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| January 28, 2015

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Can Data Predict Fashion Trends?

Can Data Predict Fashion Trends?

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Julia Fowler said that fashion businesses could do with taking a look at the world’s financial markets, with a view to forecast fashion trends in the same way that they predict economic conditions on a number of data-driven variables. As director of the fashion industry’s biggest apparel data warehouse, she believes that if buyers and merchandisers have access to real-time analytics, historical information and market visibility, their sartorial decisions would be almost bulletproof.

“Industries like the financial sector have used big data for many years,” she told the newspaper. “The logical step for us was to apply a scientific approach to the apparel industry.” The company she runs is called Editd and it crunches data on over 300,000 garments daily. Whilst this might make perfect sense in any other setting, many fashion businesses have approached this kind of analysis with trepidation. Not only because it’s scary, but because “fashion thrives on the unexpected.”

“Right now data is the buzzword,” Isham Sardouk explained. As chief creative officer of Stylesight in New York, he believes that a mixed methodology is the way forward. “But for me, data is not everything. It’s just a portion of the information that’s out there. I think that intuition is underrated, and when people think of a trend forecaster they imagine a crazy guy in a room experiencing visions of salmon pink. But it’s a group decision. I have a team of 200 industry experts feeding information from all around the world.”

Industry member and fashion director of Harvey Nichols, Paula Reed is in total agreement. “I still think that a magpie instinct and a sixth sense are still the best tools in the unending quest for the next thing,” she said. Noting that Diana Vreeland had once declared that great fashion was still about giving people what they didn’t know they wanted, the member added, “And I’m not sure I’d want to find an algorithm for that.”

Harriet Bowe