Normally when I tell someone that I work in trend forecasting they get this excited look on their face and enthusiastically ask me whether skinny jeans are still “in” (or some other variation of that same question). Now, although I could probably answer that question, that’s not exactly what I do.
Trend forecasting, at it’s most basic level, is taking a bunch of information and making sense of it so that brands and retailers can make informed decisions about their next product lines. Many times, independent labels just rely on their own instincts and visions. Some companies run vertically integrated models, which means that they have an in-house trend forecasting team. Larger corporate retailers tend to hire a trend forecasting agency to provide insights about the future because they have the budget for it and typically have a more diverse product range spanning across several industries.
That’s where I work – a trend forecasting agency. I help provide trend reports, market-specific insights, and consulting services to large companies 18 to 24 months prior to selling season. In other words, we are creating reports up to 2 years in advance of when the trend will actually be seen in stores (right now, we’re working on 2020).
But how do we actually determine what the trends will be?
Do we just follow all the cool kids on Instagram? Do we analyze what walks down the runway during fashion week or what the most popular street style looks are? Do we just trust our own instincts?
The answer is a combination of those things. At a macro level, we track cultural movements, demographic changes, and sales patterns. We use what’s going on in world news to understand the greater forces influencing culture, food, style, etc. We also analyze individual marketplaces to understand the trends taking shape in different product categories like women, men, youth, accessories, home, and beauty. A lot of trends live between markets, so we make sure to look at a bunch of different markets and understand how they translate. We look at influencers, street styles, runway collections, gallery/museum exhibits, design publications, retail stores, pop culture, and the news cycle. We take all of this information and develop reports that map themes, colors, key products, prints and patterns, and materials. That’s what we provide to clients. They have access to all of these reports online. If they want more personalized direction, we offer consulting services where we personalize reports to their specific brand, market, or customer base.
Do we create the trends or just identify them?
In my opinion, we identify the macro cultural patterns that end up creating the trends. Trends and patterns are constantly being created in the world, we just make sense of them and translate them into actionable insights that can be applied to specific products and markets.
I read a Highsnobiety article recently that stated that “the idea of what constitutes a ‘trend’ has shifted. It’s no longer about a singular look, but distilling lifestyles and mindsets into marketable concepts.” I think this is super accurate. As I said before, we don’t focus as much on trend forecasting at the individual product level. We collect data, track patterns, and identify lifestyle shifts. Then, we make sense of this information so that brands and retailers can make informed decisions about individual products. Their buying teams use the information we provide to ensure that they stock items that will sell.
In terms of timeline, we offer culture and lifestyle reports 18 to 24 months in advance, runway analysis 8 to 12 months in advance, and specific forecasts (theme, color, product, etc.) 6 to 8 months in advance of selling season.
A day in the life
So what does a regular day in my life look like? I do a lot of research regarding innovations in the marketplace and spend time on Instagram and Pinterest researching current trends and sourcing imagery for trend reports and collages. I create mood boards in Photoshop and help develop color palettes or match colors to different color systems. I research new product launches and build reports on the most popular street style or influencer looks. During fashion week, I sort through thousands of runway photos and pick out patterns in color, style, or material. I’m always doing something different, which is one of the things I like most about trend forecasting.
We try to not only identify the trendy look, but also provide an explanation regarding why that trend is appearing – why has digital wellness become a topic of discussion recently and how does this affect the consumer’s lifestyle? People are paying to disconnect from technology and looking for human connection. How does this affect the travel and spa industries? How does this affect the skincare and beauty industries? Those are the types of questions we answer.
So, when you ask me if skinny jeans are still “in,” I could tell you that yes, they will probably always be “in” in some form or another, but straight leg and slightly flared silhouettes are becoming much more popular. But that’s something you could figure out just by stalking a few chosen influencers on Instagram.
Trend forecasting is a process that looks at the big picture. Why are the straight leg and flared silhouettes of the 80’s coming back into style? Are there cultural or social similarities between the 80’s and now? We identify patterns like these and figure out why those patterns are happening. No trend appears out of thin air.
I’m hoping that gives you a glimpse inside the world of trend forecasting. Let me know if you have any questions about it in the comments below and have a great week!