Why Fashion Trends (As We Know Them) Are Facing Change

Benjamin Fitzgerald

It's not fashion unless it's the 'in' thing. Coined a 'trend', the idea of distinguishing marsala red, pinstripes or the Seventies as the thing or next big thing in fashion has always played a part in the fashion industry.

Obsessing over what's hot for summer next year and super chill the following winter has seen trend forecasting grow into a million-dollar business. While studying trends has been a crucial tool for designers and retailers in the past, the rise in social media has pushed trend forecasting beyond the dictatorship of the runway and into the hand of the consumer.

Pushed on by society's pursuit of new things and instant access to them via platforms such as Instagram, industry professionals are now reassessing what it means to be on trend. And how trends exist in the marketplace today.

According to Leticia Abraham, executive vice president at trend forecasting agency WGSN, every trend begins when it is started or adopted by the 'innovative people' (around 2% to 5% of the world’s population). Afterwards, the trend reaches the 'early adopters' (5-20% of the population) and then the 'trendsetters' (from 20% to 50% of the population) get on board. Finally, the trend hits the 'mainstream public' (the other 50%) soon after.

Abraham wrote - in a recent blog post - a tribute to trends, describing them as what people are wearing today - from New York bars to London streets - based on society wants and contexts.

Trends are a way human needs are met – and these are always different, according to ever-changing social contexts. There is nothing more human than wishing for new things, being vain, greedy and having a sense of achievement

Ruth Chapple, head of content at Stylus Fashion, agrees that trends have their place, but studying them has changed. Chapple told the Business of Fashion in January that social media is more relevant as an influence on consumer trends, as opposed to the mass seasonal reports made by fashion forecasting firms, which are then bought by brands.

“Social media has absolutely, totally changed the trends landscape,” said Chapple. “It’s making some trends stick, while long ago we would have been over them more quickly.

Today, it is generally agreed that trends come quicker and stay on trend not as long/ More than what's seen on the runway, designers are battling others for role of trend dictators too, facing off against celebrities, bloggers and other brands on Instagram and even the consumers themselves who decidedly wear the clothes.

In relation to color, retail statistics firm Edited - who studies the real-time fashion market data - believes trend forecasting needs a redirecting toward move data-derived predictions.

"Data reveals some pretty exciting consumer behavior – for example, sell outs of green, blue and white surge as temperatures soar," one Edited author explained in a recent blog post.

Colors can surge simply because Rihanna happened to step out in khaki green, or Cara Delevingne fronted a campaign in head to toe silver. Forecasts can’t pre-empt that stuff typical of the social media age, but data can help retailers optimize upon demand

Emphasizing the constantly changing nature of the fashion market, Edited went on to highlight how color forecaster Pantone and its prediction of Radiant Orchid (lilac) being the Color of the Year in 2014, was wrong.

According to sales data, "pink was the leading trend color of 2014," the firm added, not lilac.

Just like the 'it' fashion it aims to define, the 'trend' term remains aloof, say some experts.

"Nobody knows what it is anymore, where it starts, where it ends,” Pierre-François Le Louët, president of trend forecasting agency NellyRodi, told the Business of Fashion.

But there is a clear trend distinction and approach to trends between fast-fashion and luxury brands. On the high-street, brands like Zara are capitalizing on the fast pace change, building their business around the speed and fragility of trends and the consumer demand for constant newness.

For the high-end, it’s still less about responsiveness and more about forecasting. But luxury brands are learning to balance the release of major styles for summer and winter with between-season lines such as resort collections. And others are bowing one-off capsule lines with fast-fashion brands, tapping into that efficient supply chain.

But using your intelligence as a brand or retailer is equally important.

“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,” Katie Smith, a senior retail analyst at Edited, told the Business of Fashion.

“Our customers use trend analysis at every stage of a product life cycle. From designers who are analysing which colors 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.”