To cope with the ever-changing world, the marketing segmentation and targeting techniques are rapidly evolving from traditional, static, demographic-based criteria towards dynamic, mood, lifestyle and psycho graphic influences.

What is Fashion Forecasting?

Fashion forecasting is the prediction of mood, behavior and buying habits of the consumer. It is no longer a question of identifying your customers by age, geography or income, but looking into how and why they buy, based on their mood, beliefs and the occasion.

Fashion is a style that is popular in the present or a set of trends that have been accepted by a wide audience. But fashion itself is far from simple. Fashion is a complex phenomenon from psychological, sociological, cultural or commercial point of view. Fashion trends are the styling ideas that major collections have in common. They indicate the direction in which the fashion is moving. Fashion forecasters look for styles they think are prophetic, ideas that capture the mood of the times and signal a new fashion trend.

The fashion system has spread across all other sectors, from cosmetics to cars via politics and sports. All sectors observe fashion as an endless source of inspiration. Gilles Lipovetsky points out that the more the fashion society develops, the less importance will be given to the affordability of clothes! To hold on to its role as a pioneer and enhance its brand image, fashion has to continue to innovate.

Forecasting the future demand for particular styles, fabrics and colors is an important aspect of the fashion industry. Textile specialists work two years ahead to determine the general guidelines for each fashion season. Fashion forecasting is an important activity to ensure that the process of observation related to short and long term planning can be based on sound and rational decision making and not hype. Forecasting can bridge the gap between ambiguous, conflicting signs and the action taken by the design team. "Fashion forecasting combines theories of fashion changes with the process of organizing and analyzing the information and synthesizing the data into actionable forecasts." (Brannon 2000) Forecasting is a creative process that can be understood, practiced and applied. Forecasting provides a way for executives to expand their thinking about changes, through anticipating the future, and projecting the likely outcomes. (Lavenback and Cleary 1981)

Types of Fashion Forecasting

1) Long Term Forecasting: (over 2 years ahead) is used by executives for corporate planning purposes. It is also used for marketing managers to position products in the marketplace in relationship to competition.

2) Short Term Forecasting: is used by product developers, merchandisers and production managers to give style direction and shape collections. For short term forecasting most apparel companies subscribe to one or more services, whose job is to scan the market and report on the developments in color, textiles and style directions.

Forecasters reflect the earliest views on trends some eighteen months in advance of the season. At this stage, color is a crucial consideration of yarn mills. It is also the focus of discussion among others who are interested in very early trend decision-making. Fashion forecasters combine the views emerging about color and fabric from the early yarn and fabric trade shows with their socio-economic and cultural analysis. Major trends in lifestyles, attitude and culture in particular music, sport, cinema and television are used to predict changing consumer demands.

Fashion forecasting involves the following activities such as studying market conditions, noting the life style of the people, researching sales statistics, evaluating popular designer collections, surveying fashion publications, observing street fashions etc.

The Direction of Fashion Change

Observation is not enough. If the trend watcher is to take advantage, he needs a framework for explaining how the trend began and its likely path within a social system. The directional theories of fashion change trickle down, trickle up and trickle across to make prediction easier by pointing to the likely starting points for a fashion trend, the expected direction that trend will take and how long the trend will last.

Some trend watchers visualize the dynamics of fashion as a pyramid of status level. In some theories, fashion trickles down from a highly visible elite. In others, fashion trickles up from street once it is discovered by the fashion elite and introduced to mainstream audiences in an edited version. If a fashion look is promoted by the media and manufactured rapidly enough, the look can trickle across all levels of the market simultaneously for denim, introduction of an unusual color range, a modification in a silhouette or detail, a different way to wear an accessory or a mood expressed in a distinctive style. The pattern of acceptance (or rejection) can be mapped in time.

Fashion responds to whatever is modern i.e., to the spirit of the times or the Zeitgeist. People choose among competing styles, those that "click" or connect with the spirit of the times. This collective selection forms a feedback loop between the fashion industry and the consumer, a feedback loop moderated by aesthetic trends and social-psychological processes.

The Look; Design Concept

As fashion insiders and forecasters have a mental map of the marketplace, the locations where innovations are likely to be glimpsed early, the supply chain of the textile/apparel industry and the retail conduct to consumers. Fashion insiders also have another mental map - the map of seasons and shows. When consumers shop for winter coats or summer swimsuits, fashion insiders are seasons ahead in their thinking.

Forecasters use these mental maps to organize their observations of directional information. Since innovations rarely apply to the entire marketplace, information must be tagged for the appropriate price point, category and classification. In this way, forecasters turn random bits of data into useful information for decision support, points and style directions.

The Drivers of Fashion Change

Social and cultural changes are major determinants of emerging fashions. However, they are themselves affected by the other drivers of change that include globalization of world markets and accessibility of more sophisticated communications technologies. The latter has provided people with faster and wider access to more ideas and influences from other cultures and societies, driving demand for wider choice in fashion products.

The Fashion Forecasting Process

a) Trend Forecasting Businesses

French companies based in Paris have traditionally dominated fashion forecasting. Although a number of larger ones are still based in Paris, many with satellite offices around the world, a number of new niche forecasters have emerged offering their own specialties of product and services.

Some better-known trend forecasters include:

  • > Sacha Pacha
  • > Peclers Trend Union
  • > Line Creative Partners
  • > Au Studio Promostyl
  • > Promostyl

Forecasting is more that just attending runway shows and picking out potential trends that can be knocked off at lower prices (although that is part of it). It is a process that spans shifts in color and styles, changes in lifestyles and buying patterns and different ways of doing business. What appears to be near random activity is in fact a process of negotiation between the fashion industry and the consumer, and between the various segments in the supply side chain.

b) Consumer Research

Manufacturers and retailers may ask consumers directly about their buying preferences. Consumer reactions are compiled and tabulated to find preferences for certain garments or accessories, colors or sizes and so on ,or products to fit specific consumer tastes.

Surveys, by telephone or mail are conducted by publication and market research companies for manufacturers and retailers. These surveys include questions about income, life-style, fashion preference and shopping habits. Customers are usually selected by the market research firm to meet with manufacturers or retailers. In-store informal interview can help researchers obtain information by simply asking customers what they would like to buy, what styles they like that are currently available and what merchandise they want, but cannot find. Because of their close contact with their customers, owners of small stores can often do this most effectively.

The apparel supply chain has one purpose, i.e. to provide an appealing and desirable product to satisfy customer needs, wants or aspirations. When successful, the connection results in a sale, because this connection is the purpose of the process. Every forecast begins with the customer, by observing the customer's adjustments to the marketplace and in the unexpected ways the customer adjusts the marketplace to his lifestyle and preferences.

Consumer research figures are important in decisions about product development, brand marketing and retailing.

c) Colour Forecasting

Stimulating sales is the driving force behind color forecasting. Color grabs the customers' attention, makes an emotional connection and leads them to the product. Even when the basic product stays the same, changing the color gives a sense of something new. Color consultants help companies decide on the right color story to sell the product. Some consultants specialize in advising on color. Others develop color forecasts as part of their overall product development function. Some large companies have departments dedicated to setting color directions for multiple lines. Professional color organizations bring together experts to collaborate on forecasts for industries like women's wear, men's wear, children's wear and residential and non-residential interiors.

d) Textile Development

Frequently, the development of a completely new product is the result of a particular functional need, but often it is driven by the benefits offered by a new fabric. Specialist forecasters make the point that the technology is changing the range of product, as through the ranges of benefits that designers can build into garment product through the textiles used in construction.

Fabrics range from slick surfaces like leather and futuristic plastic to softer surfaces like cashmere, from flat weaves to heavy textures like boucle and from the solid structure of flannel to the web-like open structure of crochet. Clothing has been called "the second skin" in recognition of its intimate connection with a person's physical and psychological comfort (Horn, 1975). So it is not surprising that news about which fabrics are "in" or "out" plays such a prominent role in forecasting fashion. Newness in fabrics comes from the introduction of new fibers, the manipulation of yarn and fabric structures, variation in pattern and prints and innovative finishing processes. These innovations are introduced in trade shows and exhibitions held in the fashion capitals of the world.

e) The Range of Shows

The fashion shows: The word here is its widest possible interpretation to refer to the range of organised textile and fashion garment trade shows, operating over the 16 months preceding season. Trade shows, whether yarn, fabric or product have a basic function, which is to sell products.

Visitors vary according to the nature of the show. A yarn show will attract a range of people including fabric manufacturers, some retail buyers and designers. The fabric show performs a more balanced role with great emphasis on then sales of the fabric, but with more retail designers and buyers attending, as the product on the show has a greater relevance to garment design. Garment design shows are much more diverse, ranging from the products trade shows through to the high profile Ready -to-wear Designer shows like London Fashion week and then the exclusive Couture shows.

Continuing this sequence, specialist product trade shows are held after the fabric shows. These shows are segmented according to broad sector like men's wear or women's wear, and by specialist product categories, like sports wear or lingerie. These shows are a good indicator of color, fabric, styling and new products.

f) Sales Forecasting

Forecasting is relatively easy, straightforward and accurate for products with long lifetime and steady sales. However, the fashion apparel business is one of the most volatile, because it creates products that are new, highly seasonal or have short lifetimes. In such situations forecasts become increasingly inaccurate. Errors in sales forecasting result in two kinds of losses:

> Markdowns, when retailers have unwanted goods remaining at the end of a selling period, such goods then must be sold, even at a loss.

> Lost sales on more popular items because of stockouts (merchandise not available in stock at the time when consumers request it).

Companies have been slow to recognize the changing market environment and adapt forecasting practices to decrease the uncertainty about product demand. Sales forecasting impacts every apparel executive's work life, whether they help develop the analysis, read and act on the reports or merely react to the result of over- or under-estimating sales. For this reason, apparel executives need a basic understanding of the traditional approaches to sales forecasting and the leading-edge technologies making real-time marketing a reality in the apparel industry.

Eventually, a manufacturer and retailer researches his own sales record. Rising sales statistics show what fashion trends are developing and declining sales show what styles have passed their peak.

Overall sales show, that as style is not meeting consumer needs for quality or fit , its time to drop it from the line and move on to new styles.

> Introducing Innovation

While attention is showered on the most exciting and extreme runway fashions, the mechanisms of fashion change work in the background to create patterns familiar to the most experienced fashion watchers. When an innovation arrives on the scene, individuals consider it for adoption. The cumulative effect of those decisions can be tracked in sales and visually on the street. In fashion terms, the innovation may be the invention of a new fiber or a new finish.

g) Cultural Indicators

In the apparel field, companies need an early warning system so that specific product categories can be fine-tuned to trends within a market segment. While timing is important, an agile and responsive company will be able to capitalize on trends whenever they are spotted; sometimes just as a glimmer far in the future and sometimes as a phenomenon in the building stage. Waning trends are another signal. When some avocation, interest or lifestyle loses cultural power, it is a good time to survey the information landscape for the next big thing.

h) Final Stage of Forecasting

The 'Fashion look' for the season is therefore the result of a process of development that combines the evolved views of textiles and product trade show, forecasters, designers buyers and ready to wear shows. Like collage, the final picture emerges after various layers have come together. Even though these shows have an impact on some last minute high street fashion buys, their major impact is mainly on reflecting the final views on trends close to the season. Crucially, the media coverage of the shows is another important dimension in the trend development process, as it highlights fashion trends that fashion editors believe will be strong for the forth coming season. Such 'authoritative' coverage of the media, focusing attention on aspects of fashion, including the 'must-have' looks, colors and products influences the consumers' acceptance of hot trends for a season.

Forecasting Fashion in the Indian Scenario

The phenomenon of fashion moving from the ramp to the road seems to have started happening in India. Over the last one year, fashion has been highly visible, at least on the streets of metros. Western winds of fashion are reaching metros like Mumbai and New Delhi virtually overnight. We also see new categories added to customer wardrobes like clubwear, travel gear and loungewear. This indicates a segmentation of the customers' wardrobe. This also means that there are new brands and labels, although not heavily advertised, easing into the market riding on the trend of new segments. We expect this trend to rise further, mainly because fashion as a market allows brands to be created mainly on the product look. The biggest achievements are not from increasing efficiency, but by risk management. This would mean that by riding on fashion trend one would fetch maximum benefits. However, there is no agency today, which brands or retailers can follow for fashion forecast of domestic market. We still have to follow international forecasts and thereby miss out on lot of opportunities.