promoting identities that tie being proudly American to more progressive ideas such as diversity and empathy.

As much as this is an issue of public awareness, it is also a matter for private redress. If we have that much power to determine the course of the future? Why not actively start now? Wylie’s interesting reports ostensibly expose the underlying dangers of the unchecked power of technology companies mining our personal data. Luckily, these companies only mine as much as we reveal, leaving the plot ultimately in our hands even though it does not seem like it. The right attitude is to be wise, not wary.

“We need cultural defense and we all make and define these cultural narratives. We depend on you to not only make our culture but protect our culture. It is up to you if Trump or Brexit become the Crocs or the Chanel of our political age.”–  Christopher Wylie.



Media: Courtesy Business of Fashion.

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