Technology and social media certainly have a deeper impact on society than what people may notice. Fashion trends were once determined by a group of individuals, who created books attempting to predict the future of the fashion world. They would decide what fabrics; styles and colors were coming back in style for the current year or the next few years. “Today, the idea of a bunch people sitting in a room and deciding what the colors are going to be in two years’ time or what materials are going to be used in three years’ time is a complete nonsense,” said Marc Worth. In 1997, Worth and his brother Julian founded Worth Global Style Network (WGSN), the trend-forecasting service whose clients today include Coach, Kate Spade, H&M and Victoria’s Secret.
Worth believes today’s fashion cycle requires a different approach to understanding trends. “As things have evolved, we’ve moved into the four-season approach, then into drops and the whole nature of forecasting, I think, has gone out of the window.”
Last year, Worth and his team launched the fashion division of Stylus, which is a service that offers creative research and advice to businesses, but does not forecast trends. “We don’t forecast, we don’t predict. We provide inspirations for creatives to create trends; we track trends as they evolve, but we’re not forecasters in the traditional sense,” he said. “Social media dictates trends today. The trend emerges overnight and disappears almost as quickly.” The Internet, media, too, has dramatically sped up, allowing for new fashion trends to go viral all day, every day.
“Social media has absolutely, totally changed the trends landscape,” said Ruth Chapple, head of content at Stylus Fashion. “It’s making some trends stick, while long ago we would have been over them more quickly. The Valentino rock stud, which everyone expected to be a one-season wonder, has been going strong for eight seasons,” she said. “The death of the stud was forecast long ago, but that was very much a social media trend, where the bloggers made that trend stick.” On the other hand, digital media can quickly overexpose a trend, and kill its ‘edge’. “The Kenzo tiger sweatshirt,” Chapple recalled. “Over and done with in a month.”
“The word ‘trend’ is a little bit like the word ‘luxury’ — nobody really knows what it is anymore, where it starts, where it ends,” said Pierre-François Le Louët, president of Paris-based trend forecasting agency NellyRodi.
“You don’t sell the product of the season that well anymore,” he said. “The most important thing is to work on your brand identity, who you are, how you differentiate from your competitors. Trends are tools that might help you convince your clients how you and your brand understand how the world changes.”
Anne Lise Kjaer, founder of trend management consultancy Kjaer Global, which counts Gap, Swarovski and La Perla amongst its clients, also takes a different approach to trends actually are.
“More than going to a shop and having a look, you find someone you follow on Instagram or a blog. It becomes a lifestyle rather than a trend. We’re moving from being trend-focused to lifestyle-focused… Some trends turn out to be short-lived, whereas others continue to evolve as they are more about lifestyle choices and style, rather than conspicuous consumption.”
The role of today’s trend analysts has changed into a social media detective, as they search for the next big clue of what will become popular. The abundance of ‘trending’ content and the loss of a single, authoritative source that predicts and starts trends have created a serious need for a filter. Numerous brands turn to trend analysts to go through social media information and find the real treasure; that is, the trends that will work for their brand, the trends that have staying power, and the trends that can be leveraged in specific markets and with specific consumer demographics.
“Brands and retailers have just had to get savvier in how they process information about trends in order to understand which are the macro-trends and identify micro-trends in time to react,” said Katie Smith, a senior retail analyst at Editd, a data-driven fashion analytics platform. “Our customers use trend analysis at every stage of a product life cycle. From designers who are analysing which colours have performed best in retail, or which sleeve shapes continually see discounting, through to buying and merchandising, where trend analysis forms a critical part of every decision around pricing, depth of buy, timing within a season and replenishment.”
On the high street, some of the biggest and most successful brands have built their business models around the ever-increasing speed and volatility of trends coupled to consumer demand for constant newness: it’s less about forecasting and more about responsiveness.
Zara has become an example of a brand attempting to keep up with the fast pace of the Internet and social media. With a highly responsive, vertically-integrated, data-driven business model, they have made it to one of the most agile fashion brands in the world, taking just two weeks to take a product from design studio to its stores, which feature over 10,000 new designs per year.
“They have to be able to react faster, they have to be able to keep up with trends and there aren’t many that are able to do so,” said Marc Worth. “People like Topshop can, people like Inditex (which owns Zara) are able to, but the behemoths like Marks & Spencer still struggle to because of the manufacturing and supply chain process.”
Luxury brands, largely still bound to the slow cycle of seasonal runway shows, are being forced into a balancing act when it comes to trends in todays environment. They are releasing major new styles at the pace of the traditional fashion calendar, while keeping their brand looking fresh between seasons with additional lines, products and digital content.
“Some — like Raf Simons — love it because they always have new ideas and relish the pace,” said Fisher. “Others say it’s really relentless.”