How Trend Forecasters Work

Knowing the Territory

Before maps became widely available, army commanders strove to know every hill, dale, river and forest of the terrain over which they marched. They knew that winning the day depended on this knowledge, applied via their training and experience.

Modern trend forecasters might make their calls in boardrooms instead of on battlefields but, in picking emerging fashions as in piercing the fog of war, theory and observation walk hand in hand. While many degree programs offer courses in statistics, and while fields such as fashion, economics and business management emphasize trend analysis and prediction, a successful trend forecaster also benefits from a broad array of knowledge and experience. Consequently, people break into trend forecasting from a slew of backgrounds. This holds especially true in fashion forecasting, where tracking the publications, films, music, art, culture, politics and economic projections that help inspire the next big color or fabric calls for a diverse array of doyens indeed [sources: Berelovich; Brekke; Pedersen; Pressman].

"Our activity requires a strong creative intuition and, at the same time, a very deep understanding of market realities," says Elodie Jolivet, products marketing and communication manager for PeclersParis, a global trend consulting agency.

"If some trend forecasters of our team are actually fashion designers or graphic designers, some have a finance or sociology background. We are working with economists and anthropologists. We explore marketing studies."

Dawn C L Pedersen, creative director at TRENDZINE Fashion Information Media Network, agrees, and adds that experience helps forecasters put themselves in customers' shoes, be they hiking boots or pumps. Such a connection is essential, because future fashions must pop in a popular way, one that avoids alienating everyday shoppers. Fortunately for fashion folk, technology is today smoothing the transition from catwalk to sidewalk by priming customers to early-adopt avant-garde styles.

"Consumers have become more knowledgeable about trends and are aware of new ideas and concepts via the Internet, where catwalk shows can be watched live, or through social media, where high-profile celebrities, who tend to adopt trends early, pave the way for a fresh new look," she says.

A career in trend forecasting means obsessing over every topic essential or tangential to your field and grasping how they all fit together. This holds true whether you work as part of a large team at a trend-forecasting business or as a company's lone futurist [source: Brekke]. But it's also just the tip of the iceberg, because today's forecasters also must come to grips with the mountains of data now available via big data and social media -- a landslide that is already changing the landscape and rendering yesterday's roadmaps useless.