The Business of Trend Forecasting
The business of trend researching and forecasting consists of big and small agencies doing future market research, and analysis on where, what, who, and how – basically WHEN we as modern society are making the next transition from one style of fashion to another. Let us take a look at the big boys in the fashion industry, how they do it, and the real value of their forecasting – if any?
“A trend can be defined as the direction in which something
(and that can be anything) tends to move, and which has a consequence
on culture, society or business sector through which, it moves”
– Martin Raymond, Trend forecaster
With this little recap from above, I will start out by recommending The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook by Martin Raymond, which in-depth provides hands-on tools, case studies, and interviews with the best forecasters and trend agencies that are around today – just if you feel the urge and desire to go even deeper into the business of trend forecasting.
There are many trend forecasting agencies around today, but amongst the big boys are Paris-based Peclers, and London-based WGSN. WGSN is the biggest one of them all, and works with big fashion brands and retailers to ensure and validate the brands own hunches regarding fashion trends and emerging tendencies. Some fashion schools also offer their students access to this service, and it’s worth asking for, when you consider a university.
Another very important agency is The Future Laboratory. We have with great delight read some of their reports, and though they’re not particularly fashion-focused, we really appreciate the high quality material that looks decades out in the future. It’s not that hard to have and idea about what will be trendy in 6-12 months – it’s a lot more difficult to look 5-10 years out in the future. What we also really love about them is that they don’t predict everything just to be on the safe side, which is then not a help to anybody. They’re very specific, which makes you really trust them.
As we talked about in our previous post, about how to spot a fashion trend, and moreover compile the evidence as a validation of it, this is also what the big fashion companies and trend agencies as Peclers and WGSN, amongst others, do. They just do it at a much lager scale, and in an even more complex way. This, of course, is worked out to a mainstream and commercialized outlook of where future fashion is heading. The formats are fast-fashion and retailer-friendly validations, and they have been through a thorough trend machinery of experts that know how to make valid assumptions, knowing the consumers even better, then they know themselves. Or with other words; knowing about consumers, before they do themselves.
The agencies usually provide visual and written knowledge and inspiration about future fashion trends, be it the colour range, silhouettes, fabrics, trims, patterns etc. It’s an outsourced service guide of what will be hip and happening the next seasons and years to come, and the fashion brands can require this information either via an online platform or by personal consulting. Still, we have to remember that social media has changed the game massively in regards to speed and amount of trends coming and because of this, traditional trend forecasting and fashion has changed as well. You might even ask, what is the purpose of agencies today, when you can just as easy zap onto Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter etc. to evaluate trending topics for yourself.
Well, the service is the purpose really, as you will rely on someone else to do the work for you or double check that you’re onto something right yourself. The big trend agencies provide the fashion industry with a full guide, and earlier on the fashion designer would rely only on their own hunch, and from that make the fashion collection. The collection would perhaps be conceived more original, more authentic – or maybe just too inedible for the consumers to buy. Today there’s no space for being inedible, as you will be run over by someone more aligned with the consumers, and this is one of the reasons for the desire of double-checking. It’s also practical to have a certain alignment across the fashion brands; it will be easier for magazines to feature ‘The Camel Coat’ photo shoot and for the shops to buy the ‘Camel Colour’ as the safe bet for the season. From a business perspective, it’s not necessarily good to do the same as everyone else, as it doesn’t give you a strategic advantage, but also being to different isn’t good either.
So, a trend communication system was needed for the fashion brands in order to know, which way to make a trend-safe move – and more importantly earn money. Trend forecasting, as a consulting business, goes back about 40 years, when Peclers started out in Paris. Many has come since then, as trend forecasting agencies today are an important part of how the fashion system is structured, and a solid fundament on which, many fashion brands lean towards, if not basing their entire collections on it.
The real value of these agencies lies within the phrase that ‘Time is Money’ and ‘It’s nice to be sure’, as you rely on someone else’s opinion, which saves you time and can give you confidence. Indeed the service is very useful to fast-fashion brands and retailers, as they build their collections on hardcore consumer trends with no space for poetry, originality or a concept aligned with their brand identity. It’s not about making original collections and fashion as an art form, but about making money.
There’s no sugar coating or romantic idea about being a fast-fashion designer today or running a fast-fashion business. Most of the time, you’re trained in production or supply chain management, and as all production is in third world countries, where production is cheap, this is where you travel to most of the time in order to source stock materials similar to what the big fashion brands are proposing, so you can launch things in a month. This of course poses the question, if Trend Forecasting is just a money-making machine that gets more and more refined, but where one could ask about the real value?
But, if you ask designers in small, independent companies as well as bigger Pret-a-Porter brands, most of them will say that they find the Trend Forecasting hugely inspiring, and that they at least like to know, what is going on. Bear in mind that these are people, who LOVE imagery and simply can’t get enough, who express themselves through pictures and moodboards, and who are used to researching as a way of knowing, if they’re on to something. Depending on the confidence of the designer and the brand, the trends will be followed minutely or hardly noticed at all. If you look at successful brands, and let’s perhaps think of Dior, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, these are brands that follow their own agenda regardless of what trend agencies say.
The trend business for now is indeed a well organized, inevitable, and perhaps even an integral institution within the fashion industry. The agencies project themselves as opinion leaders of future fashion trends and tendencies to come, making the outlines of what we as fashion consumers will want to wear in the future. The real value is profit for the fast-fashion companies in playing it safe, but also to designers in general to feel inspired by the different themes/trends/moods, and perhaps not use it unconditionally, but at least to keep it in the back of their minds.
Fashion and the role of trend agencies have already, and will probably change more so in the future, as new transitions in society will happen. This is also what our next, and last, post about Trends will be about.