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.

Neighbourhood: City Permaculture

I write a column for the Sunday Times Neighbourhood supplement on home trends. It's a chance for me to share my thoughts on interesting shifts in the worlds of living spaces, architecture, product design and urbanism. It's out every week in the papers distributed in major urban centres of South Africa. This week I looked at urban homesteading and the drive to become more self-sufficient as homeowners.