Fashion week is known for groundbreaking movements and pioneering trends, but the collections presented at this autumn/winter fashion week all looked the same. Uniformity and homogeneity in fashion is something that has been going on for a while now, but uniformity has manifested itself most recently in the colour beige. Vogue dubbed it the colour of the season as it dominated catwalks making appearances at Burberry, Balmain and Tom Ford to name a few. Interestingly, in 2017 leading trend forecasting agency, World Global Style Network (WGSN) forecasted that beige was going to be the colour of 2019. Is it a mere coincidence that beige was forecasted in 2017 and now, in 2019, is such a hit on the catwalks? It is a coincidence that everything looks the same these days?
Trend Forecasting Agencies
People would like to believe that trends are determined by designers and influencers, but this is not necessarily the case. Often, designers use the information that forecasting agencies provide to curate their collections and decide on which trends to adopt for the seasons ahead. Trend forecasting agencies have not always determined trends, however. In fact, they were not even created for the purpose of prescribing trends. Trend forecasting agencies were created as a response to the creative elite, such as designers, who typically dictated and determined trends. Trend forecasting agencies were frustrated with the secretive nature of trends and wanted to find a way to predict the colours, fabrics, textures, textiles, prints and graphics that did not rely on designers.
Amanda Roughley, a trend forecaster who has worked for WGSN and currently works at dcipher.fm, tells us that trend forecasting agencies predict these entities by “researching online/offline, going to exhibitions and trade shows such as Pitti Uomo, Premier Vision and looking at street style found on Instagram.” The next step is “dissecting this research into trend buckets and analysing the images in order to find the trending colours etc. which are later presented.” Despite the belief that trend forecasting agencies make trends, this is not case however. Amanda Roughley believes that the current trend makers are “street style bloggers and influencers” that “not only inform trend companies but also consumers.” Trend forecasters are “early adopters” and push what we see from street style bloggers and influencers to become the norm. Essentially, trend forecasters influence how trends expand and which trends to push forward. Similar to Roughley’s definition, LSN Global, another trend forecasting agency, describes what they do as “bringing the future to the present” by “seeking out unevenly distributed behaviours before they spread outwards and hit the mainstream.” This really encapsulates their job, which is finding the smaller streams or trends and bringing them into the mainstream and making designers and industry personnel aware of them.
The Rise of the Copy and Paste Culture
What trend forecasting agencies have done is cut down the design process. Previously, design and creative teams used to do the same thing, look for smaller streams and bring these into the main stream, however, trend forecasting agencies have superseded this role and made designers’ jobs easier. The presence of trend forecasting agencies have not only made life too easy for designers but also increased the laziness of designers and creatives as they no longer have to carry out their own independent research. They can simply rely on the intelligence of trend forecasting agencies and copy and paste which trends they see.
Designers are “very” reliant on trend forecasting agencies because it “saves them time during the design process” says Amanda Roughley. One can see how trend forecasting agencies are increasingly valuable in the world that we live in today— which according to Agnes Rocamora, a fashion sociologist, is a society driven by speed and immediacy and ultimately governed by time. Speed, immediacy and time are especially important in the fashion world due to the rise of fast fashion, where clothes are expected to be produced faster than ever before. There is a tremendous value for trend forecasting agencies in this climate, as they offer information that designers would otherwise have to seek out independently. They cut down designers’ job so that clothes can be created, produced faster and so more sales can be made. While understandable, the unfortunate consequence of this expedited culture is that a copy and paste culture has developed that relies too heavily on these agencies.
Independent Fashion Labels
It is important to note, however, that this phenomenon does not affect independent designers and fashion brands as much. In fact, Samantha Pleet, an independent label that hails from Brooklyn, New York, tells us that she does not use trend forecasting agencies at all because she “wants to offer something different that people cant find somewhere else.” Instead, she finds inspiration from “being out in the world” and being inspired by the people around her such as friends. She isalso inspired by Brooklyn, music, and art.” The founders of Amelia Jane London, Olivia an Alice, a British label, agrees with these sentiments, saying that they “do not use agencies for designing products” instead they “keep an eye on the upcoming trends over fashion weeks and looking on social media.”
It appears that independent labels are still doing the job that designers and creatives used to do and the job that trend forecasting agencies currently do — seeking out trends from smaller streams in music and art, and finding inspiration from street styles. The reason they still do the jobs that trend forecasting agencies do now is for one of two reasons. The first is that the majority of independent designers and labels are not fast fashion labels, they take time to curate and distinguish their collections and their collections are often a lot smaller. As a result they have they have the time to carry out their own independent research. It is also crucial to undergo independent research so that their brand can be distinguished from larger designers and high street fashion brands. The second reason that independent labels do not use trend forecasting agencies is because they do not possess the financial assets that designers and high street brands have. Simply, they cannot afford to access trend forecasting agencies. WGSN for example starts at 3230 dollars and can cost up to 65,000 dollars.
It is clear then, what is happening and why it’s happening: the reason why larger designers and fashion brands use trend forecasting agencies is because they help them produce quick turn around times, cutting down the job for them and supplying them with information. On the other hand, for independent labels “different” is an integral part of their success. Additionally, they cannot afford trend forecasting agencies so they have to rely on themselves to research trends.
Minimising Risk and Increasing Sales
The fashion industry’s trend culture is much larger than the trends that you see on the catwalks. If you are not using WGSN you are considered the odd one out. Therefore, joining WGSN or similar trend forecasting agencies is the natural move to avoid feeling like the odd one out. Unfortunately, the result of this culture is that all designers and brands are pulling ideas from the same resources, so naturally a uniformity occurs. Really, you cannot blame this culture as the purpose for designers and fashion brands is to reduce risks and increase sales and profit. Trend forecasting agencies minimise risk as they present what is likely to betrending in years from now. It is only understandable that designers and fashion brands use these agencies as taking the path with the least risk is the most logical option.
Amsterdam Fashion Institutes Nienke Adegeest have come to similar findings, noting that: “forecasting agencies determine the trends to come and fashion companies are reluctant to take risks and to deviate from the path that forecasters have set them as their main aim is to make profit” As a result of this, many brands are increasingly opting to play it safe and only use forecasting agency approved trends in order to have a safe and steady profit.” Amanda Roughley agrees with this, saying that designers are “very” reliant ontrend forecasting agencies because they give designers the “security in what they are bringing into the shop floors.” Roughley goes on to say that “trend forecasters give designers extra strength in the company to ensure the products will sell.” Taking a creative risk is not worth possible financial failure. Highs treet fashion brands are particularly prone to this. They produce clothing in bulk and rely on smaller profit margins, so it is absolutely essential for them to copy what everyone else is doing in order to safely predict a profit.
Is playing safe really helping though?
But is playing safe and following the trends prescribed by trend forecasting agencies really helping designers and retailers? The fashion industry is seeing more and more sales and markdowns. Inaddition to this, a number of retailers have seen declining profitsor are closing entirely. In fact, Asos’s chief executive issued a shockprofit warning before Christmas, noting that “fashion is seeing an unprecedented level of discounting, something that has notbeen seen before” and that “this is across the board.” If the vast majority of fashion brands are presenting the same trends and experiencing financial failure, then surely it is time that someone breaks themould and creates something that diverges from the rest. Is this not a testament that creativity is what makes designers and fashion brands successful? Being different from the rest?
It is important to note that ASOS is one of many fashion brands that uses forecasting agency, Editd, which prides itself on using statistics rather than intuition or creativity to forecast trends. A large problem with trend forecasting agencies is that their forecasts have become largely dependent on statistics. This is a worlds away from how trends used to be made, previously generated basedon genuine gut instinct rather than data. Perhaps this is the biggest mistake thatdesigners and brands are making, that they’re relying too much on statisticswhen fashion is a creative discipline that should not be quantified. The message here is that sometimes “it is absolutely worth the perceived risk” to generate trends using instinct rather than data.
Fabric and Textile Manufacturers
Trend forecasting agencies also influence the work of fabric and textile manufacturers. According to a study by Christine Twine, “trends in fashion are often driven by textile producers, who will host clandestine meetings to plot which colours they will focus on for the coming season; this, in turn, prescribes what we see on catwalks and in stores two to three years down the line.”Though fabric and textile manufacturers are thought to prescribe what we see on the catwalks, the rise of trend forecasting agencies has shifted this power structure, with forecasting agencies superseding the role of fabric and textile manufacturers. The consequence of this shift is that the scope of fabrics that designers have to work with are limited to what is seen on trend reports.
The reason that this happens is because fabric and textile manufacturers have to work even further into the future than designers—while designers work approximately one year in advance, textile and fabric manufacturers work years in advance—and therefore, when it comes to the design process, designers are already limited as the fabric and textiles have already been produced. In this respect, trend forecasting agencies are stifling creativity and fostering uniformity because even if designers comes up with pioneering and creative ideas, chances are that the fabric/textile will not be exactly as imagined as they have have already been produced months or evens years in advance.
According to Wendy Murray from Bute Fabrics this is not always the case however. While Murray admits to using trend reports from WGSN as well as other colour trend reports such as the Dulux Australia colour report. She also get inspiration from other sources such as Pinterest, magazine clippings, photography and even the company’s own archives. In this respect, the information that trend forecasting agencies provide are only “one element” of the process for fabric and textile manufacturers. Murray explains that among these processes, another source of inspiration is market analysis (who is making what, where and what can we see is missingfrom the offer) closely followed by customer feedback. She gives the exampleof their recently launched Alchemy Collection which was developed due tofeedback from our customers who had liked the ‘flecked’ yarn look from our original tweed fabrics in the 90’s. This is an interesting and important revelation. If fabric and textile manufacturers highlight customer feedback as one of the most important factors in the trend making process, then this means that they could not possibly be the culprits of uniformity as they listen to their clients feedback, which would include designers and fashion brands feedback. Does this this imply then that the uniformity is coming solely from designers then? This is a plausible thought. Many designers produce their own fabrics and textiles in-house. This means that they have full control over what they make and produce. If they have the power to control what they produce and collections across the board are appearing uniform, then does this not tell us that they are relying too heavily on trend forecasting agencies? Does this not tell us that they are choosing to be the same and not different? It is unlikely that trends like beige are appearing on catwalks out of sheer coincidence. It is a deliberate choice by designers to follow the trends prescribed by trend forecasting agencies, largely because doing so expedites the production processand ensures minimal financial risks. The same can be said for high streetbrands. It is no secret that high street fashion brands copy the collections ofhigh-end designers. The reason for this is also financially motivated—knowingthat consumers admire what they see on the catwalk, replicating designs assures them that their collections will sell.
The reason why trends are so homogeneous today is because of the culture of fashion. Fashion is exceedingly fast and therefore, designers are relying on trend forecasting agencies to cut down their job and simultaneously, relying on them as a resource that will provide them with safe trends that will most certainly reap financial rewards. Another problem is the diversity of media today. While in the past, trends were well defined through magazines, now there are so many different places that trends are highlighted—on the internet, on social media, on the streets, in newspapers, magazines and more. With trends coming from so many different places and to some extent, being more diverse than ever before, trend forecasting agencies are a reliable source to find trends.
Unlike perviously thought, fabrics and textile manufacturers do not contribute as much to the homogeneity. While they do consult trend forecasting agencies and trend reports, they do not exclusively rely on them. Additionally, much of the uniformity we see come from high-end designers who have their own fabric and textile manufacturers, and therefore the uniformity cannot be totally attributed to textile and fabric manufacturers. It is not so much then that fabric and textile manufacturers are limiting designers, but more that designers are limiting themselves.
Although trend forecasting agencies are not pushing a homogenous agenda, the uniformity of trends are, in part, due to them. The answer is not to eliminate trend forecasting agencies, however, as they are a valuable resource that sheds light on smaller movements that we might otherwise not know about. Additionally, they provide information that can help us better equip ourselvesfor the future. Perhaps the answer is to take a note from independent fashionlabels, who value uniqueness. Moreso, perhaps when the culture of fashion changes then the copy and paste culture will change too, and designers particularly will see trend forecasting agencies as a space for inspiration and not a space for replication.