Trend Forecasting

Source: The Telegraph, May 2011

Nowhere else is the demand for understanding the next major trends as crucial as it is in the fashion industry. And despite many sites offering trend forecasting or fashion ‘future insights’, for free, most retail brands are still paying for WGSN or Stylesight – or both.

Digital subscription services are the holy grail both in business to business and consumer publishing, but why does the fashion industry, which is built on its own creativity, pay considerable annual sums for ‘forecasting’, which is not data-driven or scientifically proven?

However, the 200-strong Stylesight, headquartered in Tommy Hilfiger’s former office in New York, with a base in the UK and satellite offices worldwide, hopes to change the sector by creating a technology-driven company which focuses on providing tools for creative departments as much as editorial content.

Set up by Frank Bober, 66, a former designer and manufacturer, Stylesight. charges $7,500 for an entry level subscription, has 2,500 company subscribers, including Prada and Zara – and 25,000 individual users.

We have an in-house technology team that has created tools like our photo tagging technology [which allows users to click on any piece of clothing pictured on Stylesight and search by image] which help clients’ workflow.

“We don’t view this industry as having two to three thousand clients, we see it as having 10-20,000 potential clients – in areas of the world Western forecasting has never been made accessible before – such as China. This is why we have 30 people actively translating the site all day into several languages for these markets.”

Bober stresses he is in the business of subscriptions and the sign Stylesight has been a success is when a client says the service saved money and time.

“I want to provide a service where people can ascertain value from the proposition. This is why we are focusing on providing tools – such as ‘clip’ [which allows designers to copy and paste any image from in and around the web on a working screen on Stylesight], to help people work better.”

We work 18 months ahead across several markets such as men, women, children and interiors, and our job is to provide food for thought,” he says. “There is a 16 to 18 month lead time with retailers and so the majority of our forecasts are not for the fast track fashion decisions but for the longer term decisions, although we do provide short term forecasts too.

“We are not doing the designers’ jobs for them . We trust our client to use our content to adapt our message and make it our own. Our target audience is not the high end but more the high street retailers.”

Sardouk has been in the trend forecasting business for 20 years and says he gets some of his inspiration for his forecasts from new designers and the way they are using new technology. He volunteers “rapid prototyping” as an example. Using new types of 3-D printers, young designers are now able to “print” out a whole shoe or a dress as a prototype in plastic – not for wearing – but in doing so bring new ideas for design looks to the table.

“Forecasting is a sixth sense. You can be too early. You can also let your own taste get in the way. But usually you can feel a trend bubbling up on the streets and then you find the seeds of it on the catwalk. Our job is to pull it all together for client and educate them about how best to channel the zeitgeist.”

Sardouk says: “People will always pay for something they require to get their job done,”

“We are giving people content they need. We aren’t debating issues – we are giving them ideas, sketches they can download – essentially we giving our clients everything we need to create their collection.

Forecasting is becoming big business, blending editorial with technology tools. However, the battle lines have been drawn and the winner will be the forecasting service who can keep innovating and keep up with technology developments, providing indispensable tools and information for their clients.

As Bober puts it, “Our future will be in becoming to designers what Microsoft is to office workers. – giving them all the tools plus the information they need to do their jobs.

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