We live in an age where information is everywhere and easily accessible. Lots of information is overwhelming and ultimately, meaningless, if it is not organized and extracted for insight.
Productive market research and trend forecasting streamlines focus, captures key data points, looks for patterns, and uses learnings as a framework for future decision making.
I can’t stress enough how powerful research can be in designing a valuable product. Good research is holistic and involves looking into the past, present, and future of your target customer.
Identifying mistakes and successes of the past, helps activate better decision making for the future. If a product didn’t sell, find out why. Some discoveries take time. (For example, at one company, It took me a few seasons, and a lot of stinky sellers, to finally figure out that my customer didn’t want to buy novelty leggings. She preferred to buy more inauspicious leggings that she could wear over and over again. This type of product would be better suited for a market category with more disposable income and a larger closet.)
Customer reviews are also amazing data points from the past. Customer reviews can tell you what worked and didn’t work about a style. Remember, customer reviews can be analyzed for competitive and aspirational brands as well! That’s a lot of data to draw from.
The distant past
Perhaps the best profits have the best memory.
It’s unoriginal, but the past tends to repeat itself in cycles, even decades. Knowledge of past fashion cycles, music, and culture will help train your prophetic eye. With a good handle on the types of silhouettes, fabrics, details, and accessories of each decade, it’s easier to navigate future fashion trends. Design elements usually group together. For example: If you’re starting to see a lot of shoulder pads, be prepared for more acid wash, high waisted jeans, and neons in the market place (all associated with the 80s).
Vintage shopping is a great way to become familiar with different decades and source design inspiration. There are numerous online shops selling vintage clothing like etsy and ebay. Even your local thrift store may be holding some gems.
Researching exclusively new collections can get tiresome as originality in design is lackluster, especially in the mass-market category. Ironically, vintage clothing is a breath of fresh air compared to current mass-produced garments.
Market research on your present target customer (or target market), where she currently shops (competitive brands), and where she would like to shop (aspirational brands,) can help build a landscape of your customers current preferences; and you can begin to imagine what her preferences will be in the future.
To find competitive brands, look for brands with a similar aesthetic and price point. To find aspirational brands, look for brands with a similar aesthetic but higher price point. Once you identify your competitive and aspirational brands, regularly check out the product for design details, fabrics, new product categories, etc.
Market research can be both online and in store. In store is always better because you have better visibility to both customers and the positioning of product. Where product is placed in the store indicates how confident a brand is in the product. Usually confidence is derived from testing and sales history. A table of product prominently displayed at the front of the store is what the brand in believes in from either a seasonal, trend, or past selling perspective.
Social media like Instagram and Pinterest are great ways to discover lifestyle information about your customer in addition to which brands and products she is liking.
Great designers balance memory of past trends and selling, awareness of the present market, and anticipation of future.
Anticipating the future is trend forecasting. I personally love trend forecasting. There is something so fulfilling about being open and receptive to everything that’s going on in the world, organizing that data, and zoning in on key ideas that will be popular a year to several years from the present moment.
There is a ton of research that goes into trend forecasting like studying the lines of high end designers to streetwear brands, influencers on social media, trend and forecasting services like Wgsn and Google trends, travel to concerts and festivals, and market research in popular travel destinations and fashion capitals.
As you can imagine, this is a time consuming process that is key to many brands. Many large corporations have full-time trend and concept teams that do a bulk of the research, create trend presentations or “decks,” then roll this out to teams.
Not all trends are the same. Trends are classified as three different cycles: the fad, standard, and classic style. A fad is a trend that fades very quickly (ex. fidget spinner;) the standard cycle lives for a longer time (ex. off-the shoulder tops); while a classic cycle is more prolonged (ex. skinny jeans).
It’s important to interpret the endurance of a trend and pinpoint where it is expressing on the fashion cycle. The goal is to send product to market before a trend is declining or, worse, obsolete. It’s brand damaging to represent a product that is over-exposed in the market. Some fast fashion brands are organizationally built to be speedy to market, so they can identify a trend and quickly ship similar product to stores.
You don’t need to be a psychic to anticipate what your customer is going to need. Many trends are practical in nature. Trends that are comfortable to wear and easy to style stick around for a long time. Yoga leggings and skinny jeans continue to be a staple because they are so practical!
Trends can also bring balance to a previously introduced trend. For example, if super high waisted jeans are introduced to the market, you can expect a demand for cropped tops. If wide leg pants are on the rise, expect a demand for smaller tops to offset the volume in the leg.
A final note about trend forecasting, which is often overlooked, is that not all trends are relevant to your customer. As a designer, you filter and interpret trends for your customer. The key is to balance authentic customer and brand identity with cultural influence and trends.