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Does Trend Forecasting Matter Anymore?

Does Trend Forecasting Matter Anymore?

by Ana Wang

November 09, 2011

I recently attended a trend forecasting seminar held by WGSN (Worth Global Style Network, one of the world’s leading trend-analysis and research service agencies) during the second season of Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver. Trend forecasting is something that although many people think that they can do, actually takes a great deal of acumen, and is something that requires professional expertise, resources, not to mention, a whole team, to do well. After all, the clothing on worlds’ backs cannot simply be left to chance, right? Companies and organizations such as WGSN play the part as clairvoyants of the fashion industry (well, not just fashion – they also provide their services to such big brands as Target and Rubbermaid, fabric suppliers, and even media companies such as Nickelodeon). In essence, they filter the trends and relay them to brands around the world.

It is no coincidence that the whole fashion world seemed to know that grey was the new black a few seasons ago and that half the boots we see now are a variant of booties or ankle boots, or that skirt lengths seemed to rise all at once to above the knee for the past few years, and now are sitting pretty at the midi length. But as with any creative discipline, conformity and rules are meant to be rebelled against. From that, a question forms inside every aspiring designers’ head, including mine: Does trend forecasting really matter?

What WGSN does each season is break their trend directions into 3. Since I have been keeping up with WGSN, that has been the case. Each season varies from the next in concept, but there are always 3 distinct directions. Without giving away too much (after all, companies pay big bucks to get the inside scoop) let’s explore some of what has been “forecasted” for the upcoming season.

Inspired by the creation of worlds being built rather than evolved, Primal Futurism references mythology, aggressive futurist structure, and primal instincts brought together through high design. Think: primitive textures, decorative art, and natural yet structural silhouettes.

Poetic and sensual environments that fuse romanticism and aggressive use of light filters, characterization, and colour for a mood that is neo-nostalgic – keeping the art, losing the history is the essence of Cinematic. The art of telling a story is imperative, the history of it is not.

Inspired by the constant circulation of random thoughts, imagery, and information today’s generation is exposed to, JPEG Gen emphasizes speed over process, edited storytelling, and absurdity. Random images are placed together to create ironic or witty design that often doesn’t make sense, and everything is inclusive.

It seems that a lot of it is fluff that’s open to interpretation and imagination. But us artist-types kinda gravitate towards fluff, anyway – it helps us with our creative mojo. So that’s not the issue when asking the question of whether trend forecasting matters. After all, we could do a lot with just fluff. Art is fluff, in the best way possible.

As I sat there at the seminar listening, I realized that what these people do isn’t dictate trends, or filter them, or least of all create them; what they do in actuality is more like matching the right cover to a book so that people know immediately what they are reading. In other words, they are presenting culture in tangible, identifiable, and interesting ways so that creators, artists, designers and brands – the people in this world who create things made for consumption – get this: make more money.

How? By shortening the design cycle, cutting on travel costs, meshing with what retailers want to buy, and honing in on design concept, quick and easy, minimizing risk, staff, time, and effort. The fashion industry is built on the cycle of consumption, which practically demands differences within similarities. Being in tune with the rest of the world ensures a safety net – if a trend really goes wrong, it goes wrong for everyone, and there are no losers. Companies think trend forecasting help them make money; I think they actually help them not to lose money. Which are two very different things.

In the end, trend forecasting is really all about commerce, nothing more, nothing less. Now, money isn’t a bad thing. But here’s the thing: when money is the driving force behind design, the art of design soon starts to diminish. And when you lose the core of whatever it is you are doing, eventually, the money will leave too.

That isn’t to say that companies such as WGSN are providing an extraneous service to the world, because there are valid reasons for companies to subscribe to their services. What I found though is that none of these relate to an independent designer or small company, most of whom would just be overwhelmed by the amount of information and imagery available to WGSN subscribers. It is, after all, probably thousands of pages, with archives, daily updates, and pre-drawn details all ready to go straight to the design room.

To that end, trend forecasting really isn’t what its name says it is – while I could not go as far to say that I think trend forecasting is useless, I would go to length to say that the term is entirely wrong. Creative direction and trend analysis as a general term would be far more suitable. (To be fair, WGSN doesn’t brand itself a trend forecasting company – this just goes to show how a simple term makes one thing more appealing to the fashion industry, thus why the term “trend forecasting” was used in all promotional materials for the seminar, and why when I was in fashion school, the whole process was repeatedly referred to as trend forecasting.)

But there are reasons why small businesses and independent designers shouldn’t follow the trends/creative direction these companies present to us. First of all, there are too many trends. Too many pages, all squeezed into one of three directions. Trends can also get boring. When we see so much, it removes us from the experience of becoming inspired by something ourselves. And this can numb us to the beauty and wonder of what it is we are seeing. And most importantly, designers can do better.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that authenticity is magnetic. Too many designers get caught up in the hype of trend forecasting (if they can’t afford WGSN, they may think that they have to at least scour the internet to find free resources that lay it out for them), afraid that if they don’t hit the mark that they will a) appear unfashionable and passe and consequently, b) lose money and customers. But when you pair a designer’s instinct and really allow them to tap into themselves and the world around them and to really be inspired by their own filter, I think we get a much more inspired and authentic product.

And I think that’s where we are headed. My conclusion? It matters. But only because we make it matter. Here’s a thought: Designers don’t need three directions a season to pick and choose from. They only need one – their own.

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