• Jonn Langan

Trends, do they make or break a brand?

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

This article was originally posted in Ssachs Magazine and expands and explores the points made to further explore the subject of how to use trends and what to look out for to make the most out of them.

Trends in themselves are exciting. They offer creatives new ways to look at things or create nostalgia for forgotten times. One of the most difficult decisions a creative has to make is to decide which trends to follow. More importantly than just that, how and in what way will a trend effect a design or project at hand?


Trends can be broad in scope, esoteric and incorporate a lot of different aspects, so can be hard to decipher for use in a project. But by looking at upcoming trends and analysing the usefulness of a trend, before implementing it into a project can save time and give credence to the reasonings behind a seemingly personal decision.


So rather going down the rabbit hole of how to trend spot, I thought it might be good to look into what trends can do for a brand and what we need to pay attention to when using them as part of a new project.

What are the most important things to remember when using trends?


Brand appropriate


Boring as it sounds, making sure the trend works for the brand is probably the most important piece of information to determine. This doesn’t mean high concept or “out there” trends won’t work, it just means that you need to be careful and take the time to make sure it is the right direction to take for the brand.


Colour trends can be the easiest to implement as they can easily refresh a collection by giving it a new lease of life. But even here, choosing a colour which the brand does not historically sell well can be a risky choice. The number of times I’ve heard “green doesn’t sell well for this brand” or “men don’t like yellow” is beyond frustrating. The key in these situations is to look into the reasons why a colour hasn’t sold. Looking at the product type, colour combination or even just the hue of the colour can give you some insight into why that particular colour didn’t sell well.


Sometimes a trend is definitely not brand appropriate, but as a brand there is a desire to challenge the market. This kind of strategy is normally undertaken by challenger brands (but not always, as some major brands have defined strategies to always push certain markets). The key when implementing a change in a product line is to make sure the strategy is linked up through the process. There is no point introducing a new trend concept and then it getting either lost or overlooked when it comes to selling in the collection.


This is where clear communication from the start to the finish is imperative. Getting trend concept signed off at the start of the creation process doesn’t mean your work is done. It is important that the concept is clearly communicated all the way through to (ultimately) the customer buying the product. So good presentations at key points in the product development period are crucial, so all the other departments can be informed, do their jobs efficiently and the brand can stay focused and aligned.

Make a difference


Trends ultimately are there to make a difference, but making sure they have the intended impact can be tricky. Just picking a trend concept and or strategy is not enough these days. All brands can have access to prediction information, so making sure you personalise the trend you want to use is key to both making sure it works for the brand and (more importantly) you don’t just replicate the trend and risk having the exact same look as a competitor.


So adaptation and clever application is often the best way to use trends. Think about a trend as a starting point for a conversation. By talking and analysing the trend you will naturally start to find what exactly draws you towards it. Could it be that the trend is extreme in its nature like a fit trend? Could it be that the trend evokes a nostalgic or retro vibe? Is it a subtle but significant take on what is already prevalent in the collection you are designing for?


If you start to break down these details to the essence you are looking for, then you can build up from this and start to adapt and create from a solid platform. This way you will have a story which can only enhance the reasoning for taking this trend direction in the first place.


One way to make a difference with a trend is through the use of new technologies. As trends cycle around, new and / or evolved techniques can sometimes be a way to drive trend as part of a technology focus. New dying, printing or material engineering are constantly evolving, with prices coming down, so becoming more widely available.

Make sure it fits


The one trend that will always affect a project is the fit. Fit is something that we don’t often think of as a trend, but it is probably one of the most important. Throughout time fit is an element which significantly helps identify the “look” a collection is going for.


For example the trend of slimmer and slimmer fitting leg wear has led to more of a reliance on high stretch materials. The denim industry suffered as a result, due to the limitations on creating authentic denim styles with the aforementioned high stretch properties. Thus led to, back in 2017, Athleisure leggings styles becoming more popular than denim for the first time ever!


The rise in demand for Athlesuire style could be attributed to many factors, including an increasingly ageing and overweight global population, but the fact that materials advances have made stretch materials more prevalent cannot be under estimated.


The rise of the legging market has offered new opportunities for brands to expand a seemingly one note fit. Leggings are being used in so many different activities (as well as for daily life) the multitudes of fits and looks have expanded also. Probably the most popular fit variant of the legging is the extreme high waisted version, which sports a super wide waistband section that covers up over the hips area to finish just below the ribs.


The popularity of this style could again be down to a number of reasons. From the comfort and flattering nature of the cut, to the 80’s trend revival (which previously featured high waists), to even the celebrity endorsements of the Instagram generation.


So treating fit as a trend can also be important to help understand your market, consumer and their purchasing decision making process.

Product Longevity


So knowing that trends can make a huge difference to a brand, it's important to understand the longevity of a trend. There is no point jumping on a trend that is either dying or at least coming to the end of its life cycle.


Many people will tell you that trends are cyclical (and this is essentially true) but some last longer than others. For example some trends these days are classified more as classics. This includes but is not exclusive to print trends like Polka dots, florals or Breton stripes. These trends are in constant use and are often iterated and interpreted on, so in effect they become “safe” options. Safe does not always mean boring or passé, it just evokes a particular image and style that you can use to drive a direction.


Trends involving era’s of fashion often come and go quicker than the “classics” identified above. These trends are sometimes triggered by social or economic situations and are also interlinked on a consecutive timeline. For example a rise in 80’s trends, will often trigger a move onto a 90’s orientated trend and so on. So looking into patterns between cyclical trends to see where a trend may go can help with the development of a product line.


So with the knowledge that trends will last for varying lengths of time, it is important to understand that any product you infuse heavily with a trend will have a shorter life span. Not in the context product or material degradation, but just as a piece of apparel that someone will want to wear. Knowing this in advance can help plan, both if a trend is suitable for a brand, but also for how long you might want to keep it in the collection.


Bear this in mind with the fact that we (as an industry) are looking to create clothing that lasts longer, it can be a difficult choice to follow a trend that may die off quickly. So balancing a brand’s desire to be at the forefront of trend led design with the social and environmental pressures is becoming a real challenge.

Shared collaboration


One of the biggest trends that has emerged in the last couple of decades is the rise of collaborations. A collaboration essentially offers the chance for two (or more) brands to link up and produce a special edition version of a product. Often one product is chosen then it is essentially styled by the other using the second companies design ethos and visual DNA.


There are a couple of advantages to this way of working. The main one for me is that it gives a brand an opportunity to access a different market from their own and have the legitimacy to do so. For example a luxury brand like Gucci has a particular product type and legacy that they do not sway far from. But with the luxury market looking towards the trends of street-wear, it makes sense for Louis Vuitton to collaborate with a Street-wear brand at the top of their game like Supreme.


The impact of this strategy is far more effective at grabbing the attention of the this new sector than going it alone. This can of course lead to some weird and wonderful collaborations as brands try to enter new markets.


Of course a collaboration doesn’t always need to be about chasing trends in other markets, it could be a way to legitimise a brand’s position within their primary market. For example a brand that is solely clothing orientated may look to collaborate with an equipment brand from the same market. In this case often the product is not something directly related to either brand and is seen as a co-venture to break a new concept.


Some of the most successful collaborations have gone on to become full seasonal collections and are openly accepted by both brands as part of their ongoing strategies moving forward. Most collaborations end up as “special editions” (which is and should be the aim) with only some staying the course to become a mainstay of a brands collection portfolio.


The last but most interesting advantage of a collaboration is that it means brands can “test the water” on whether a trend will be accepted by the community, whilst only having to invest in a short run of products. This can also be done as something “in addition” to the mainline collections that a brand is known for.

The power of trends


Trends are incredibly powerful and can help brands to both stand out from their competitors and also connect to their intended consumers, making a purchase choice easier. But this is a double edged sword fraught with problems that can either work brilliantly or be catastrophic to the success of a product and a brand. Being careful about which trends you choose and how you use them, is a very important task to undertake and should not be overlooked when researching and conceptualising a project.


For more on trends, how to use them effectively and getting them right for your brand, contact Jonn at jonnlangan@hotmail.com

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