Comment counts: Human insights should drive both fashion trends and brand communications

Understanding changing human behaviour is the surest way to create a trend in fashion today, but such attitudes need to be reflected in our communications and not just products, argues Frances Docx of 18 Feet & Rising.

beyonce-ivy-park

Ivy Park

In the past, the fashion trend trajectory was simple: from fashion houses to magazines, consumers copying celebrities. Everyone knew their rightful place in the fashion food chain, and the clothes would remain on the high street until those in power decided a new season was ready to launch.

Cut to the internet and this online world has hastened and devolved the traditional fashion process entirely. Now trends can emerge from anywhere at any time – the high street, teens on Instagram… a Wikihow page with a seven-step illustrated guide to starting your own.

In a world of microwave-minute attention spans and a ‘buy now’ impulse control disorder, fashion brands have to look beyond short-lived trend sources towards something that endures and evolves as their brand does.

So where should they turn for inspiration to create fresh and enduring work? Where we’ve always looked: to people. The surest way to predict a trend is to create one. And the most effective way to create a trend is to study and predict human behaviour and attitudes.

A topline example: UK gym membership spending is up by 44%. What’s the consequence for fashion? You can’t move for box-fresh Adidas Stan Smiths, endless versions of the ‘athleisure’ trend and the likes of Beyoncé’s newly launched fitness line, Ivy Park, crashing the Topshop website.

Looking good has become so synonymous with physical fitness that by a series of cognitive leaps everyone is wearing tennis shoes – with no intention of playing tennis. And we don’t care either, by the way. We only care if the white on our kicks stays bright.

And what else? We only wear 20% of our wardrobe on a regular basis and we throw away over one million tonnes of clothing and other textiles in the UK each year. It’s not because we don’t like the rejected 80%; generally we do, but maybe the fit isn’t quite right, the neckline is a bit low and we’d rather wear one of our old favourites.

Meanwhile, instead of the buy-it-cheap-pile-it-high Primark mentality, we also see disrupters such as Tom Cridland entering the mass market with his 30-year sweatshirt. Or designers such as Vivienne Westwood that encourage shoppers to choose well so they only choose once.

Everyday people are changing the face of retail. Brands must realise, respect and pay attention to this. And the impact must be reflected not only in the product on their shelves but in the way they communicate to consumers.

Insights (the behaviour and perceptual mapping of trends) have long been the bread and butter of brand communications. But up until now they have retreated behind the “Advertising Idea” like a hungover mollusk.

Communications today are firmly driven by the “we understand you” mantra; capitalising on emotionally charged purchasing. We see this in the UK with personalised discounting like the MyWaitrose scheme, through to the advent of Memevertising such as with House of Fraser’s “My Face When…” 2015 campaign (as above, by 18 Feet & Rising).

To those in fashion scratching their heads over the latest trend reports working out how to make SS17 and beyond fresh – put down that colour palette, stop looking at what your fashion forefathers have done and consider applying these rules of thumb:

  • Be more human
  • Listen more
  • Watch more
  • Copy

Don’t predict fashion trends, predict behaviour change.

Frances Docx is a planner at creative agency 18 Feet & Rising. Comment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via info@fashionandmash.com.