Trends a` Changing – Do Fashion Brands Need to Join the Joneses?

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The rate at which fashion seasons and shows keep multiplying and going out into an almost constant stream of ‘newness’ begs a reconsideration.

Trends were known to last a while before going out but in recent times with the support of Instagram where a person’s look can go viral in few hours, are fashion trends still realistic?

For several decades, fashion trends have followed the initial rule made by James Laver which put the the timeline for which fashion trends evolved into cognizance. According to the rule, a trend is smart the moment it goes viral, becomes daring after a year and takes up to 20 years for it to blur out and another 50 years for it to glide up the fashion ladder again. This rule made sense and was realistic right through to the twentieth century. Regardless of the swift exposure in Fashion industry with growing mass production of clothing, trends maintained their relatively long and predictable life cycles.

During the previous relatively long life cycle of fashion trends, as fashion seasons drew near, fashion forecasting houses released bulky leaflets while fashion writers, reporters and bloggers made long posts of their predictions on which styles and fabrics would be the next seasons trend. Designers and brands usually worked with these predictions to create pieces that are trendy for their recipients. One thing that was inculcated to make trends lasts longer in previous years was assessing trends in advance and publishing them in hard copy which kept the turnover of new styles to a steady, seasonal pace.

How things have changed!

Time and seasons have changed. Now instead of a couple of people sitting and discussing about what color, fabric, style or pattern that would trend in the next seasons, Social media dictates the trends today. Now, the trend makes an ephemeral appearance and disappears just as swiftly as it appeared. Marc Worth, co-founder of Worth Global Style Network (WGSN), whose trend forecasting services caters for clients such as Coach, Kate Spade, H&M and Victoria’s Secret, also balks at the idea of a bunch of people sitting in a room and deciding what the colors are going to be in two years or what materials are going to be used in three. He further said that he sees it as a waste of time. As much as there are still some traditional fashion forecasting houses, who still believe and  issue their seasonal predictions, Marc Worth believes today’s fashion cycle requires a different approach to the trends of today. In his words, “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.”

This led to the selling of his network to a British company called Emap for £140 million in 2005, and in 2014 he launched the fashion division of Stylus, which purvey creative research and advice to businesses, but does nothing like  forecasting trends. He said that “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,”.

James Laver in his 76 years, would never predicted the fashion industry breaking loose from its traditional bi-annual cycle, moving towards constant product drops. Driven by the intense presence of the Internet and drastically stampeded on by media serving up a stream of new fashion trends all day, every day, this cycle is old news. Now bloggers, fashion enthusiasts, brands, celebrities, websites, designers, influencers and end consumers on social media all vie to hold the greater control over what’s ‘in’ and ‘out’ of fashion. Trends are created quickly and ebbs infinitely faster. Social media has gained a huge control over lifespan of trends, and  totally changed the trends landscape.  Ruth Chapple, head of content at Stylus Fashion said that, just as social media can make some trends last longer than it’s season, it can overexpose a trend and kill its edge. A vivid example is the Valentino rock stud which everyone expected to be a one-season wonder, but trended strong for eight seasons and still has some influence. ”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, the Kenzo tiger sweatshirt was over and done with in a month.” Sorta like a two edged sword type thingy.

Pierre-François Le Louët, president of Paris-based trend forecasting agency NellyRodi, said that “The word trend is a little bit like the word luxury — nobody really knows what it is anymore, where it starts, where it ends.”  Le Louët similar to Marc Worth in reasoning claims that his trend forecasting firm is not in the business of predicting trends but to track the trends happening on the ground in different markets, after which the information is used to then help clients pluck out of the vast array of things ‘trending’ at any one time the specific trends that will work for their brand, in their chosen markets. He further says that trends are plain to see on social media and often prove to be very short-lived.

Zara Lookbook; Photo by Who What Wear

In conclusion, Anne Lise Kjaer, describes a trend as a tipping point, from when a few people are doing it to when many people are doing it. She explains further that ‘Trendy’ trends as such, are unsustainable and short-lived. She advises that instead of being trend-focused, brands, designers and fashion curators should be 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. Brands need to find out the the trends that will work for them; the trends that have staying power, and the trends that can be leveraged in certain markets with its own consumers.

Further more, brands are implored to make extensive researches before making pieces, from analyzing which colors have performed best in retail, to which sleeve shapes continually are more favored, through to buying and selling. Research should form a critical part of every decision. 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 no longer about forecasting but more about responsiveness now.

Take a look at Zara and their highly responsive, data-driven business model. It has made the brand one of the most sort after fashion brands in the world because it takes just two weeks to take a product from design studio to its stores. It also features over 10,000 new designs per year. Another popular brand that is responsive and keeps it’s customer base is Topshop because they make extensive research and drop new items every other day.  They have been able to react faster, and keep up with trends which is their saving grace as there aren’t many brands that are able to do so. If brands can follow through with this method, they will not be too weighed down by the velocity in the change of trends.

Most Luxury brands, are still very indebted to the anachronistic cycle of seasonal runway shows, and are now forced into a balancing act when it comes to trends which means releasing major new styles at the pace of the traditional fashion calendar while struggling to keep their brand looking fresh between seasons by adding new products and using digital content.

Trends are still a thing but the timing used for changing trends no longer suffice. So brands need to switch to the new social media rule of quick responsiveness or it will be tiring for them to keep up.

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