Today’s post is an interview. My student, Jeremy, is writing his thesis on trend forecasting. He asked me a few questions about trend forecasting companies. I thought it would be fun to share our discussion. If anyone wants to join our conversation, please leave a comment! It would be very helpful to Jeremy.
In few words, can you tell me if trends are essential for companies? Or if they are not essential, and why.
Absolutely. Trends impact every single industry, from fashion to transportation to food. Since we live in an information-rich environment, it is essential that every business stays in tune with change. The internet has really accelerated the rate in which information travels. Consumers play a much more active role in product development with open source sites. Sharing, commenting and liking on sites such as Facebook or Twitter have allowed companies to interact with consumers on a more personal basis. Observing consumers on these types of platforms are key to predicting future trends and consumer behavior. What makes a trend essential for any company the way in which it relates to fundamental human nature. People are constantly seeking a balance between stability and change. Stability allows a person to feel comfortable, to relax, and perhaps the opportunity to “not think” when they are overstimulated. Yet too much stability creates boredom. This is why I think trends will always be essential. Trends introduce novelty in ways that consumers are able to comfortable with and can quickly adopt.
In your opinion, what are the qualities required to work as a trend forecaster?
First, I think that all forecasters have to have a keen eye, particularly for color. Color is such an important part of product development, mostly because it illicit a psychological response in people. Some people are obviously more sensitive to perceiving color. For example, it is difficult for someone that is colorblind to forecast colors and trends because they do not have the ability to perceive the range of color that most people can. Recently, scientists discovered a woman that can see 99 million more colors than the average person. The research on this is still very new. What the scientists discovered, is that a majority of women that gave birth to colorblind children had an additional “mutant” cone for perceiving color. (Cones are what allow us to see color. Normally, humans have 3 cones. A colorblind person generally has 2, hence why that cannot see greens or reds.) After running tests on these women with the additional cone, one was able to see a much broader spectrum of color than those of us with 3 cones. While I’m not a scientist, I believe this could be a scientific breakthrough in understanding why certain people gravitate towards fashion and art. They probably are able to see a larger spectrum of colors than others.
Image courtesy of people.tribe.net
Next, I would say that forecasters should have a real interest and desire to study the past. Most new trends are really interpretations and modifications to fashions that have already existed. It’s really important to know what was fashionable in history, and generally you can see changes in silhouette every 8 – 12 years. You also need to know what impacted these eras socially, economically, and culturally. People preferred certain styles because of what was happening at the time. As you start to really look at history, you’ll see a pattern. This makes trend forecasting more “predictable”.
Image courtesy of theunsewn.com
Third, trend forecasters have to be really curious and personable. You need to observe what is happening everywhere. You’ll need to talk to a wide variety of people. Gathering data, especially about what consumers think they need and can’t find in the marketplace, is critical to being a successful forecaster. You can’t be afraid to talk to strangers or experts. You just need to march up to them, be friendly, ask your questions and listen.
Image courtesy of web.jhu.edu
Lastly, I think that a really good forecaster has to be able to interpret a large amount of information and make it easy to understand. A majority of clients and consumers will fatigue after reviewing too much information. A forecaster has to take all of the guesswork and jargon out of the equation. You need to make sure that anyone could understand your predictions easily, because they don’t have the background or interest to gather the information themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t have hired you. :)
Is there a way to formulate a true prediction or do you think this process is just a way to dictate fashion?
I’m not sure that there is a way to dictate fashion anymore. The fashion world has become so fragmented. It had to, to survive the ways in which society has changed. I think it’s difficult to dictate a single fashion. People have all different interests, shapes, sizes, etc. However, I think it is easy to formulate several possible outcomes that would satisfy consumers. Most of this involves understanding what they want, how the world is changing, and what they need to feel that balance of stability and excitement. Always being attuned to society and consumers lifestyles/desires/dislikes is the closest you’ll get to a crystal ball.
In your opinion, are physical trend books and offices trend competing with online trend sites, like Style Sight? Are they compatible or competitors?
In my opinion, you need a physical book or report. While online sites are nice to get a feeling or idea of color, they do absolutely nothing for communicating the texture and feel of fabrics. Touching and understanding how a fabric interacts with the human body is really important. It’s also important to see how certain colors transfer to fabrics. Computers give a very saturated view of color. In reality, the ways that fabric interact with dyes and how they reflect light is completely different in physical space. You’ve probably experienced this while shopping online: you love the photographs of a product, but it somehow looks like different when it arrives. I believe that online sites should compliment a physical trend book, but should never substitute for one. There is only so much that a computer screen can convey.
We do not interpret trends in the same way in different brand level (Luxury, Bridge, Designer, fast-fashion.) What are the differences and similarities?
Obviously, a lot is different in regards to the price point. These types of lines may be looking at the same trend ideas, but their execution will be very different. If you are working for a higher end brand, it is important to present excellent quality textiles. It is also more important to present innovations in textiles, finishes, and other technology that improves the materials. It is also important to consider what geographical locations the brands will be selling. Different markets will want different things. Most brands tune into this, because what might be very popular in France will not be in, say, Dubai. I think larger chains, that offer mid – to low-rage items have the biggest challenged. They have to interpret the trend in the cheapest and fastest possible way. Luxury brands have the advantage of sourcing better and higher quality materials, and feel less of a “time crunch” to launch a specific trend or style.
- And finally, what future do you see for trends offices?
I think that trend offices will be more important because brands simply don’t have the time to sort through all of the visual information. Many companies have downsized, and just don’t want to hire permanent staff. Trend companies allow brands to have access to information and research a cost far below hiring permanent staff. I also think that with the economic condition worldwide, it is the perfect service for young people to start contracting to bigger companies. Everyone has to be creative with how to stay employed. Why not do it offering your creativity as a service?