The Need-to-Know Big Fashion Issues for 2016
The catwalks for 2016 highlighted the relationship between fashion and big, global issues – I picked up on a new type of feminism, new religiously-motivated consumers, and clothing as representing the fragile global security we’re experiencing.
These issues will continue to influence designers over the next twelve months, but what about fashion businesses and their customers? Let’s get a little Mystic Meg and predict the future: read on for the need-to-know big fashion issues for 2016 and a snapshot of how they might affect your work and fashion habits.
Do consumers really care about the sustainable credentials of their clothes? Mark Sumner, previously Sustainable Raw Material Specialist with Plan A at M&S and now my colleague at the University of Leeds, often cites research from the high street giant showing consumers put ethics and sustainability at the top of their ‘requirements’ list when questioned.
But when it gets to point of purchase, ethics drops right down below price, quality and brand. Not surprising, but why is sustainability such a buzzword?
In part because newer generations of consumers look like they might care more deeply about where fashion is coming from and, importantly, how fashion businesses are operating sustainably. Lucie Greene, in Harriet Quick’s article for Wallpaper*:
Millennials are expecting more than ever from brands, and they’re increasingly starting to lead in the luxury space, causing a need for luxury to pivot to appeal to them … They expect hyper-transparency, ethical behaviour, sustainability and values from the brands they consume.
In 2016, business operations will need to be sustainably-managed too, from dealing with energy shortages to your PR and marketing teams handling ‘greenwashing’ claims. Across finance, marketing, consumer behaviour and day-to-day working life, 2016 will be the year we truly start to feel the pull of sustainability.
As of August last year, four-year-old Instagram had racked up over 25 million images with the hashtag #fashion, fashion brands were some of the top advertisers on the platform, the numbers of hours we spend watching YouTube videos increased by 60%, and we all started going a bit barmy over the potentials of rapid Snapchat+fashion. James Kirkham, global head of social and mobile at Leo Burnett:
The future of advertising looks like this, and it is bloody glorious. Hardly anyone in ad land has ever used Snapchat, let alone gets its potential … the excellence of this campaign is its insistence to create and leverage ‘urgency’ in the audience. In a time when appointment to view is increasingly hard, where consumption is more difficult to achieve through proliferation of choice, this feeling of urgency is a new secret weapon.
At the same time, stress-reducing colouring in books were some of the most popular non-fiction purchases of the year, searches for ‘wellbeing’ and ‘mindfulness’ increased rapidly and at least one high profile blogger ditched social media for something more wholesome (apparently). Consumers are looking to slow down or streamline, but fashion can’t stop speeding up.
So 2016 will be the year of focus for fashion brands (and maybe individuals too). Marketing spend is wavering and teams are stretching resources across multiple channels with negligible ways of measuring benefit. This year brands will pull back and focus attention on core communication channels – maybe not even social media – and long-term, narrative-driven, personalised marketing.
#3 GLOBAL CONSUMERS
The fashion industry is collecting more data than ever about its customers, as ASOS’ 2014 financial report shows, or as BoF highlighted in their special report on Inditex’s incredible tech silo. Brands are getting better at segmenting data and – in many cases – serving up the right stuff to the right people.
But our consumer groups are rapidly evolving too. The Pew Research Centre predicts Islam will be the fastest-growing religion in the world over the next 25 years, giving the fashion industry a new, and unique, set of customers. Caitlyn Jenner became the first transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair and Pantone announced a 2016 colour that blended two culturally-gendered shades into one.
World migration and forced displacement are reconstructing societies; in 2014, the number of people moving due to forced displacement rose by 8.3 million. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner:
We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.
Businesses (fashion or not) have whole new consumer groups to deal with and, in a few years time, a new generation of young customers who will be products of two or more cultures, with a mentality similar to the Baby Boomers of post WWII.
All this means that, in 2016, fashion business will start to develop highly specific consumer profiles based on dependable, longitudinal data. Brands will emerge catering to those consumers appearing on the ‘edges’ of existing demographics. You’ll be asked to put your customer’s world under a microscope, which could mean enlisting the help of people trained in anthropology, ethnography and cultural studies who’re able to dissect the unique circumstances surrounding these global consumer groups. And you’ll need to articulate your customer profile in much more detail – physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological – than ever before.
As consumer groups become more niche so to does our interest in personalised information. The flavour of neo-liberalism can be tasted across every sphere of life, heavily influencing our ideas of the individual as entrepreneur, as unique, as isolated, or as ‘special’ (just for existing).
Fashion brands have dabbled in personalisation for decades. A recent example spawning plenty of copies was Burberry’s monogrammed ponchos and scarves from 2014 and 2015. Widespread personalisation in 2016 will mean more brands creating simpler ‘mix and match’ product personalisation options – like Nike’s build your own trainers or Ferragamo’s build your own classic shoe – but also developing services, marketing and content tailored to individuals.
Rather than personalisation purely being associated with high-end brands, 2016 will see middle-range fashion businesses echoing the service levels of independents with the consistency of luxury names at every customer touch point. As social platforms develop their marketing algorithms, consumers are more likely to be served relevant content, so the in-store or on-paper experience will need to reflect this.
The trick for fashion brands will be creating cohesive campaigns which can be highly-individualised and yet part of a greater whole. You might need to re-train shop staff in personal service skills, ramp up your customer response teams as a whole, or dedicate team members to developing ‘personal marketing’ tactics – from hand-written thank you notes to email newsletters where content segments are swapped depending on the recipient.
Over the next year I’ll be writing on each of these issues in turn, delving deeper into why they’re important in 2016 and how you can work with them, rather than against them.
Thanks for reading.
Are there any big issues you think I’ve missed?
Let me know in the comments.