The business of trends: A science? An art form? A total crock? PART 1.
Updated: Apr 28
Getting cancelled wasn't on my wish list for 2020. On a sunny afternoon in February, I was 90% of the way through creating a presentation that I was due to give at a trade fair when the fair's organiser called. She said she was sorry to say, but my session had been cancelled due to poor ticket sales. OUCH. The silver lining in the rain cloud of awkwardness was that I wasn't the only presenter to get the chop AND the topic of my presentation has always fascinated me, so I was having a grand old time preparing the content.
I plumped my battered ego back into shape and thought I might as well share some of my findings on this blog. The topic of discussion was TRENDS. I didn't want to get up on stage and list the hottest new season colours or the next big thing in sofa shapes; my audience was going to be made up of small business owners (retailers and makers) and my plan was to get up on stage to spread a little caution. Cashing in on trends may seem like a quick, hassle-free way to grab market share and an 'in the know' tone of voice, but going about it the wrong way can be a brand damaging, and costly, exercise.
My session was titled: The business of trends: A science? An art form? A total crock? and what follows here is part one of a four part series I will post in the coming days.
1. How do trends start?
2. Case Study: Normcore
3. Case Study: Colour(s) of the year
4. The final word for business owners
1. HOW DO TRENDS START?
Back in the day (let's call it pre-internet times) design trends would flow through a very clear top down model of influence. Fashion houses would present seasonal catwalk shows and highly esteemed journalists would cover the latest styles, publishing the new directions in subsequent issues of magazines and newspapers. Retailers would see the styles filter onto their racks months later, and only then would the garments become accessible to the masses (yes, yes, we've all seen the cerulean sweater scene in Devil Wears Prada). The creation and germination of trends happened in the sparkly, diamond encrusted upper echelons of society and the consumer, if they could afford to partake in the consumption of the trends, was the last link in the chain.
The consumer as the marketer
Screech forward to present, where the internet, the little minx, has shaken things up. The sphere of influence is widening and the 'hype' of a brand or new product can fire up the global market within seconds. The rise of influencer culture has played a huge part in shaping how trends spark and spread. Influencers are individuals who commodify themselves and operate as highly marketable brands, appealing to consumers who feel a personal connection that they may not have with a bigger, faceless brand; influencers are simultaneously the marketers and the consumers (Although... for how much longer?).
Forecast or reflect?
Trend forecasting agencies such as WGSN, Trendstop and Trend Union (by Lidewij Edelkoort) gather data from all over the world and attempt to accurately forecast the fashion trends that will appeal to consumers in order for the fashion industry to produce products that will sell. Styles and buzz words are extracted from the depths of social media and the nuances of subcultures are observed via street fashion and gatherings of hip young things. Christine Twine, in her paper titled The use of trend forecasting in the product of development process (2015), says, 'To forecast a trend it is essential to have a good understanding of world events encompassing current affairs, culture influences, creative, technical and socio-economic trends and the effect this will have on the consumer.' Trend forecasting agencies command huge fees for the very well-designed trend reports they produce. Big brands, the main customers of trend agencies, purchase the reports and make multimillion dollar decisions based on the content; the largest trend agencies sell their reports to thousands of companies.
High / low / everything in between
Think about the consequence of that. Major brands world wide are receiving the same predictions as all of the other brands that buy the report. To a certain extent this follows the topdown model of trend influence from pre-internet times, when the fashion industry 'owned' the information about trends. The difference now is that individuals without the industry credentials or experience are given front row at fashion and trade shows and the reporting is dispatched in real time via social media. There is a breakdown in the traditional hierarchy of those who give birth to and herald the trends. In 2017 when revered Parisian fashion house Louis Vuitton collaborated with Supreme, a streetwear label created by a skate scenester 23 years ago, the headlines ran to the tune of: "It's official, streetwear and luxury fashion are the same thing." High and low culture is merging and big brands are selling ideas back to the very people who created them. There are more players involved in the formation and distribution of trends in 2020 and the information is flowing at a phenomenally accelerated rate.
Too much, too fast
Advanced manufacturing technologies allow for a whip-fast turn around of production (at an alarming cost to the environment and human rights) and the saturation point of a trend now comes quicker than ever before. The internet has given us access to the world and a barrage of information and choice, and it's for this reason that it's now harder to discover something that feels completely fresh and revolutionary. Our sense of discovery has been dulled and, like an addict who is deep into their sickness, we need more, more, more to hit that feeling of sheer excitement. The truth is that we are all fishing (and shopping) in the same, gluggy pool of inspirations; our ideas are homogenising. Local design vernacular has been muffled and things are starting to look the same.
All of this to say - it's hard to pinpoint how trends start in 2020. It's no longer a strictly top down model and trend dissemination can be tied to a million and one different communication (and production) channels. However, what remains at the core of design trends is the idea that they are story telling opportunities... AKA vehicles for marketing messages.
References and further reading:
Lead image by Matthew Sperzel