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Myntra is back for a second season of its fashion-focussed digital reality series, ‘Myntra Fashion Superstar’, a show that scouts talent from a short-listed group of influencers and promises the winner two attractive year-long influencer contracts — one with Myntra worth Rs1 million and another with MTV. Structured as eight 45-minute episodes, it judges task execution on three parameters: “fashion acumen, ability to create meaningful content, and proficiency in using social media to make a positive impact”.

While offering visibility to the influencers participating (and even more so to the one who wins!) this idea hugely boosts Myntra’s credentials as a fashion e-commerce player as well. Not merely is it facilitating “India’s only digital fashion reality show” but is also bridging the gap between the realm of high fashion and the aspirations of the audience — participants putting together their outfits are always shown scrolling through the app for ideas and inspiration, and, with the new season, viewers watching from the Myntra app can shop any look that strikes them while watching the show.

That’s the marketing and consumption side of things. The initiative also captures interest for its cultural relevance.

With the last few years, no longer is fashion as inaccessible as it used to be, where only highly experienced designers and size-zero professional models made the cut and dictated what the average person should look like. With the body positivity movement on the rise, and a general sense of progressiveness pervading social media, fashion has turned into a space where you dress for yourself and not to please others.

Legitimising this cultural shift by reimagining a key practice of the industry — competitive shows that judge beauty and fashion — was the obvious next step (and a timely opportunity grabbed by Myntra).

Then VS Now

To understand Myntra’s ‘woke’ reimagining of fashion, it’s best to break it down in comparison to cultural meanings from the past and a juxtaposition with beauty pageants seems fitting, given that they come closest in format to Myntra Fashion Superstar, i.e. presenting yourself and displaying your knowledge and acumen.

Previously, fashion was about alignment, both when it came to appearance and conduct. You were expected to look a certain way (best summarised as ‘slim’) and might even be told to fix a physical feature while undergoing the pageant selection process, if you wanted to progress further. Simultaneously, you were taught how to walk, talk and hold yourself — poise was a basic requirement for hopeful contenders.

Now, individuality lies at the centre of fashion. There is no ‘wrong’ way to dress, fashion sense left aside. You dress how your heart desires and treat your appearance as a form of self-expression, even if it doesn't meet societal expectations. And the mantra remains the same, no matter what your body shape, size and colour.

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Before, entry into the fashion world was restricted on the basis of selection criteria from pageants that favoured the privileged and showed preference for the English-speaking who could boast multiple hobbies, reflecting this ‘well-rounded personalities’. Myntra Fashion Superstar only asks for the applicant’s perspective on fashion and social media, and welcomes contestants from all backgrounds.

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Due to pageants, people had come to associate fashion with superficiality. The contestants were paraded around in an orchestrated manner as they switched between dresses and costumes. Even the eventual addition of question and answer rounds didn’t do much to dignify the practice, as participants were judged on their ability to spout lofty ideas about world peace and poverty eradication, issues they had very little chance of actually ever addressing.

Myntra Fashion Superstar judges the real-time impact influencers are capable of having on their followers by assessing how meaningful their content is and how positive an impact it will have. The first season’s third episode, #BeWoke, paired the influencers to create a post around a social issue they felt strongly about. Judges then reviewed their submissions for quality of communication and also gave them feedback on how to improve the execution of their idea. 

Does it work?

There are two aspects to this. First is the authenticity of such a content initiative by Myntra.

As one of the leading fashion e-commerce platforms, Myntra has democratised the apparel industry by providing discounts and making aspirational brands accessible. With big brands marked down for most of the year, people no longer have to wear a fake to feel a part of the branded ecosystem.

Myntra Fashion Superstar is an extension of this same sentiment of equalisation through accessibility. It encourages application from the average fashion-inclined social media user and gives the selected crowd a boost into the world of big names like Manish Malhotra.

Second is whether the show has got a finger on the pulse of its audience.

The series leverages a subject that has caught attention in India, especially among the youth: being confident of your identity, nurturing it through creative efforts, and amplifying it through digital platforms — something that lay at the core of TikTok and its success.

It doesn’t try to interfere with the creative expression of contestants or their personalities but provides them gentle guidance for more effective self-expression and magnifies their reach pan-India.

(The author, Hamsini Shivakumar is a semiotician, brand strategy consultant and the founder of Leapfrog Strategy Consulting. In her weekly column for BuzzInContent, she and her team will analyse interesting content pieces done by brands in terms of their cultural leverage and effectiveness of brand integration. According to her, the content has a symbiotic relationship to popular culture; it helps to form culture and draws from it. It works as part of a simultaneous and virtuous cycle of mutual reinforcement.)