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Where fashion goes...

...The rest will follow. That is the assumption trend forecast analyst Dion Chang works on with his analysis of the fast-paced change the fashion industry is grappling with. He recently shared his findings at the Freeworld Design Centre in Cape Town as a guest of New Media.
Dion Chang
Dion Chang

Fashion a key indicator of business, trends

Apart from technology, fashion is a key indicator of tomorrow's business and social trends today, argues Chang (@dionchang. For starters, he expects the value chain in the fashion world to become obsolete within the next 10 years, due to rapid change in consumer behaviour.

Traditionally, the fashion trade worked a year in advance to bring collections to market while its chroniclers' and trumpeters (fashion magazines) worked on a three-month cycle. But, in a world, where instant gratification is a click away, the fashion cycle has sped up markedly.

Gone are the days of design movements. Hello to celeb-driven "get the look" fashion built on global production that turns a design into a sample garment nearly overnight. With geographic and time zones becoming increasingly irrelevant, and productivity, cost and speed becoming paramount, fashion labels such a Prada are starting to label products "Made by Prada" rather than "Made in China."

Not that the Chinese market is to be sneezed at - Prada just showed its main line first in Beijing for the first time ever.

Also becoming seasonless

Fashion is also becoming seasonless says Chan, as the recession meant consumers' purchasing decisions became less trend- or fashion-driven, and more value-driven. Brand name products that offer better fabric, higher quality and durability at a higher price reflect the "flight to quality".

The Great Recession, says Chang, altered the value systems of consumers, and designers have had to adopt. Gone is the logo-splattered advertising featuring stars such as Madonna for Louis Vuitton that turned the brand into a commodity; new ad campaigns rather focus on the craftsmanship of the product range.

With the power to make or break fashion, brands are shifting away from the once all-powerful fashion editors and, with the democratisation of media, fashion brands are seeking direct access to consumers (and savings) through virtual fashion shows.

Not only can they track what consumers want (thanks to the 'see, click, buy' ease of online ordering), they get to bypass fashion editors that might give them the thumbs down. Fashion collections meet crowdsourcing. Designer Derek Lam puts his creations to the vote on eBay for consumers to decide what they would want to wear before he takes it to production. Fashion has entered an era of mass research and customisation, says Chang.

Increasingly bypassing traditional media

Fashion brands are also increasingly bypassing traditional media. Luxury brands owner Richemont's £350 million buyout of online luxury fashion retailer Net-A-Porter is one example of this.

Meanwhile, social networks are changing shopping habits, giving rise to a "referral economy," further underscoring a shift in power to consumers and their online - as well as offline - networks (back when this was called your circle of friends and acquaintances). Chang refers to a "world of curated perspectives" as opposed to one dominated by the views of a handful of editors.

Companies such as allows customers to build a virtual body type similar to their own - retailers are reporting the service has upped revenues and reduces returns dramatically (28% in fact). It bodes well for the evolution of online fashion retail - a category that can expect growth as retailers figure out ways to make clothes 'fit' without consumers having to try them on in store.

Chang's message to the fashion media is that their influence is waning and to retailers it's that online commerce is quickly moving beyond books, music and software. Don't get caught with your (mass-customised) designer pants down.

About Herman Manson: @marklives

The inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011, Herman Manson (@marklives) is a business journalist and media commentator who edits industry news site His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines locally and abroad, including He also co-founded Brand magazine.
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