Fashion is mainly the most popular mode of artistic expression: It essentially describes the ever-changing style of clothes worn by those with cultural status and history. A fashion trend occurs when others mimic or have a rendition of any style. Fashion differs greatly within a society over a period of time, but also have an impact through age, occupation, sexual orientation, location, and social class. Trend forecasting now is something that is entirely different!
Take fashion and design. Back in the ’60s and early ’70s, fashion research basically meant hanging out in European clubs and cafes. Stylebooks were literally printed volumes published with an 18-month lead time to give designers and buyers time to work. As the sector expanded, so did its methods, which soon involved market analysis, political and economic trends, and fads in music, food, and design. But by 2008, forecasting firms began to distinguish themselves by using the Web to offer cheaper, more targeted sub-services and short-term trend tracking.
Forecasting is used in almost every area of business today. Accurate analysis of consumer trends is vital in informing brand direction and development, in the creation of relevant products and services and ultimately in ensuring their success. Most notably associated with the fashion industry, trend forecasting is still a relative newcomer but has fast become one of the most important weapons in a retailer’s competitive armory. In a fast-moving and crowded marketplace, identifying ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ is crucial in staying one step ahead of the competition.
As in all sectors, technology is revolutionizing and changing how businesses operate and function, with the use of data analytics, artificial intelligence, virtual technology and so on – all the while leading to streamlined and efficient processes.
As the pace of the latest fashion trends has increased, the speed of the trend cycle has also accelerated and the demand for trend information has risen. Catwalk shows streaming live, the ability for consumers to ‘shop the look’ before the model has even left the runway and retail sectors obsession with reducing turn-around times has created a necessity within forecasting to constantly supply fresh trend direction.
This has not only led to major growth in the fashion industry but also seen it change in a very short space of time. Advances in technology have seen the fashion industry graduate from a niche area producing print format reports a handful of times a year to online services with the ability to publish and update new material quickly and the practical appeal of information that can be accessed from any location, day or night. As of 2011 the forecasting industry was valued at $36bn and growing, spawning an ever-increasing number of agencies catering to a global audience who are searching for the latest fashion trends.
2019 saw fashion brands and retailers testing new technologies and developing new business models. 2020 will see them identifying, and scaling, practical use-cases. Last year’s fashion-tech investments followed shifting trends in customer behaviour. Developments in data and AI led to new programs from the likes of Kering and Yoox Net-a-Porter aimed to better deliver what customers want, including smarter omnichannel shopping journeys, advanced clienteling and data-informed product development and merchandising. An increasing appetite for newness that doesn’t create waste led to a slew of rental and resale models: Urban Outfitters Inc. launched rental service Nuuly; luxury brands like Burberry inked official partnerships with The RealReal and other resale sites. Pushing that trend forward, brands like Louis Vuitton and Farfetch experimented with digital designs through the world of gaming.
This year, brands will continue to eschew big, tech-centric launches in favour of incremental tests, and they will build on what worked best in 2019’s year of experimentation. Based on momentum from many of last year’s emerging themes, here are the technologies and trends expected to make headlines in the year ahead.
Influencer marketing could benefit from a data squeeze. As data literacy matures, so does consumer and governmental awareness of data privacy. California’s new Consumer Privacy Act builds on the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which gives people more control over the usage of their data, and Apple is making it harder for third parties to gather data. Thus, Forrester predicts that “2020 will be a bad year for third-party data and a good year for marketers who take consumer privacy seriously.”
Brands will have to limit reliance on aggregated third-party data to target customers, Forrester says, which might result in decreasing data-informed personalisation efforts. Instead, brands should seek to build authentic connections through influencer marketing, especially as Instagram builds tools to help brands create targeted influencer campaigns based on ideal audience.
Blockchain use-cases will mature and scale. Last year confirmed that the potential of blockchain is becoming apparent to fashion retailers: Farfetch joined the Libra Association, LVMH linked up with Microsoft on Aura and Ba&sh is offering resale through blockchain-enabled purchases. This year, expect Farfetch and LVMH’s blockchain strategies to accelerate, which will likely include providing a unique digital identity to items, plus more pilots and products that use blockchain to help authenticate luxury goods like bags and sneakers or anonymously transfer ownership of pre-owned goods. This year could potentially even see the development of luxury payment through cryptocurrency
A luxury brand will offer digital clothes. Last year introduced the concept of clothing that exists only digitally: Gucci let customers “try on” Ace sneakers through augmented reality, Louis Vuitton designed “skins” for League of Legends characters and Drest sold digitised versions of Farfetch inventory. While selling digital clothing at luxury prices is yet to come, it’s an intriguing method for a brand to experiment with technology, engage with customers and cater to both Instagram culture and sustainability.
Already, some brands are using digital designs to gauge market appetite: In addition to Tommy Hilfiger’s digital showrooms, San Francisco brand Taylor Stitch invites customers to pre-order digital designs before they go into production. This programme has been profitable, says Matt Field, co-founder of product development platform Maker/Sights, which works with the brand. Field anticipates seeing bigger brands adopting “flavours of that approach” — by “dropping” digital designs on Instagram before the most popular design is produced, for instance. Already, Scandinavian brand Carlings has created and sold a T-shirt whose designs can be changed digitally using Instagram AR filters.
5G will power augmented reality and live video shopping. The processing power of smartphones and their networks has limited effective augmented-reality projects, including shop-adjacent uses in fashion. As the fifth generation of wireless technology, 5G promises faster downloads and less latency. Combined with the influx of AR developer tools from mainstream platforms like Apple and Facebook, 5G could facilitate the technology’s presence on social media in 2020. For example, customers will be able to “try on” designs on social platforms before checking out in-app.
5G will also allow new streaming media formats with higher-definition graphics, sound and interactive technologies, says eMarketer principal analyst Yoram Wurmser, suggesting that livestream video shopping, already generating $4.4 billion in sales in China as of 2018, will become more popular in Western regions. Early players include H&M-owned Monki and ShopShops, which connects Chinese shoppers with US boutiques. Expect platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to jump in with potential new features that facilitate in-app live shopping
After 2019’s experiments, 2020 will be a time to stick to the technologies that help brands with staying power. “2020 could become the year that companies convert on the potential energy built up in 2019 to move from prudent investments to breakout growth,” says Forrester senior vice president of research Sharyn Leaver. “The most successful will be those that properly invested in their foundation — and have the innovation skills to move quickly.”
Overall, digitalization has completely evolved the fashion industry. With the introduction of new technologies such as AI, IoT, VR, and mobile customers, retailers, designers, etc. can expect to receive a more personalized experience that caters to all their needs and concerns Digital transformation is resulting in changes previously unimagined, and we can only expect this change to rapidly advance.
While there is room for such points of view at present if forecasters can position themselves as an inspirational resource with the ability to create and innovate, trends and trend analysis will remain the future of fashion.