Runway Fashion in a Data-Driven World
The fashion runway is a foreign place to many people. It’s more likely to conjure images of Blue Steel than of what you’ll find yourself wearing next season. Yes, the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has become a mainstream event, but the majority of fashion shows certainly don’t command the attention of a 22-million-viewer audience.
“Fashion is a multibillion-dollar global industry that, at its heart, is based on creative egoists.”
This begs the questions: How do fashion trends make their way from the runway to the real world, and what goes into the making of a fashion trend? We can’t all be walking around wearing capes and glitter (well, we could, but I’m having a hard time imagining that), so what are the high points that can be taken away from fashion shows? I’m not going to dive deep into forecasting or sourcing (there are far too many companies dedicated solely to these tasks), but rather we will take a brief look at several key elements that impact what you and I are able to purchase at retailers.
Data As Validation
The styles you see on the runway and find at the store are the result of two seemingly opposite things: creativity and data. Designers focus their creativity on how color, fabric, and pattern combine to create a unique style. In the age of big data, analytics are then used to validate these creative elements as something that will appeal to the consumer. Complex algorithms play a key role in determining the next trend, and specialist companies, such as Editd and StyleStage, focus their whole business around this. They own data points on more than 460 million SKUs and, according to their own language, they “see and record every slight change to a product over time, so you know everything about it.”
Some feel that a data-driven approach is at odds with intuition and creativity, while others champion that it’s the only way to do business. Columnist Libby Banks put this in a compelling way: “Fashion is a multibillion-dollar global industry that, at its heart, is based on creative egoists.” She explored this more in an article written several years ago. Although fashion designers may continue to argue that intuition can’t be replaced with data, there’s no denying that analytics are continuing to move to the forefront when it comes to trend forecasting. This data is now coming from new sources (at least for the fashion industry) and is evidenced by companies such as Google joining in on the conversation.
Data As Democracy
If you haven’t yet read it, I would highly recommend you take a look at Google’s 2016 Fashion Trends Report. This 87-page report showcases top fashion trends in the U.S. and U.K. based specifically upon top volume search queries from May 2014 to May 2016. This information is already available at Google’s fingertips, and they’re now using it in new ways to showcase patterns in the fashion industry. Our connected world means that data is constantly being collected, so it will continue to be leveraged in new ways across all industries, not just fashion.
It may be true that there is no replacement for intuition and creativity, but a brand or retailer operating without big data will be behind the curve. If anything, data has the opportunity to extend creativity, but you must know how to use it. The more that is known about a consumer, the more a style can be created for them. The same is true for marketing and advertising efforts that can be targeted to users based upon browsing/purchase history, location, or other shopping behaviors.
Data As Disruption
This depth and breadth of data has also perpetuated the growth of “fast fashion,” one of the biggest buzzwords in fashion today, which refers to the fast-paced movement of runway styles to in-market trends. Without a clear understanding of consumer behaviors through data, turning out new trends in a matter of months wouldn’t be possible. It’s completely disrupted the industry and will continue to do so in the coming years as trend forecasting gets even smarter and new markets are tapped. According to a 2014 McKinsey study:
“The size of the global apparel business is growing and is expected to generate double digit growth between now  and 2020, much of it coming from developing markets.”
The more that is known about these markets, the more successful brands and retailers can be in entering these markets.
Data is one of the largest disruptors in fashion today. The pairing of this data with the human talents of a designer is what determines the styles seen on the runway. These styles comprise key elements (color, fabric, pattern, and theme) that come together to create a particular style. This style, paired with (you guessed it) more data, is what drives the decision-making process of brands and retailers when it comes to the products that make their way to the market in both brick-and-mortar stores as well as in e‑commerce. It enables more efficient forecasting, production, and distribution in order to get the right products into the consumer’s hands more quickly. Data also allows firms like Elevate to shape the customer’s digital journey around what will be most relevant to them while shopping. Whether used for targeted advertising or the process of designing a new e‑commerce website, data assists in delivering a personalized experience to enhance a customer’s interaction with the brand.