29 Jul 2021
This week: What trend forecasters got right (and wrong) about the fallout from a no good, very bad year.
We’re also pretty tired of predictions. But the following is all variant-free. And there won’t be any graphs, promise.
“The pandemic has made fools of many forecasters,” noted The Atlantic. Cities are dead! (Wrong). I give this thing three months! (Also wrong). We’ll become suckers for antiviral fabrics! (Maybe?)
• At the beginning of 2020, basically every brand was flying blind. Demand for trend analysts and forecasters went way up, especially in the absence of trade events and fashion weeks. So what are they saying halfway through ’21? Two words: mood market. “It’s all about how retailers can tap into mental well-being to create more human and personal connections through design, merchandising, and messaging as we evolve towards an economy that is based on emotions,” said Laura Saunter, a strategist at forecasting agency WGSN, and the soothsayer who foresaw the ubiquity of Millennial Pink.
• Can retail ever break its unsustainable addiction to what’s in? “The world of retail runs on predicting the future. What you buy in July was decided on in November. Trendspotting used to happen largely in person – retailers had eyes and ears on the ground, hunting for cool. Now it is an obsessive study in web traffic and reviews, Instagram and TikTok posts, bridal registry data and restaurant and hotel bookings,” wrote Sapna Maheshwari in The New York Times.
• Trends are patterns, and patterns are trends. “For retailers, patterns found in completely different industries and categories can be even more important than those in the retail industry. Could a pattern of technological advancement in the live entertainment industry inform the future of retail? Could a pattern of innovations in healthcare?” observed Doug Stephens, aka ‘The Retail Prophet’, in The Business of Fashion. “So rather than looking for the future under a microscope, it’s better to use a radio telescope that listens intently to the entire universe of change taking place as we speak”.
Why is retail so obsessed with future proofing? When you’re in the business of selling things, it’s all about ID’ing signs now that might become the next major movement.
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
What’s currently cool? Circularity. As in: no waste.
In a perfectly circular world, everything is recycled, repaired, or reused. As PwC puts it, it’s a “[system] where the products of today are also the raw materials of tomorrow”.
• While the textile industry is the world’s second biggest polluter, the sector is also home to pioneers of the circular economy. Big brands from Adidas to Ralph Lauren are investing majorly in programs like textile-to-textile recycling. The events of 2020 have also altered the way we consume clothing. “The pandemic has brought to light that fashion seasons are kind of nonsense,” Emily Gordon-Smith, a director at trends intelligence agency Stylus, told Vogue Business last year. Seems like “seasonless” is still the word, with retailers like Browns and Net-a-Porter seeing a lasting shift towards “timeless product” and “shopping with a purpose” – which has some to do with coronavirus, and a lot to do with climate change.
• Resale platform thredUP continues its global expansion with the recent acquisition of Remix and a new partnership with Madewell. Last month, Depop sold for a cool $1.63 billion to Etsy – which projects secondhand apparel sales will grow “twice the size of fast fashion on a global basis” over the next few years. From furniture to frocks, rentals are having a moment. But will, and should, that last? “There is simply no alternative to buying less, buying ethically produced and taking the best care of it,” said sustainable fashion consultant Alice Wilby.
• The cynic inside might question whether this is mainly a marketing ploy. “You know a trend is peaking when it feels like every big corporation is suddenly jumping on board in a bid to appeal to new customers,” noted Rich Duprey in The Motley Fool. But it’s in small start-ups where circular innovation is accelerated. “Although many circular economy headlines revolve around large corporations (like Apple or Walmart), the true circular process is being tested on a local scale,” wrote Duncan Wardle in Fast Company.
“Whether the product in question is circular, independently made or from a Black-founded brand, Criteria Retail points to a future in which both sellers and customers will gravitate towards platforms that are openly values-led and purposeful,” wrote Kathryn Bishop in The Future Laboratory.
Read the tea leaves: everything moves in circles.
Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.