How to fashion forecast
Learn how to accurately predict fashion trends
Written by trend forecaster and designer Geraldine Wharry, known for her Future Trend consultancy based in London.
The world of fashion is constantly evolving. To be competitive, many brands rely on trend forecasts to secure the future-facing quality of their products and marketing initiatives.
In this article, you will learn the methodology for predicting the future of the product and market you are targeting.
The current fashion landscape and market expectations set a high premium on being and staying “on trend”. This is the challenge for many fashion companies and implies each design decision is a business and strategic decision which needs to be informed and future proof, with little room for error.
There is growing debate around the impact of trend forecasting on sameness in an increasingly jaded and oversaturated fashion market. There is also something to be said about wanting to be future-proof and how that impacts the willingness to take risks and as such be innovative.
The key in our internet-led era is that knowledge is power. With a plethora of information just a click away, even the most innovative companies are now relying on consultants or internal teams to make sense out of all the noise and not skip a beat on where society, lifestyles and consumers are heading.
So let’s start with a few basic questions I am often asked when explaining my work within the field of future insights.
What is a fashion trend forecaster?
A fashion forecaster through research and analysis creates a future scenario for the concepts, shapes, design details, colours, materials and graphics set to impact the style industry. This includes ready-to-wear, mass market, street wear, beauty, accessories, active wear, footwear that will be then appear on the runway and in the stores for the upcoming seasons.
Trends that hit the fashion market have a broad reach and affect other industries such as gifting, retail design, stationery, personal appliances, automobiles, medicine, food and beverages, literature, home furnishings.
The role of a fashion forecaster is to inform and unlock the creative decisions that lead to product that innovates and answers the future consumer’s needs.
Why is trend forecasting relevant to the fashion industry?
Many companies, from raw materials producers to finished product manufacturers and retailers, not only value this information but need it to stay competitive in an increasingly complex world of fashion. It also saves them substantial amounts of time which they don’t have for investigating and compiling local and global information. Trend predictions deliver creative intelligence at every stage with comprehensive research and analysis. Fashion trends are tracked and analysed from their earliest emergence right through to when they are full-blown retail trends. It is important to note a forecaster can also report on past and present currents depending on the product lifecycle stage or industry level.
Next let’s look at the methodology of research and foresight
To accurately predict fashion trends one must observe and analyse social cultural movements to project a short, medium or long term impact on the direction of fashion. Trend forecasters use a mixture of intuition, research and data to create a scenario which they then communicate through writing and mood boards.
To confidently create a forecast, a large scope of research must be collected through primary and secondary research. This is one of the challenges of trend forecasting and why subscription agencies often come at a high premium as the amount of time spent on research is incredibly high.
Checklist for researching the future
+ What is on the cusp?
+ What is ground breaking?
+ What is thought provoking?
+ What is innovative?
+ What will truly inspire product?
+ The lifestyle of your end user
+ How will they engage with the product?
Tell a story
Once you have completed the steps listed below, a story, theme and concept will emerge through cross triangulation as you see a pattern of behaviour in the evidence compiled. Highlight links between design disciplines and look beyond the style industries.
Where to Research?
Think of trend research and forecasting as being a sponge, absorbing everything around you from street style to pop culture and science, the scope is wide. As I explained in my previous interview with the British library, “Identifying a trend is a continuous effort of compiling observations. I call it “hunting and gathering”. It requires a lot of curiosity […].” In the 2nd part of this article [HYPERLINK TO the 2ND part of the ARTICLE] I explain my “Hunting and Gathering” methodology.
Primary and Secondary Research
Forecasters are required to compile information from online and offline sources. It is vital to research extensively online just as much as it is of the utmost importance to attend exhibitions, events, talks and discuss topics with peers, experts and leaders in their fields.
Art and Design
Artists and emerging designers lead experimental concepts, push boundaries and seek to disrupt societal formats. They open room for discussion with their unique vision and inject the design and style industries with the kind of out of the box/ rebellious thinking necessary for future foresight.
Science and Technology
In an era led by artificial intelligence, the main concerns are around the environment and seamless digital experiences. These are now the two biggest factors impacting the consumer’s lifestyle as well as the development of new materials and ways of interacting with fashion product. As we enter an era of exponential progress in biology and science, their power is being harnessed to provide solutions for sustainability and the use of waste, molecules, bacteria and natural resources.
Manufacturing and Craft
Product is about offering solutions. What are the future possibilities for manufacturing? What techniques are being experimented with and how are they revolutionizing design and manufacturing? How are they echoing traditional crafts? These are the answers trend forecasters are constantly looking for through discovering the latest talents and leaders creating the future of manufacturing.
Fashion history and Anthropology
Trend forecasting is linked with Anthropology because fashion designers are constantly referencing and re-interpreting foreign cultures and history. Fashion is about drama, theatricality and taps into myths and folklore. There is a big premium placed on nostalgia and storytelling in fashion therefore trend forecasting also involves a good knowledge of fashion history and understanding of foreign cultures.
To accurately predict trends, political-socio factors must be cross triangulated with cultural shifts. It is important to stay abreast of the latest developments in music, pop culture, videos, television and media communications to understand the latest ways communities and the creative industries are engaging with audiences and the content they are producing and leading the media with.
Thought Leaders and Current affairs
Within each aspect of a forecast, it’s important to assess who the influencers are. Focus on the leaders in world affairs, from socio-economics, geo-politics and environmental issues to education, technology, science and local/global trade. The key questions are: Who is seeking to define the future and bring solutions? Who is being disruptive?
Many large companies turn to market intelligence for input into their strategic management system and decision making. It helps them forecast and determine as much as possible in advance the likelihood of product acceptance and success in their market. The marketing intelligence cycle typically consists of directing, collecting, cataloguing, analysing to facilitate the creation, promotion and selling of product based on how the market is reacting and viewed to develop.
Brands & manufacturers can consider their consumer’s buying habits over a period of time. Consumer reactions are recorded and documented to find preferences for certain garments or accessories, sizes or colours and so on. The industry overall has one purpose: to provide a desirable and appealing product to satisfy customer needs, demands and/or aspirations. Consumer research & figures are critical in decisions about product development, marketing and retailing. Although it is important to create what the consumer wants, it is also crucial to assess trend cycles.
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