The Process of Fashion Forecasting and What Would We do Without It

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Fashion unites our society. It tells others who we are. It allows us to be outwardly unique. Whether someone cares about fashion or not, we all where some form of clothing. Most of the everyday public do not stop to think how the clothes in their favorite shops are chosen. In addition, I took a survey from my sorority sisters asking if they ever think about the fact that their clothes are in a way, selected for them. I came to the conclusion that the general public does not think much about how much work the people who chose the next trends have to go through each season. There were a slight few however, who responded to my question with answers such as and similar to, “I know it is happening, but while shipping I don’t take the time to focus on what could have been bought, but why the forecaster chose what they did.”

The actual process of Fashion Forecasting is a time consuming career that requires months of research before the next fall and spring and so on. Many times forecasters will start predicting within five to ten years in advance (depending on the company). Without our forecasters, the corporations or designers they work for would find themselves at a loss. No one would know what to look for, what the public will be looking for, and what will sell in the upcoming seasons. Sales forecasting is hard enough without taking fashion forecasters out of the equation. In another question survey I asked, “How do you think the world of fashion would look without fashion forecasters?” Two responses caught my attention, first, “Without forecasters I would think the public would have more options.” The second, “If fashion did not have forecasting it is possible that the industry would be consistently failing due to lack of knowledge on what people will actually want.” I can see where the first responder is coming from; however, I would have to agree with the second. Without knowing what the public is looking for the designers, stores, and their sales forecasters will not know what the people want and what will sell. A no fashion forecasting scenario to picture is this; your favorite store is desperately trying to figure out what to purchase for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, their sales forecasting team has seen designers use Ugg boots, riding boots, leather boots, and suede boots. Without knowing what the public wants all the designers use completely different fashions leaving the stores scrambling for the popular or “in” choice. The forecasting team takes a wild guess and orders leather boots in bulk, however it turns out the public was more interested in suede. This leads the store to lose money, thus hurting our economy and potentially taking away our favorite stores. With fashion forecasting in the mix the designers would have all incorporated suede boots in one way or another, therefore the stores would have known what the public was looking to purchase. To conclude, fashion is more than what we put on our backs and without the process of forecasting, forecasting is not something the everyday public will appreciate or ever think about. Nevertheless, without it, we could all lose our favorite shops and damage our economy.

Fashion forecasting incorporates many smaller, but very important aspects within the job. First we have trend chasers, those who identify emerging concepts and spawning groups of new ideas (trends). In addition, trend chasers work for all kinds of firms and forces of fashion information passed on to other forecasters, product developers/marketers, and the press. Secondly, we have the strategic window, “a window of opportunity,” that focuses on what a firm’s product can offer the consumer and the readiness/willingness to accept and adopt those products. Thirdly, there is the fashion curve where trends are classified in the durations and penetration which are visualized by a curve (time is on the horizontal axis and the consumer adoption is on the vertical axis). Next would be the pendulum swing that refers to the periodic movement from one fashion extreme to another (for example, power dressing in the 80s moved on to a more relaxed dress code in the 90s). Next we have fashion cycles, this is the idea that there are cyclical patterns in fashion that reoccur over time and are discernible (commonly reoccurring patterns are called long wave phenomenon).

Fashion Cycle

Maybe to two biggest parts of forecasting are the long term and the short term. Long term forecasting is what will be taking places within the next five (or more) years. It can revive brand images, initiate new businesses, plan new concepts. Whereas short term forecasting focuses on one to five years in the future. The smaller timeline allows for the segments of the textile/apparel pipeline to coordinate seasonal products around looks that can be communicated to the consumer through press and shops. In addition, the fashion scan holds importance to forecasting through being responsible for following the latest fashion news to further spot emerging lifestyle trends. Fashion scanning focuses mostly on color, textiles, and style forecasting. In line with the fashion scan, we have the consumer scan which attempts to identify clusters of people who share similar characteristics (usually combined with demographics, lifestyle, attitudes, and behavior). Consumer scanning is used to target specific markets. Combining fashion scanning and consumer scanning is used to determine what is likely to happen (short term) next, this is called a fashion analysis. Trend analysis on the other hand is used to detect short and long term trends that affect business prospects. Lastly, we have competitive analysis, where researchers plan the capabilities of competing with firms by tracing public information sources. Over time, this allows for the activities against competitors and to develop an accurate view of the market’s current environment. Fashion forecasting takes a team, and many smaller teams underneath them to get the job done.

Under forecasting, we also have many definitions. Forecasting for example, should identify the source, underlying pattern, direction, and tempo of the current products and markets. Forecasting attempts to project past trends and new trends into the future in addition to anticipating future developments by watching for signals of change in current situations. Under the whole of Fashion Forecasting, we have many other important things to define and understand to better understand the step by step process. First, we have trends. Trend is something the can be emerging or declining, it has identifiable similarities across information sources (styles, details, etc.), and also it is characterized by the building of awareness among consumers. Secondly, we have a fad. Fads are short term trends, they are accepted among a relatively small group of consumers, can be linked to geographical areas, and fades quickly due to the fact it isn’t supported by the corresponding lifestyle changes. Next are classics or a long term trend. Any item or style that gains certain visibility, generates multiple purchases, and reaches a level of widespread acceptance (that continues over a period of time) is a classic. In addition classics have a certain core attribute that is desirable while avoiding extreme styling. Lastly, perhaps the upmost important definition to know in forecasting is fashion. Fashion is a style that is popular in the present day, it is a set of trends that have been accepted by a wide audience and it is a complex phenomenon (a psychological, sociological, cultural or commercial point of view) that we all participate in in the Western hemisphere.

Before a forecaster can begin, they must know and know how to use the seven basic statements of fashion. One, fashion is a social and psychological response; clothing simultaneously conceals and reveals the body and inner self. Two, fashion as a popular culture, operating within the domain of a popular culture it is sometimes trivial and transient. This invites skepticism (it can seem frivolous or extreme). Three, fashion as change, it responsiveness to the spirit of the times and pull of historical continuity captures charms of novelty. Four, fashion as a universal phenomenon, with international trade came exposure to foreign styles (fashion is trade in materials, ideas and artisans which only grew with exploring new places). Five, fashion as a transfer of meaning, meaning exists in the cultural environment. Designers, marketers and the press transfer meanings to different consumer goods. Six, fashion as an economic stimulus, there is a pleasure associated with new looks and new clothes, styles and etc. Fashion in itself is an economic entity, where planned obsolescence powers the economic engines of fashion. Lastly, seven,   fashion and gender differences. Men’s clothes are traditionally occupational. Where women’s clothes are traditionally a gateway to their individuality. Apparel for the two genders are not on the same field. These seven statements are the underlying ability to forecast properly, without the basic knowledge forecasting would be next to impossible to get right.

Now, with all the background knowledge in place, a forecaster could start the basic seven steps in developing a usable forecast. One, identify the basic facts about the past trends and possible future trends. Two, determine the causes of change in the past. Three, determine the difference between past forecasts and actual consumer behaviors. Four, determine the factors likely to affect trends in the future. Five, apply forecasting tools and techniques while paying attention to issues of accuracy and reliability. Six, follow the forecast continually to determine reasons for significant deviations from expectation. Lastly, number seven, revise the forecast when necessary and report to the head of the firm. These steps are the overall process that is needed before sending off the forecasting conclusions for the upcoming seasons to the firm’s client(s). The buyers will then interpret the outcomes and determine what to bring into their store(s).

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Forecasting has a relative importance, a business, designer or etc. must adjust constantly to a changing market. In order to make those adjustments, its forecasting team or an outside forecasting firm (such as WGSN) needs to predict what may happen in the marketplace. Accuracy in making forecasts can mean the difference between being ready and being left behind. Without accurate forecasting, it would not be possible for the fashion industry segments to prepare for and meet consumer demand with products that will be acceptable and purchased. In addition, without forecasting, trend forecasting to be specific, we would have no worldwide competition. Competition only increases the importance of accurate forecasting, it is the essence of making the best product, with the best materials and making it available to the best market (depending on the brand, designer and store). Competition for the consumer’s wants are what keep the economy afloat.

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Fashion forecasting firms, fashion designers, color services, fashion merchandisers, retial store owners, retail store managers, and retail store buyers are all involved with the forecasting process. However, what many people (even some who think/know about forecasting) do not know is that the consumer is the leader of the entire fashion forecasting circus. What sells and what does not is based on what the general public wants to buy. One of the largest fields under forecasting (as discussed in a previous paragraph) is the consumer scan. Market research is the main component of the consumer scan, where a forecasting team conducts studies of market conditions, current events, the arts, the general mood of the public, and finally, consumer lifestyles. Yes, our clothes are selected for us, but by us! The main consumers will dictate the majority of what is in and what is out. It is called street style (any offbeat or avant-garde fashion inspired by contemporary culture of the urban streets or style for “the people”) for a reason.

I return to the survey mentioned in the beginning, a quote from a sorority sister, “I’m not sure I like that my clothing wants are anticipated. It makes me feel less unique of a person.” Personally, having studied fashion and forecasting in the past, the most important answer to “Why is fashion forecasting important?” is that it is impossible to ask every single consumer what they will want to wear next season or even next year. Therefore designers and merchandisers must reply on forecasting to anticipate the overall public’s wants and needs by being aware of what is going on in the world and anticipating how the current events and conditions will affect those wants and needs. When I first fell in love with fashion I was a sophomore in high school, my mother thought it was a crazy career choice (she is a vice principal for a middle school). Yet she often complained about never knowing what to wear so I actually ended up selecting most of her clothes (all the while trying to include her likes and needs, as all women of fashion should consider those other than just their own wants, etc.). And this got me thinking… Many women struggle already with deciding what to wear, I personally (on average) spend about 30 minutes to an hour on clothes each day (and that’s excluding special events). So, to my mother never knowing what to wear and to my sorority sister feeling no longer original I ask you and others to imagine a world without forecasting, a world where people did not try to anticipate your wants, your needs and fashion was chaos. Would there be a fashion industry? Would we actually have more choices? Or, because the shops do not know what to stock up on would we actually lose more shops? Thus causing our economy to slip back into a depressive state. Besides, what women (or man) would not want a little help in selecting their clothes, at least once in a while!

Taking a way the general ease it is of having something previously selected for you, there is another great importance that is overlooked by the common eye. Fashion forecasting is basically the key of all the successful fashion companies out there. Forecasting is the activity that focuses on the upcoming fashion trends that have not occurred. Without it the industry would collapse on itself. Did you know that every fashion company/designer creates his or her products mainly based of forecasting activity? I would be surprised to hear a yes. Forecasting is one of the most important things in the worldwide industry of fashion. The activity that comes from the forecasting process is the activity the unconsciously decides what we all wear and that is the basis of the fashion industry, what people are wearing! To make is simple, no fashion forecasting, no fashion industry. And without that what would we do, start walking around butt naked? No thank you.

Do you ever think about the fact that your clothes are in a way, selected for you? Most of the people I surveyed responded with no and a few responded similarly to “I know it is happening, but while shipping I don’t take the time to focus on what could have been bought, but why the forecaster chose what they did.” However, there was one person who had a response I never thought I would hear, “I have never really thought about the idea that my clothes are selected for me. Maybe sometimes, I wear clothes that would normally be suited for another gender or someone of different age or even something from another time period. I prefer to experiment with my fashion. However, it is an interesting thought that even people like me [non followers of majority of trends or current fashion] still have someone looking to make us come back to the traditional retail world.” That response made me sit down and think. It was the best and most thought out response I had heard over the two week I sent out emails and texts to survey the public around me. I promise to leave the quotes used anonymous and I tend to keep it, I will say that this quote comes from someone I hope finds some hand in the fashion industry later in life. He or she has something new to bring to the table, a new group to market too. I hope I have the pleasure of working with that person someday in the fashion industry.

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To conclude I must first shed a little light on myself. Fashion has been my life for five years now and I have many, many more ahead to look forward too. I do not wish to design clothing; I wish to be a merchandiser, buyer, and hopefully one day Fashion Director of an international fashion magazine (such as my favorite, Vogue, of course). Being so in love with the field and taking it as seriously as I do, I spend most of my free time researching fashion and the possible future seasons. I personally take fashion very seriously. I do not own sweat pants (nor do I plan to start). I have never worn leggings in public (apart from my workout pants and that is while I am running or biking). In addition, until I moved to Richmond (with these crazy sidewalks) I believed that flat shoes were for quitters (I still try to wear heels as often as possible). I have spent the past several pages going through the background, process and importance of fashion forecasting. It is crucial to the industry that I have dedicated my life too. Not everyone will take fashion as seriously as I do and that is okay! However, I want the world to know how important fashion is (especially in our society). It tells the world who you are without every speaking a word. It lets you take what you are on the inside (the stuff that really counts) and bring it to life on the outside. Trends, fads, short term, long term, setting, following… None of that matters when it comes down to the individual consumer. All that fashion has ever been about is you and what your wants and needs are. Fashion is about expressing your true self. As the great Coco Channel once said, “Every day is a fashion show and the world is your runway.” Fashion would not be here without fashion forecasting. With that being said, strut your stuff; just try to remember how it go here.

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Bibliography/Citations

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Liu, Na, and Shuyun Ren, Tsan-Ming Choi, Chi-Leung Hui, and Sau-Fun Ng, “Sales Forecasting for Fashion Retailing Service Industry: A Review,” Mathematical Problems in Engineering. Vol. 2013, Article ID 738675

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4 thoughts on “The Process of Fashion Forecasting and What Would We do Without It

  1. Hello dear sir/madam,
    I am a fashion design student & interesting to know more about fashion & trend forecasting. And specially thanks for the articles & a short of clear concepts about Fashion Forecasting. And I be await for your next exclusive articles.

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