How You, The Consumer, Dictate The Trends More Than You Realise.
As someone working within the fashion industry, I am often asked the same question by friends; “What’s on trend this year?” This is usually followed shortly with a comment about how they don’t follow fashion trends, and a slight cringe from me, having been asked it for the hundredth time, knowing they either aren’t really interested or if they are, that I know its not something I can answer easily without boring them with the detail of how trend forecasting works.
I’m from a fashion buying and trend forecasting background for high street retailers. My work life has consisted of working long hours creating clothing ranges, developing products, negotiating cost prices, researching emerging trends, being customer-obsessed, and making sure products hit stores in time for their selling period. I was fortunate enough to be sent on buying trips worldwide, which now, given the current climate, seems something to be valued more than ever before. The reason I feel the need to explain this to you is to leave your mind open to the million other people who work within different areas of Fashion, who will have their own story to tell. Here’s mine.
So the answer to the question may surprise you. Because you, the consumer, dictate the trends more than you probably realise. Yes, there is a considerable amount of creative inspiration and research that identifies emerging trends. But this varies according to the brand. Whether or not they are trend leaders looking to be ahead of the curve in the market or trend followers, wanting to make sure they have the trends around the same time as everyone else. The type of brand or customer profile determines the level of creative inspiration versus the amount of market research required to forecast trends. There is no exact science to predicting a trend, and the trickiest part is knowing when a trend will take off and become a best seller.
Take, for example, skinny jeans. The skinny jean first became on-trend in the mid-noughties. Having just started my career in Fashion at the time, I was a keen twenty-something-year-old embracing the trend, knowing that everyone would be wearing them when I went to work. I remember watching in fascination as it took off amongst Fashion lovers, yet for many years remained an unimaginable thought for many to wear something so tight and figure-hugging around their bum and thighs, especially if they were curvacious or blessed with a voluptuous bottom, which of course now is a trend in itself! By the late noughties, the skinny jean had taken off, appearing as an essential item in most high street brands, including supermarkets, eventually becoming a must-have item in women’s and men’s wardrobes all around the globe. Now in 2021, there is much talk that the skinny jean is dying as a trend, and the mom jean is fast becoming the new must-have denim item.
So who decides when a trend will take off and when it will be on its path to becoming an archive item at the back of our wardrobes? The answer? You! Many high street Fashion brands are dictated by their customer as they are influenced by trend concepts. As a buyer and trend forecaster in a clothing company, it is imperative to listen to the consumer, look at best sellers from the previous season, and work out how to offer new styles that feed into why the customers purchased from you previously. You, the consumer, are a hugely important factor in influencing buying decisions each season. Leading Fashion brands, like Zara, who are renowned for being at the forefront of trends each season, and a big hit with people looking for “on trend” items, often buy small amounts to maintain their brand position on the high street and reputation as being ahead of the market. These smaller amounts, meaning 500 units compared to the hundreds of thousands they usually purchase for a volume item, like the must-have jean shape or a basic t-shirt, allow them to reduce their risk, whilst maintaining their brand image as fashion trend leaders on the high street.
Catwalk designers or aspirational brands have a slightly different story to tell. Designers like Gucci, Chloe, and Prada, despite still listening to their customers, also tend to lead the way in fashion, as they create their own concepts and designs based on new trends they feel are emerging, specific to their brand. They have the difficult job of maintaining the right image for the brand, creating newness and excitement, whilst ensuring they still making money each season. Many don’t profit from their actual catwalk collections, with some relying on the sales from the popularity of items like handbags and perfume to lift their bottom line margin each year. Mulberry, who announced earlier this year that they expect to “outperform expectations and report a small underlying profit before tax,” is famously known for the popularity of its handbags, capturing a vast amount of the women’s market. The famous Mulberry Alexa bag is just one example, which first launched in 2010 and was relaunched at the end of 2020 to promote a timeless approach to their designs. Whilst businesses like Victoria Beckham, despite being well respected for their catwalk collections each season, recently declared a loss of £46 million since it launched in 2008.
Ultimately when it comes to knowing “what’s on-trend,” there is no “one size fits all” answer. Knowing what suits you, what you feel comfortable wearing, and which brands you like to follow depends on your very own personal taste and body shape. Every brand requires its own target customer, its own brand handwriting, and a team to decide the right trends for its business. So go forth and shop smart or rewear old, style yourself in a way that makes you feel your best because the best trend of all is looking and feeling confident in what you are wearing.
If you are interested in understanding more about how fashion trends are forecasted, you can also visit the NAAMe Trend Forecasting Page here.