Understanding Trends (Part 2)

So where were we?

In my previous article I covered how trends move through different phases of influence, from early adopters to mainstream and, ultimately, conservatives. Building on that understanding, in this piece I wanted to cover two common misconceptions I come across in my work as a trend researcher.

The first of these is about the link between fashion trends and social trends. People often assume that trends are purely linked to fashion — clothing and otherwise. As a predominantly social and branding trend researcher, this can lead to some awkward conversations when I get asked about the hot new item for the coming season. But while I’m not a fashion trend forecaster per se I do have some thoughts on the subject — because trends are all ultimately linked (and sometimes more so than you’d think).

The other common misconception is that a trend is the same thing as a fad, in fashion or otherwise. As I’ll explain shortly, there is a definite difference between the two. And it’s the reason I often encourage people to look at the “why” behind what’s happening, rather than just taking things at face value.

Trends are about more than fashion

I think people best understand trends in the world of fashion, because so much about that world is about newness. But while there is a whole world of fashion trends covering colours, silhouettes, key items and fabrication, trends (in the broader sense of the word) are so much more than what you see on a runway.

There are, however, definite links between fashion trends and social trends . And when you think about it, it’s obvious, of course the way we live is going to impact what we wear. The rise of “athleisure” (the cross over between streetwear and sportswear) and a general concern with healthy living, is an example of this. As we aspire to healthier lives (and indeed a life of wellness starts to signify wealth) then fashion inevitably follows suit.

Athleisure looks (Source: bandt.com.au)

Athleisure looks (Source: bandt.com.au)

So basically, as a trend researcher, I’m very interested in fashion trends for what they say about broader shifts in social, political and personal trends, but they’re just one expression of the broader field of trends. I’m also very clear to explain that I am most certainly not a fashion trend forecaster. That’s a very specific career and skill set (and I have a deep respect for people who do it).

Ultimately, the reason I make the distinction between style and social trends is that that the fast-paced nature of fashion means that there’s often a tendency towards fads and novelty. Designers are compelled to send a new look down the runway every season (and in increasingly shorter intervals now), which brings me to my next point.

Trends are not fads

This is a very important point to bear in mind when thinking about trends. While a trend says something about what we value and stays around for a fair while, a fad burns bright and then dies out. Their only appeal is their novelty value, and while they may get a fair reach during their lifespan they’re not sustainable. They don’t actually connect with our collective psyche so much as jarring it, and that’s why they tend to disappear as quickly as they arrive.

Gangnam Style (Image: YouTube)

Gangnam Style (Image: YouTube)

Think of things like Gangnam Style, the mannequin challenge, fidget spinners and almost any meme. These are all everywhere one day and then gone When you live in a hyper-connected world, it’s easy for fads to spread incredibly quickly, however, giving them the appearance of importance. Unlike trends, however, it’s not usually possible to predict a fad. But because they don’t have any significant longevity that doesn’t really matter.

Where to from here?

In the next article I’ll be discussing why we should follow trends at all — and how to do it. If you’d like to know more about the trends that I’m tracking at the moment you can sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Facebook for more. You can also contact me to find out more about what I do in a consulting and public speaking space and hear what I have to say about the subject in person.


Understanding Trends (Part 1)

Understanding Trends (Part 1)

What’s this all about?

Trend Research is an interesting, and often misunderstood field, so I wanted to spend some time breaking down the fundamentals. Even if you’re not in the industry (or adjacent fields like marketing and design), trends really do shape our world, so understanding them is useful no matter what you do. In this article (the first of three) I’ll be covering the definition of a trend, and what trends can say about us and what’s important to us at a given point in time.

So what is a trend?

This is one of the questions people ask me most often, especially in Q&As after my talks. And I usually respond by explaining that they’re just a shift in what people value. A trend defines what’s important to us here and now. This is a really simple way of putting it, but it helps you to focus on the bigger picture behind a specific expression of a trend. When you look at it like this you can see that trends aren’t just about novelty or fads (more about this later), but about what we value.

One reason I like looking at trends like this is because you can see how they’re not static. A trend doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere either. It’s usually the result of a change in our world. And it also implies that a trend won’t just hang around indefinitely. There are certainly very long-lived trends, but no trend will last forever. They operate on a spectrum, going from very niche to more mainstream (and mass) and then are ultimately replaced by something else.

Trend Diamond Model

Trend Diamond Model

Unpacking trends

Let’s talk the trend towards farmers’ markets in South Africa (and indeed the rest of the world) as an example. It seems like in the last 10 or so years, these have popped up in every suburb of the country. We’ve always had fetes and flea markets and car-boot sales, so this kind of outdoor retail isn’t a totally new concept, but what it says about what we value is very different. In going to markets, people are looking for authenticity in what they buy. They’re aligning themselves with a pastoral/agricultural heritage that they may or may not have ever experienced first hand. It’s about connecting with the growers, makers and producers behind what we consume.

OZCF Market, Cape Town (Image Source:  Cape Town Etc )

OZCF Market, Cape Town (Image Source: Cape Town Etc)

So what does this trend say about us? The obvious answer is that we feel disconnected from what we buy and eat so we’re looking for a real, individual experience and not the standardised convenience of supermarkets. So yes, farmers’ markets are a trend — and a very mature one at that — but the actual “macro trend” is authentic living. And in my work I’m always looking to get to the macro trend — the bigger truth in our world.

Where to from here?

In the next article I’ll be discussing the difference between a trend and a fad, why trends are about more than just fashion and style (but how they are ultimately related). Watch out for them up on this site shortly.

Social and Fashion Trends

This article was originally published on the Expresso website under the title "Becoming a Trendsetter".

When we talk about trends generally, we’re just referring to a critical mass of interest in a thing, a style, a way of life, or whatever else. Trends don’t exist independently to us, living somewhere out there in the world until we discover them. We make them. If you know what how, you can easily spot trends yourself. It’s just a way of looking at the world. It’s about asking “why?” constantly. Why is this item on trend? Why is this decade back in style? Why are people all dressing a certain way? And once you know where to spot them, and why they appeal to people, you can also set them yourself (or at least play with them yourself so that you’re not just a follower).

Athleisure looks (Source: bandt.com.au)

Athleisure looks (Source: bandt.com.au)

I think people easily understand trends in the world of fashion, because so much about that world is about newness. But trends are more than what you see on a runway. There are definitely links between high fashion trends and social trends though. The rise of “athleisure” (the cross over between streetwear and sportswear) and a general concern with healthy living, is a great example of this. As people start becoming more exercise-focussed, fashion brands starts to interpret workout wear so that they can put items out into the world that appeal to a current mindset.  But the fast-paced nature of fashion also means that there’s often a tendency towards fads. And you have to be quick to spot what’s really a trend, and what’s just a look for this season.

Trend Cycle (Image: ITI)

Trend Cycle (Image: ITI)

To really simplify the way trends work, they filter through the three main stages of person (or customer): innovators, mainstream and conservatives. This is skipping out a few steps, but it’s an easy way to understand the general evolution. Think about it as a diamond. You’ve got a relatively smaller top and bottom with a wide middle – so fewer innovators and conservatives and a significant chunk of mainstream. It all starts at the top and filters down in time, before starting all over again with a new trend a few seasons later. How long it takes is different in different industries – but for clothing it’s generally 2-3 years.

So it starts with the innovators – these are generally people in creative or creative-adjacent industries – artists, designers, musicians, and the like. In terms of fashion, these are people who aren’t afraid to dress differently. They want to stand out. So they’ll take risks, experiment with new things and then quickly move on to something out. You find fashion innovators at fashion weeks, parties, festivals and other places where there’s an excuse to dress up. If you want to set a trend you have to start here. By getting into the crowd of innovators and early adopters, you can seed a new trend if what you wear or do is impressive enough. These people are the influencers – what they wear inspires fashion designers. They set what’s cool and we all know it because of social media and other coverage of their style.

The next level along the chain is the mainstream. There are a few stops along the way here, from early mainstream to mature, but generally this is when you can buy something in a mall. It’s already been interpreted for an average customer (and maybe been made a bit less edgy on the way). You can’t influence trends here because this is when they are already established. Mainstream customers don’t want to see something new; they want to see something they know (but that’s maybe just different enough to have some novelty).

Lastly you’ve got the conservatives. These are people who are actively against change. In terms of fashion they’ve probably been wearing the same things for many years. They’re very unlikely to ever be receptive to a trend, and in fact when designers and retailers do market to them, they’ve very careful to keep things very safe. Even more so than the mainstream individual, you’re not going to have any luck setting a trend here.

Maboneng (Source: streatnik.com)

Maboneng (Source: streatnik.com)

So when you consider it like this, it’s easy to see where to try and influence people to make the most impact. It’s not so much what you do, but where you do it. Work out where the innovators are in your city and make a splash there and with any luck what you do will filter down through these different groups. It takes some trial and error to get it right, but when you’re in the innovators’ space you’ve got to be prepared for that. After all, getting known as a fashion innovator yourself is definitely worth it in the long run.

In the News: Decorex InStudio

I am a big fan of the Decorex shows, so I was really excited to be invited to speak at their InStudio panels for industry professionals. I shared an overview of some decor and lifestyle trends we're seeing in the market at the moment (and also had a chance to sneak down to the very impressive 100% Design exhibition downstairs). 

You can watch a video of my session below. I'm always excited to discuss potential speaking or writing engagements so get in touch to find out more about my talks.

In the News: Cape Argus

I'm glad some people in my life still read their news the old-school way (i.e. hard copy papers not social media streams) or I would've missed this completely. Nontando Mposo has written a comprehensive piece about my talk at the recent Business of Design conference in Cape Town for the Cape Argus. You can read the article in the embedded PDF below (sorry about the watermarks) or check it out on the IOL website. I'll also be at the Joburg edition of the conference tomorrow doing the same talk, so looking forward to sharing the content with everyone up there too.

Why Esq?

So I've had a few people ask me recently where the "Esq" in my Twitter and other social media handles comes from. It's not from any throw-back title or the like, but a combination of childhood curiosity and stubbornness.

When I was very young and used to hang out with my Grandmother (hi Grandmère) after school, I wanted to know why adults always had Mr and Mrs before their names on letters. The answer that it was a polite way to address people obviously didn't satisfy me, and I wanted to know what (precocious) children would be called. We looked it up in a book and found that young, unmarried men used to have Esquire appended to their names. I quite liked that, obviously, and spent a few afternoons practicing writing Chris Reid, Esq. to prepare for the flood of future correspondence I was obviously going to be receiving.

Fast-forward about two decades. When signing up for Twitter, I was frustrated to see that almost every permutation of my name was taken (thanks bland Anglo-Saxon nomenclature). Eventually I remembered my fascination with Esq., tried adding that to my name, and that was that. 

Update: Business of Design

For the past two days I’ve been at the Business of Design conference here in Cape Town, where I shared four top trends to track in 2016. The event is organised by the geniuses behind Southern Guild and 100% Design South Africa (long-term trend crushes of mine) so when I was asked to speak, I jumped at the chance - more to hear everyone else speaking during the course of the two days than anything else.

In all of the conferences I attend, I find that it’s the new connections between ideas and concepts that you make that are the most valuable. For me, it’s been interesting to see how the themes I’ve identified for the new ITI 2016 Macro Trend Review have had so much validation - from the focus on Africa to the collaboration and co-working that’s so much a part of the up and coming sharing generation.

The Joburg edition is coming up soon, so if you’re on the fence about attending, jump in and do it. I’ll be speaking there too, so come and say hi if you’re there.

HomeFront: Private Time

As I'd mentioned in my last post, my first syndicated article came out in the Business Day last week. In it, I look at the ways people try to find privacy for themselves in smaller spaces and what this means for product design in particular. I've embedded the article below, and you can see the follow-up pieces monthly in the same publication.

Neighbourhood: Home From Home

My latest column for the Sunday Times "Neighbourhood" supplement looked at the AirBnB phenomenon and what it means for homeowners and the way they see their homes and personal space. The columns will also be syndicated in the Business Day once a month (as of last Friday), so look out for it if you subscribe to either of those publications.