Founder spotlight: Trend Forecasting explained!
This is the fourth post in the #AskMeAnything series with our founder and creative director, Thea Pérez. This time we are discussing the exciting world of Trend Forecasting! Thea will shed some light on what forecasting is and why it's so important for creatives.
Jessica: Hi Thea, thanks again for taking the time to sit down with us today. I’m excited to dive into trend and talk about the different directions trend forecasting takes.
Thea: Thank you for having me today. I’m excited to talk about trend, because it’s a facet of the industry that I’m super passionate about and one that we focus a lot of time and energy on at Polychrome!
Jessica: Great, let’s dive right in. In our last founder interview, we talked a little bit about your career in fashion. You had mentioned that you had always enjoyed trend forecasting, so can you give us a little bit of insight about what trend forecasting is and why is it valuable?
Thea: Sure, trend forecasting is quite simply the act of analyzing economic, cultural, and societal patterns with the intended outcome of predicting cultural shifts and consumer desires. Even though I think most people think of it mostly as living in the realm of fashion, it really has a much farther reach than that. This is not only important for the fashion industry but also for almost any consumer product industry and even the service industry. Throughout my career I've had to carefully consider trends and how they would impact the product that I was conceptualizing and how and when it would have the best chances of being received favorably by the end consumer. It’s such an integral part of what a designer does because you could be designing beautiful product but if it isn’t addressing what the desired aesthetic is of your target customer at the right time and in the right way, it’s just going to fall flat because isn’t going to appeal to them.
Jessica: And how is it that you are create Polychrome trend reports? How are you finding what is current and what is going to hit a note with consumers at any given time?
Thea: Well, interpreting trend forecasts and creating them are actually two different things. At Polychrome, we actually do both of those things, but let's talk about the creation first, and we can talk about interpretation later.
The creation of our trend forecasts starts by taking a bird’s eye view of what is going on in the world. What’s happening economically, politically, socially, and culturally. We look at what are cultural events like music festivals, museum exhibits, and other happenings especially in the world’s fashion centers… places like New York, London, Los Angeles, and Florence, etc. What's going on in those hotbeds of forward culture that might influence the aesthetic of a larger audience a little further down the road. It starts off a bit broad, but then you need to deep dive into those things that keep popping up on your radar - and the only real way to do that is to obsessively read and research what’s going on. You basically just have to have a curious and open mind about all of those aspects of life and look at them from a creative standpoint.
Even though I am the creative director and ultimately the one who is concepting and driving the trend at Polychrome, it could get pretty myopic if I were the only one accumulating that data. Our entire network of artists and what influences their work contributes to the conclusions we draw. The cultural and aesthetic influences they see in the geographical locations they are in as well as the age and social demographic they occupy and associate with - all these inform our trend research. Some artists do contribute more than others but they are all feeding us information on what they are observing out in the world. So we have all of these different perspectives that are contributing to our trends at Polychrome.
Jessica: And how do you work with your clients in regards to trend?
Thea: Well, we have several different ways to help our clients. The most common way is that the client is able to purchase the trend forecasts directly from our website. Clients can browse all the forecasts on our site and purchase any a la carte; the report is available for immediate download as soon as it’s purchased.
The other way that clients have exposure to the trends we have pitched is indirectly through our print collection. All the prints designed by our artists are inspired by those same trend forecasts from our marketplace. So our artists not only contribute to our trends, but they also design prints that are relevant to that trend aesthetic and color palette and mood. When clients purchase prints from us, they are also getting a little bit of our trend projections.
We also have clients that will have us come into their office and give in-person trend presentations so that's a service that we offer to try and give clients a different perspective on trend. We understand that there are lots of trend services out there, but when we give personalized presentations, we offer a fresh viewpoint of what we think the upcoming trends are going to be in a personal way.
Polychrome Spring/Summer 2020 trend forecast "In Contrast"
Jessica: What would a typical trend report consist of? How are you breaking down your trend reports so it caters to your clients and their needs?
Thea: Our trend reports are very focused, unlike some other trend services which are much larger enterprises than Polychrome is at the moment. While they are pitching trend for many different kinds of product categories, our forecasts are laser focused on women’s wear. Our forecasts consist of pages dedicated to mood, color (with Pantone codes), silhouette, pattern, and more.
The fact is that womenswear trends will eventually trickle down and impact many other categories of product. What is going on in womenswear will eventually have an influence on home goods or an influence on menswear, or childrenswear and so on. It may sound a bit sexist in this day and age, but women by and large are still the ones going out and purchasing things for their entire household. So the information that they are receiving at the consumer level from womenswear product is going to naturally influence their aesthetic for other things they are buying for other aspects of their lives.
Jessica: You mentioned that you get your trend ideas by what's going on politically, socially, and culturally. Can you talk a little bit more about that and your experience with coming into your passion for trend reporting?
Thea: Sure. I think that one of the reasons that I enjoy the trend and concepting stage of the fashion biz so much is because I am fascinated by how these things influence people's decision making. For example, how an economic shift or a social movement could potentially change someone's perception of what they like and why they might buy a certain sofa. In the fashion world, people are often talk about the zeitgeist of the time meaning what is the general spirit and feeling of the time. The overall spirit has a great influence on consumer behavior.
One of the best examples I can give you of this in recent memory is the whole #MeToo movement, and how that exploded and touched so many aspects of popular culture. It was a culmination of all kinds of things that had been fomenting over a long period of time. You can’t point to any one thing that really contributed to it; it was a snowball effect that gathered momentum and just took hold. It started with some really atrocious behavior on the part of some people, but it had long been brewing and simmering and was a societal thing and a cultural thing, and then became an economic thing in that it even touched consumer behavior.
We have long heard reports stating that women still are paid a smaller percentage of the earnings of a man; been frustrated by small (and large) aggressions in the workplace and out in society; been confronted with the fact that a woman’s bodily autonomy is still up for debate and often decided upon by groups of men who cannot possibly comprehend the health and life decisions faced by women. All these and many more factors contributed to the atmosphere that birthed the #MeToo movement before Weinstein’s case ever became a public scandal. Even though it has felt like a social and political movement, it has also had a profound effect on the fashion industry, on advertising, and on consumer products. So this is an important hallmark of our time, this spirit of resistance, and it has had and will continue to have long reaching effects. I know it may seem a bit abstract - how something like that can affect fashion - but it did and will continue to do so.
Dior 2018 - image via Vogue
Jessica: Do you think trends often circle around, and if they do, how do you think they adapt to modern times?
Thea: Without question. In fashion, there's this kind of this unwritten rule that the cycle kind of happens every 20 years.
You can kind of see things reverberating through the fashion cycle especially throughout the 20th century and carrying on through the 21st century. Prior to the time of the industrial revolution, you may have seen a lot less of that, but after that period when ready-made clothing started to become available, fashion trends influenced the masses in a way that they hadn’t really been able to before. You started to see cycles and patterns of fashion that ebbed and flowed, and could be somewhat predictable and even measurable.
I’ll give an example. A lot of fashion from the 1970’s came from a spirit of resistance and counterculture; things of that nature. In the 90’s you saw some of the same aesthetic influences from the 70’s resurfacing but it was definitely updated. The silhouettes had some similarities, but without the same reasons for being, so the new version was mutated to fit modern tastes.
One of the things that I really think has impacted the cycle of fashion trends in an interesting manner, though, is fast fashion. In a way, the cycle has sort of been thrown off kilter because there's this urgency to always have something new, and with fast fashion, it’s nearly possible. We’ve talked about fast fashion a lot on our blog, and even in these interviews in particular. I've not made it a secret that it's something that I think has been detrimental to not only the fashion industry but also the planet at large.
In relation to fashion trend cycles it has been sort of fascinating to watch because as the generation of new product has been accelerated, so has consumption, and the consumer demand for ever-new product has resulted in the speeding up of fashion cycles. In the past decade or so, there hasn't been as much of a predictable cycle of fashion that is recognizably from a certain era leading into the next.
Recently we’ve seen runways that harken back to the 70’s from Gucci, completely 80’s from Versace, and at the same time obvious 90’s revivals of Dr. Martens and chokers and slip dresses. It's been sort of fascinating to see the cycle sped up and mixed and matched together. We’re also seeing glimpses of early aughts already, although I guess that would be in line with the traditional 20 year cycle at this point. It will be interesting to see what happens when we have caught up with ourselves!
Jessica: So do you think fast fashion is accurately displaying trends of the day or do you think it's simply a generalized area where trend is very interpretive to the wearer?
Thea: Oh, it is very accurately translating current trend because coverage of runways is so accessible and companies are getting almost instantaneous feedback from their target audience through social media. Fast fashion has enabled larger chain companies to be able to interpret work on the runway and spit out their own iteration of that item within two weeks, a literal translation of a trend - too much so in fact.
What I think is lost, though, is creativity and a true appreciation for all the hard work that goes into the original pieces. Fast fashion companies are trying to generate ideas so fast that the creativity actually lies in how quickly they can turn it around and how cheaply they can replicate it. I'll give them this - that in and of itself is a creative challenge. Producing a marketable fashion brand at whatever your price point is and making sure you’re achieving your markup is creatively challenging, so doing this at a faster and faster rate all the time is certainly difficult.
I hate to say this because I know there are a lot of designers working really hard in those companies using their creative powers to achieve that fast fashion goal, but it does kind of circumvent the real creative process which involves concepting something that is more original. A lot of people might argue that it's impossible anyway to have true original designs because everything kind of has been done before. Maybe that's true to some extent even though it’s cynical, but you just know it’s not ok when you are looking at a runway show and then you see a cheap facsimile of a piece in a Forever21 two weeks later. It’s just the same but made of a cheaper fabric and with cheaper workmanship, and it’s really disheartening that they just knocked off someone’s original beautiful creation. And I'm not even addressing the ethical labor or environmental impact here, not because it's not important, but because that will get us completely sidetracked from the topic of trend.
independent designer Sandy Liang at left; Forever 21 version at right. photo via Sandy Liang
Jessica: I remember you mentioning that you teach trend forecasting at the college level.
Thea: Yes! In addition to guest lecturing about trend forecasting at several different schools, I was invited to teach a fashion trend forecasting course at Lasell College which has a really robust fashion program.
What was really compelling about the position was that I was going to be able to teach a course that helped focus on the business end of the fashion industry by teaching forecasting to Marketing and Fashion Communications majors. Design schools like my alma mater, RISD, don't always teach Trend as a separate class. I don't necessarily think that's a miss because creatives are usually the people at the forefront of trend. When you are already in that kind of head space - being creative, being a designer, and surrounding yourselves with other creatives like artists, musicians, writers, etc. you’re already in the realm of influencing the cultural aesthetic. Most art and design colleges recognize this and just assume you will be picking up these hints of upcoming shifts through osmosis and by surrounding yourself with the people that are usually the initial spark of what kicks off trends to begin with.
I’ll give a little example - there are certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn that are considered to be cultural harbingers of what will be cool. These hipster neighborhoods are full of artists, chefs, musicians, or any number of professions that are considered to be creative or culturally persuasive. The music they listen to, the food they eat, even how they talk, what they talk about, where they travel, things that they wear, all of those things can be very influential to what will be trending three years from now or more, even at the runway level. It's sort of interesting because it’s like watching a lower level of economic culture influencing the highest echelons of couture, where people can afford to spend anything.
Jessica: So, was it very different teaching this to communications and marketing majors?
Thea: It was. One of the things that was very interesting to me about the opportunity to teach trend to students that are not necessarily creative types is that they are trying to understand how trend gets forecasted on a measurable and practical level. These are the people that may need a little convincing that it is not all just a self-fulfilling prophecy. They know trend is a real thing and that it is important, but may have a hard time seeing it as more concrete than crystal ball gazing. They want a formula - that's just the way that their talented brains work. It's not enough to just trust your gut; they want to know how to break it down, how and why it is predictable, and what exactly does it mean to have to look at all these different aspects and then add them all together to magically come up with a trend forecast.
Teaching a class from that perspective was a good challenge for me, and it was eye opening. I hadn’t really had to communicate about trend on that level and disseminate how trend comes about and why it can be trusted. Having to teach this to students that were not being trained as designers made me think of trend in a more analytical way and I think it has helped me improve how we do this for Polychrome at some level, especially on how to communicate this information.
If we can reach these young students that are university studying, how is it that I can actually help people that are not only working in fashion firms, but at other consumer industries. How can I get them to understand trends and maybe trust what the creatives in their organizations are telling them? If I can get more business-minded folks to start to embrace the importance of trend, because it starts to become something understandable for them, that would be really cool. I would love to demystify trend not only for people studying the business end of fashion in the classroom but also for professionals in other industries through Polychrome.
Jessica: Do you think there's a difference between forecasting a big trend versus a small fad showing up for a short amount of time or do you think they are the same thing?
Thea: Well trend forecasting would kind of address and tackle what's going to be trending in general and that could even include fads. In very general terms, there are megatrends and then there are smaller level trends like a micro-trends living within that larger trend. Going back to our previous example, the mega trend could be a rise in feminine power and the #MeToo movement and then some micro-trends within that could be the slogan pieces that came about addressing that topic of resistance. A trend like a silhouette or a color coming from the larger trend could be something that would last through several seasons or a couple of years trickling down through different processes.
A fad on the other hand is something that a lot of people sort of buy into very quickly but it kind of disappears just as quickly, like the pink pussy hats that were ubiquitous on social media around that time, so a fad would be the most fleeting form of the trend. It's a blip and may even be significant culturally within the larger trend, but then it's gone.
Jessica: How far in advance do you think trend can accurately be predicted? Is there some set formula or is there no real set time since it is based on the cultural, political, societal surroundings?
Thea: That's a complicated question. I want to say that there isn't a set timeline necessarily. I think when you are seeing movements in shifts that are like seismic level things happening in society, and happening economically that are involving the zeitgeist of the time, those sorts of things will be evident in a macrotrend.
For example, athleisure is a mega trend and that came about within the much larger macrotrend of wellness. As a macrotrend it will go on much longer than a couple of seasons and its impact on consumer product will be far-reaching - certainly beyond only that of fashion. Even athleisure as a part of that macro-trend has gone on for quite a long time, probably much longer than most people would have predicted and it's been such a seismic shift that it really has changed what has become acceptable to wear. I think it is a bit of a phenomenon and it shows that once people adapt to a certain way of dressing that is enjoyable (in this case, comfortable to them), they may never go back to dressing quite the same way as before.
Remember all the commotion about whether airlines would let someone go on their flights in leggings? Whether wearing those outside of a gym should be considered improper? But everyone is really comfortable in them and that will prevail. I will give you that some people might argue that not everybody looks fantastic in them, but you can say the same about sweatpants or swimsuits for that matter. Athleisure has made such a change in consumer expectation that I don't think people are willing to go back to wearing something constricting anymore than they will go back to wearing corsets or gloves in warm weather. If you think about macro trends on that level, they can go on for a very long time and have the power to change consumer habits for good. So connecting to your question on how far ahead can we predict trend, we can definitely see and plan for them far in advance.
In the trends we’ve been predicting at Polychrome, most of what we’re addressing are the levels of trend that are within a large macro trend. For example, we have trend reports that speak to activewear and athleisure companies and as well as those for sportswear and dress companies. We have palettes are appropriate for them, styling that is appropriate, print and patterns, so forth and so on. Those kinds of trends we typically predict and put on our trend marketplace about 12-18 months ahead of when they are ready to be consumed. But we’re developing these concepts farther back than that - about 24 months ahead and fine-tuning them all the time.
Jessica: Do you ever have any concerns about your predictions because you are making them so far in advance?
Thea: Sometimes, even though as I mentioned we are continually fine-tuning them. I think that people that work within the fashion industry and also working specifically with trend, tend sometimes to not be patient enough to let a trend ride out as long as it can be capitalized on. Being creatively driven, we’re often on to the next new thing because our minds are always churning with new ideas. I've definitely fallen prey to coming up with a trend and by the time it’s ready to be put on our marketplace, being gripped with insecurity that it looks too old already. However, the fact is that it's not old at all. Nobody has seen it yet, it's still trend worthy, it will still be trending by the time our client is going to be using it, and by the time their product hits the floor, it will be just in time for their customers. But it still happens that there may be one or two concepts every season that I've been looking at for so long that they just feel old to me. It’s important to try and recognize that and make sure that you’re not just putting your hard work to bed before its time.
I also have been guilty of launching a trend a little earlier than I should once in a while. Although maybe I could feel proud of the fact that I predicted this trend a long time ago, timing is important. At the same time, it has happened on several occasions that I predicted a trend for two years from now and we’re working on it steadily and we put it onto our trend shop about 18 months out, then in another 6-12 months from that point that I will start to see it at other trend forecasting agencies. So that tells me that not only are we doing a good job at predicting trends and the artists are doing a good job of being my eyes and ears on the ground, but it also tells me that I need to be a little patient and not allow myself to get too insecure about the validity of a trend just because I have been looking at it too long.
Jessica: And do you have a trend for next Spring/Summer that you’re particularly excited about?
Thea: Oh, absolutely! This trend may be a bit predictable but I'm still pretty excited about it: it's called ‘Shinkansen’. Which is the name of the Japanese high speed train system. ‘Shinkansen’ addresses the summer 2020 Olympic Games so I'm really excited about this trend because it captures this sort of optimism and it has a really vibrant palette. It can be used for sportswear certainly, but it's geared towards activewear and athleisure. It is inspired by Japanese architecture and influences from the 80’s and 90’s. Back then, Japan was very influential stylistically, not that it isn’t now, but I remember there being a general fascination with Japan at that time in the U.S. It does look back to that aesthetic if there's any sort of retro feel to the group, but overall it looks kind of futuristic.
So that's a super exciting group, and there are a couple of other groups that are much more sportswear driven. Even though activewear can certainly find things within these groups that they could partake of, they are just a lot more geared toward dresses and beautiful everyday wear like that. ‘Garden Party’ has a feeling of late summer decadence and evokes an atmosphere of a warm sunny day with friends that is leisurely but also celebratory. It's very feminine and there are tons of florals as you would imagine for a group of that title.