instagram girl with computer vision

How to stay ahead of fashion trends in the era of social media

Key takeaways

  • Fashion has changed since the advent of social media as consumers increasingly dictate trends rather than brands.
  • Social media has led consumers to adopt and move on from fashion trends quicker than before, and to appease their customers, brands must keep up with the forecasts.
  • Trend forecasting using social media analysis allows fashion brands to unlock their potential for commercial and creative success.

The gatekeepers of the fashion industry used to be editors, experienced designers and powerful retailers. Ten years ago, magazines were still considered the bible for fashion inspiration and new seasonal must-haves. But so much has changed since the launch of Instagram in 2010. 

Today, more than 100 million images are shared daily on Instagram, with nearly 1 billion monthly users. Brands now advertise and create followings on Instagram: for example, Chanel was named as the most influential luxury brands on social media, with more followers on Instagram than any other luxury brand. But Instagram isn’t the only social media platform inspiring change in the fashion industry: Weibo, Pinterest, TikTok, and YouTube play big roles as well, as millennials and Gen Z-ers have become both influencers and influencees. The industry as a whole has shifted from an exclusive to an inclusive form of fashion: consumers now express their opinions daily through social media. These new voices have entered the fashion game, most notably due to consumer behavior on Instagram.

Adidas campaign

To innovate is to thrive

The closing of previously-powerful department stores such as Barney’s as well as fashion brands’ brick-and-mortar stores such as Opening Ceremony serve as potential omens of what awaits brands who may have a hard time adapting. 

Digital Native Vertical Brands, for example, are threatening the existing model, and they are doing it well. Brands such as Glossier, Sézane, and Amélie Pichard have transformed their Instagram followers into loyal consumers who literally and figuratively buy into the brand.

In today’s climate, brands can no longer ignore the game-changing impact that these new consumer voices have on both their image and their business if they want to steer clear of the following:

  • Obsolescence: a brand that successfully innovates its supply chain to keep up with the fast-fashion cycle is never left behind in both customer awareness and desire. 
  • Missed revenue: brands lacking proactivity are slow in their time-to-market, particularly due to a misunderstanding or a neglect of trends and consumer preferences. 
  • Massive waste is a concern for brands who are unable to predict which trends will be sought-after by their customers as a result of poorly-planned overstock. Fashion brands often rack up millions in overstock – a preventable problem with proper trend forecasting and social media strategies.

Yet certain luxury brands, most notably Chanel and Hermès, have been successful to avoid some of these issues through social media. They have avoided obsolescence by maintaining brand awareness and relevance, but they continue to produce massive waste each season for lack of proper trend and demand forecasting. These brands have been able to create identities in which their customers can feel a sense of community, rather than the previous culture of unattainable-fashion-house of years past.

Streetstyler on the phone during PFW

With the help of trend forecasting, brands can fully embrace social media

Social media has amplified and accelerated the spread of a viral buzz, increased the time-to-market pressure, and made it hard for brands to anticipate the lifecycle of a product. For example, nobody expected the Balenciaga “Ikea lookalike” shopping tote to last for so many seasons. It is also oftentimes that trends burst onto the Instagram fashion scene and vanish overnight. So what can brands do to keep up?

The solution is: SMARTER vs FASTER.

If properly used, Instagram is a gold mine of insights allowing brands to be ahead of their market and their consumer preferences. There is now much more consumer data with which to analyze and back one’s intuitions. 

But why analyze images and not only text? Put simply, on average, 80% of products are missed due to mistagging. For example, based on our analysis of over 1 million posts, 82% of posts including a Louis Vuitton product do not mention the product in their caption. 

In this way, image recognition has become far more powerful than text analysis, as consumers tend to prioritize images over mentions and hashtags.

See what bags & shoes Heuritech spotted for SS20

Brands have the power to predict at their fingertips 

The way forward, therefore, is to be ahead of your consumer’s preferences in order to launch strong products aligned with your brand’s DNA, but also to anticipate demand in order to reach the right balance between novelty and continuity, trendy and iconic products depending on your brand positioning. The best way to do this is through trend forecasting, which directly correlates to demand forecasting

To begin with, Instagram reflects desirability, the adoption of fashion trends, and how they spread from edgy trends to commercial successes. At Heuritech, we can detect trends emerging from early signals on social media, and closely follow their propagation (or not) to the mass market. 

It starts with: 

  1. Defining representative panels of consumers
  2. Applying our computer vision technology to millions of social media images stemming from these panels
  3. Using our machine learning forecasting algorithms to predict trends up to one year in advance
  4. Inserting Heuritech’s data into our market intelligence platform

By identifying signals on Instagram, Heuritech’s artificial intelligence technology is able to forecast up to 1 year ahead. Figures combined with thousands of pictures of people wearing specific products can help fashion experts back their intuitions with strong data.

For example, during Spring/Summer 2020 Fashion Week, Heuritech predicted the rise of the plumetis blouse trend: since then, there has been a +70% increase of posts on Instagram containing the plumetis blouse.

Major fashion players, such as merchandisers or CEOs, are already beginning to see the endless benefits of trend prediction technology. With the power of trend forecasting, fashion brands’ potential for commercial and creative success is endless. 

As Forrester senior vice president of research Sharyn Leaver said in an interview with Vogue, “The most successful [fashion brands] will be those that properly invested in their foundation — and have the innovation skills to move quickly.”

About the writer: Célia Poncelin, Chief Marketing Officer

Célia writes about technology, data and sustainability in fashion to understand the profound changes of the industry.

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