WGSN is the trend forecasting industry leader, always first to identify the next big thing. We enlisted the wisdom of the company's senior editor, Sarah Owen, to understand how a professional forecaster goes about spotting what we're all going to be obsessed with years in advance.
If there's one thing we're constantly confronted with here at Dash Hudson, it's the rapid pace at which visual and social trends evolve. These have a tremendous impact on the activities of our customers, as their bottom lines indirectly depend on their ability to participate in what people are engrossed with. And that goes for visual content trends as well as merchandise trends, of-the-moment colors, fashion trend analysis, geopolitical movements, or straight up societal shifts.
Fads are fleeting and obsessions come and go, yet we seldom realize we're living through something major until it's onto the next. While things seem so clear once they're in the rearview mirror, it's actually really difficult to see what's coming when we're so immersed in the day to day. The ability to anticipate the latest fashion trends and other worldwide movements through the execution of various strategies and social media analysis is, well, a full-time job.
While it may seem like too fun of a gig for it to be a real thing, professional forecasters exist (yes!), they're never not grinding, and are always a step ahead of the game. They travel the world to find what people are on the brink of becoming obsessed with, and they know years in advance what those crazes will be. In an effort to wrap our heads around how to identify what's slated to be all the rage, we thought we'd hit up one of the industry's authorities and tapped Sarah Owen, trend forecaster and senior editor at WGSN, to help us understand how to predict what's going to be in vogue.
Keep reading to get a glimpse into the WGSN trend forecasting methods, how professionals go about discovery, and learn what new social media trends she predicts will emerge in the future.
This one seems kind of obvious, but you have to have a sense of adventure to be able to identify what trends are coming. Case in point: Sarah's well-rounded career path. It all began in her native Australia, where she was attending festivals to capture street style looks before anyone coined the term street style, while cutting her teeth as editor-at-large of an Aussie street publication. Professional growth at a bevy of prestigious American publications ensued, preparing her for her first role at WGSN covering global youth trends.
Being a trend forecaster undoubtedly entails always being in discovery mode to be in tune with subtleties — often times, that's where things emerge and bubble. Traveling or getting familiar with other cultures is imperative to studying trends. Sarah states that "travel is a huge part of my personal and professional life. I garner so much insight and experience from every city I visit." And that goes from the far regions of Asia, to the Middle East, to Europe, to the Caribbean, to right here in New York City.
Observing what special characteristics define a place opens the mind, allowing it to connect the dots with other significant experiences. If you never succumb to complacency, you will always be receptive to discovery. In fact, Sarah's biggest career advice: "Hustle like there’s no tomorrow."
The word "trends" is evocative of so many things, none of them concrete. While pinpointing a specific happening in time can be difficult for most people, let alone understanding where it came from or how it manifested, the process for finding and defining trends is actually quite tangible. "At WGSN, we use math and magic," Sarah muses, going on to state that their "global teams look at hundreds of different data sources from sociopolitical news to art and cultural events and trade shows."
WGSN trends don't appear out of thin air, and keeping abreast of them requires a ton of reading: "Collectively our team reads over 800 blogs and news sites daily," she continues. Not to mention the countless visits to a plethora of international festivals, retail stores, and emerging regions, as well as the immeasurable number of photographs the editors take all around the world for visual references.
"We strongly believe in the power of both data and people to forecast trends," affirms Sarah. That's how WGSN's team of experts goes about surfacing cultural phenomenons, and is able to correlate what's bubbling in one hemisphere to another.
In the previous point, we mentioned the amount of reading achieved by the global WGSN teams daily. And the scope of these readings runs the gamut: Sarah points out that "we cover 137 trade shows ranging from materials trade shows to pet wellness. More importantly, we read. A lot. From white papers to economic forecasts to medical journals — these feed into our research." Trends are burgeoning everywhere, can surface in the most unlikely places, and can reverberate in the most unexpected corners.
In order to pinpoint sprouting movements, WGSN's dispatched experts get together biannually to share their experiences and what they've been monitoring. "When we see the same topics being explored by a subculture in Nigeria as an artist in Santa Fe, we have a pretty good signal that we’re looking at a macro trend, rather than a fad." No matter how distant some things might seem, they're all connected!
Sarah has "to stay tuned into cultural happenings across social media and the communication space" in order to do her job, and she flats out asserts that "social media is almost dictating what’s now and what’s next." Making her point by explaining that she "can’t think of an industry that hasn’t been disrupted by social media," especially the highly visual ones.
We constantly hear about this "influencer bubble" that is on the verge of bursting. But our trend expert sees things differently. Sarah predicts a rise in the influencer sphere: "From a digital and social media point of view, I think we’re going to see an increase of influencers in the social impact arena."
A twist indeed. She anticipates that the do-gooder category will experience a spurt, "people who are promoting a cause, not just a passing trend." Which makes sense, considering the current geopolitical climate.
Sarah drinks green tea ginger in the morning and chamomile tea in the evening while scrolling through Instagram. Perhaps this is her secret weapon.
To the average person, there's nothing obvious about identifying trends. And as we can all gather from the above, it is far from an easy task. The experts put in a lot of elbow grease to constantly remain on the brink of the latest currents. But if there's one main takeaway from this —besides the fact that Sarah's job sounds amazingly fascinating— is that if we all stop to listen and observe just a little more, we could all be wiser for it and better at anticipating new directions.
As for predicting the future, no one has a crystal ball, but we couldn't help asking Miz Owen what her thoughts were. "I think we’ll see more brands getting smarter with social listening tools and creating places where conversations between brands and consumers feel more like you’re chatting with a friend than a corporation." Amen to that.