Trends are all about intuition. Or are they? A lack of in-depth information as to what the trend world involves has created a misconception. Nicola Cooper, a consulting senior trend analyst, looks at some of the key trends influencing the fashion world. She specialises in the ‘Glocalisation’ of trends for Africa with a focus on youth culture.
Knowledge is power
Identifying and understanding trends is imperative. Assessing and analysing when they began, who they are going to effect and how they are going to present themselves, as well as their possible trajectory, have become a pivotal part of the business world.
With the rise of individualism, creolisation (the process of assimilation in which neighbouring cultures share certain features to form a new culture), globalization, hyperculture and the general democratisation of fashion – as a result of the internet, social media, blogging and live streaming of trends and fast fashion pushing forward at such a speed – one trend seems to have barely begun before it’s over.
Cathy Horyn of the NY Times: “In a world where fashion moves Instagram-fast, the look of the season is a thing of the past. And that’s a cause for rejoicing.”
Fashion, the accessibility of brands, and trends has become an immediate fix. Previously disadvantaged countries, which before had limited access to information and exposure, are now on par with the rest of the world; including the pan African continent. Stylesight.com in their 2013 ‘Africa Calling’ future report: By the end of 2015 Africa will be the largest mobile media market in the world.
How does the past impact on the future?
What does this mean for brands, retailers, designers and trends in general? Does fashion have a future is the most important question.
After we have revisited the 20s, 30s, 50s, 6os, 70s and 90s does the original idea actually exist? In short: Yes. Though we may have other similarities to bygone eras and frequently, similar socio-economic circumstances, attitudes or preferential aesthetics, the thread of trends can be tracked down to their origin. Examples include the mini-skirt, the invention of denim jeans. Almost every item has a fine thread that ties it back to a former era is some way or another; some more evident than others.
What we do not share is the present – our zeitgeist (signs of the times), our mindset and the events and occurrences which we are faced with at present and will be faced with in the future.
Effects of the zeitgeist
Fashion, brands associative value, retail loyalty and trends stand firm as consequences of Society, Technology, the Economy, the Environment and Politics. These do not arrive out of the ether; they are indicators of the world’s current zeitgeist. Analysts gauge every aspect of not only the international zeitgeist but, in addition, focus on analysing the African landscape; which has many differentiating factors from its American, Australian, Asian and European counterparts.
The questions are reflected in the mirror.
One of the more apparent lessons of the rise of individualism, creolisation, globalization, hyperculture and the general democratisation of fashion, retailing and trends is the necessity for a point of differentiation.
It’s no longer easy to knock-off international designers, manufacturers or retailers. We have had to point the mirror at ourselves, which has given rise to the question: What is African contemporary fashion? How do we present to the world? How do we offer local products on a par with international standards to a local consumer?
The waiting’s over
We are no longer awaiting the auto-exotic gaze to indicate what should be trending or what we should be purchasing. Africans are determining what we deem and claim as African. We have begun to value our insights, complexities and influences as a nation and as the necessary tool for the point of differentiation. The point of differentiation is the fundamental driver of fashion, retail, manufacturing and trends.
Trend Analysts alert
As Imitation versus Differentiation is the fundamental driver of fashion and trends, it has become more important than ever that Trend Analysts are able to identify trends from three dynamic components.
Translating the language of fashion
The first component is interpreting international trends for a local market. There has been great skepticism about the majority of the world’s retailers and manufacturers making use of handful of accredited and acclaimed ‘Trend Authority’ sites. In a recent article ‘Is WGSN destroying creativity?’ published in the Telegraph in April 2014, Marc Worth, founder of WGSN, the trend-forecasting service used by major fashion brands to guide their designers, has condemned it as a “monster” that has created “an industry of idiots” as he moves to set up a direct competitor (Williams, C. 2014. Online).
Worth, who sold WGSN to Emap in 2005 for £140m, caused great controversy with his overt public statement, sparking many international, local designers, retailers and manufacturers to question the exclusivity of information that has gone beyond the privy of WGSN. WGSN currently services and informs over 6,000 brands worldwide with the same information and inspiration – which further leads to the question of Imitation versus Differentiation as the fundamental driver in fashion.
Africa has its own unique fingerprint and the sweeping global trends often do not take into account the diversity and complexities of Africa.
This in turn has increased the demand of specialised trend services which focus on the interpretation of international trends for a local market and glocalisation. Explained by Cambridge University Press (Online. 2015), ‘Glocalisation is a combination of the words ‘globalisation’ and ‘localisation’ and is used to describe products and services that are both developed and sold to global customers, but designed to suit the needs of local markets.
Both the second and third of the components involves the understanding of local trends and fashion for a local market and informing and educating local designers, retailers and manufacturers or international brands such as Topshop, H&M, Zara, River Island with regard to the African market. This creates a targeted and curated offering to African clients. The outcome is accurate trends and fashion in harmony with the timing, needs and desires of the African consumer in accordance with Africa’s own zeitgeist and points of differentiation.
This in turn generates better sales, trade and cash flow with Africa; which is said to become the largest economy – greater than the United States and Europe combined by 2050 (Stylesight.com 2013. Online ‘Africa Calling’).
This initiates focus on local design, the understanding of Pan African trends from specialised analysts and services in generating our own understanding of our markets and consumers. All of which will assist international companies looking to invest in Africa. All in all, an offering which covers a superior understanding, tailored to Africa’s needs and desires.