Reevaluating Trend Forecasting in 2020

By Susan Britton  |  January 4, 2021

Image by Koen Hauser

A Summary of the Always Inspiring Trend Union Presentation

Can we be still—center ourselves—close our eyes and just breathe?

And maybe take a little time to focus on something inspirational. We will continue forward (during and after this pandemic test), and with the help of others we can envision newness and an exciting, healthier way forward. This is the key takeaway the Britton team gained by attending this year’s Trend Union global trend webinar, an inspiring annual event that we always look forward to. If you are in the creative field, the fashion industries, or the business of creating consumer goods, attendance at this event will never disappoint.

Lidewij (or Li) Edelkoort, a Dutch trend forecaster and preeminent oracle of retail trends, paints and envisions a very rich, beautiful, and thoughtful path ahead. And while she mainly focuses on retail fashion, home, and beauty trends, I find her commentary to be more of an allegorical view of our general current culture, transcending beyond fashion, and a significant part of what makes her seminars so interesting. 

Her presentations can be building blocks for general creative thinking and can positively focus and challenge our creative efforts, opening us up for more expansive exploration. Could you use more mental ingredients today? I know I could. Inspiration is a precious commodity after so many of these working-from-home “Groundhog Days.”

Image by Hiroto Miura

Trend Union 2020 At A Glance

 Together with her co-forecaster, Philip Fimmano, Li and her team work incredibly hard to gather and create words and imagery that portray the trends with a dimensional understanding, incredible beauty, and profound emotion. The presentation clicks by like an old-fashioned View- Master™ toy, each click revealing fantastical imagery with beautiful tones of color families. 

Some images focus on the various materials used to create, such as imperfect yet idealized women (or men) in different fabric treatments. Textural images showcase stacks of natural wood and papers, handmade lace sewn into a structure beyond imagination, marvelous textiles—some made out of biodegradable paper—all gorgeous, astonishing 2D photos that feel 3D and serve as visual metaphors for what Li describes. 

I apologize now, as I think I’ve just used up all my adjectives for the rest of the article, but suffice it to say, the optics are pure art. Just imagine Li’s mesmerizing voice providing commentary, and you get a sense of what it was like to participate in this year’s global trend forecasting webinar.

Image from marikokusumoto.com

REWRITING OUR VALUES ON THE “BLANK PAGE” OF 2020

Li started with what she called a blank page and discussed how this theme epitomizes how many of us feel, individually and also globally, during this pandemic. We are all evaluating our lives and priorities, and we have the opportunity to reflect on what we need to do as a world to save our planet and develop as a society that creates things for others to use and enjoy. What is the healthiest way forward? 

We saw some of this happening in the US even before the pandemic, through our company’s research into what we call the New American Middle. A sizable portion of consumers have been revisiting critical personal priorities. This is a turn for the better, a turn away from the high consumerism in the 1980s and ’90s, and a turn from the wastefulness of fast fashion in the recent decade.

The New American Middle is not necessarily an income bracket; it’s more of a mindset. We find people do feel some threat in what they cannot control. They increasingly resist intrusion by big institutions that are “too big to fail” and brands that are “too big to care.” They have turned inward toward their immediate world and relationships, and they are refocused on four main priorities: 

  • Their family (whatever that looks like)
  •  Their faith (whatever their spirituality is)
  • Their local community (the one they can reasonably support and within which they can live a healthy lifestyle)
  • The environment (they may not feel they can fix the floating island of trash in the Pacific, but they can put individual sustainability practices into place at home, such as recycling and doing with less)

Now, in the year of a pandemic, all these values become even more magnified. And while we are focused on our home continent of North America, we have reason to believe that these tendencies are universal. Li Edelkoort reflects on our current circumstances and dives deep into what our culture is struggling with—and what we’re embracing as well.

Image by Rikako Nagashima

PREDICTING TRENDS IN UNPREDICTABLE TIMES

As Edelkoort says, “It is an odd time to forecast trends in the time of COVID. This seminar was prepared prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was based on paper. Of course, the first paper panic we had was toilet paper.”

“This is a time to re-contemplate life, take a breath and shift to ‘work to live’ from ‘live to work,’ downsize the spaces we live in … and the things we use. So consumption should also be downsized. Build relationships to the brands we support. The clothes we live in … they are there for us like a comforting friend. This will change our relationship to clothing and home goods in general. Rethinking means a growing tolerance. As we emerge from lockdown, we will feel everything new … see things new again, taste things again. 2020 starved us.”

Li’s “blank page” example, the symbol of this year but an idea that came to her before COVID-19 overturned our lives, could be seen as a metaphor for fear of unknowns, or it could be embraced as the opportunity for a fresh start. 

“The fear of the blank page, often imposing writer’s block and intimidating to artists, is now paralyzing a society that has to reinvent itself. That same fear is daunting to the garment industry that wants to get out of the doldrums. Fashion’s reluctance to reset the tone and rethink its purpose is palpable and needs to be eradicated. During and after the lockdown, humans need to transform their actions in the healing of multiple pains and finally decide to put people and planet first, winning against corporate gain and greed. What on earth should we do—what can we do—to shake off old habits and start a new chapter of moral behavior and creativity?” 

While I don’t want to get overly political here, I realize we have built American society on capitalism, where everyone can start their own business, pursue any path toward prosperity, and make their life their own. I started my own business. It’s been the American Dream for centuries. I still believe that is possible. It is a wonderful freedom many countries do not experience. But I believe we can and should develop conscientious capitalism practices—a system where giving back, supporting our teams, and operating sustainably is not just an honorable thing, but also the norm. Edelkoort goes on:

“Imagine that we give in and take time to listen to the blank page, so we can relax and be inspired by its simplicity, nobility, and monochromatic whites, sampled from beautifully handcrafted papers. The blank page is designed to breathe; to create space for reflection and dialogue; to think about how each paper evokes other connections and relationships; how each page holds tangible energy; and how each interpretation can spin off a new brand or new basic [garment]. The idea is to slow down and ‘unnovate,’ just focusing on the know-how and beauty. With papers that are wise, and patient, crinkled, pleated and cut out, functional and conceptual, as well as romantic and festive (after all, we will want to get together when the pandemic is over and celebrate once again together). Ideas multiply but always maintain a gentle and human core, since empathy represents the survival of our species.”

Photo by Gina Clyne Photography

A BLANK PAGE, A FRESH START

Edelkoort vacillates between different paper types as sources of inspiration, and she sees trends that are linked one to the other. As we journal and write, the white and beige colors of paper are the colors that fill our vision. Edges and small threads or fibers in the paper become visible as we look closer.

Poetic paper, for example, represents love letters, doilies, and laser-cut patterns, keeping a romantic dream. We are sentimental as we exist in isolation. Pleated paper symbolizes structure and dimension—chairs and handbags, or folded into masks. It helps us understand volume and textile fashion design. Patterns, as in the paper always used to create fashion designs. As compared to a 2D drawing, paper patterns helped dimensionalize design, and then artistic 2D patterns were applied to the 3D structure.

Edelkoort delves into many other paper styles, from wrapping papers to reading papers to party papers to brown paper, sharing their parables and how they are all interrelated. “Is there anything more beautiful than a brown paper bag?” she wonders. “Probably not. Brown is a trend, and so we are free to step back into brown and beige, rustic materials like rice crackers, egg cartons.” We’ve seen this even in textiles, with the use of woven paper to create biodegradable alternatives to traditional materials.

Edelkoort changed up the white tones toward the end of her presentation, when she added party paper, a great contrast to the entire neutral season’s palette. The colors were bright and naive instead of nuanced and thoughtful.

“Because of the virus, we have entered a distinctly different time frame, another economy, and a more frugal lifestyle; we will need to use our improvisation skills to reinvent our parties, as if we were kids. A naive and wonderful creative mood will inspire people to craft their celebrations with their own hands. Streaming garlands of happiness, folding flowers of optimism, fringing laurels of hope; the ingredients are evident and humble, the execution elaborate and the textiles sophisticated—the crepe paper we recall from childhood, oversized and overly bright party paper, are monuments to our need to celebrate and dance.” 

I am totally ready for this. I was reading Flower magazine recently, and they showed an outdoor party setting in bright hot pinks and brilliant oranges, and I immediately thought (even as the person whose entire house is earthy naturals), “Oh! I want to do that, just as soon as this pandemic is over!”

“Is there anything more beautiful than a brown paper bag?”

Image by Waldemar Strempler

The Future of Luxury 2025

Edelkoort also created a whole segment (that you must see) on the Future of Luxury 2025, and I will leave you with just a few of the trends I found inspiring, all of which she identified pre-pandemic but which still ring true.

THE ECONOMY OF HAPPINESS

Edelkoort touches on the idea that many of us are becoming mini farmers, whether in our yards, on our patios, or on a rooftop in the city. She discussed the shift to becoming “bio herbivores,” elevating and venerating plants as the ultimate renewable and healthy food source, one that can also be easily preserved through home canning. People have sharpened focus on the benefits of drinking water, rescuing local bee populations, listening to the sounds of nature and tapping into the root network—the “internet of trees”—in forests.
In unsteady times, we seek grounding experiences: standing barefoot on the earth to counter the tech all around us, a practice that is shown to bring down blood pressure and calm the body in just 20 to 25 minutes a day, and it’s a worldwide trend originating from a prescription of sorts in Japan. I love this idea and am planning now to go outdoors, even though it is winter here, to stand in my own yard for a few healthy mental minutes.

Image from trendtablet.com.

CONSCIOUS CONSUMING

Conscious consuming is a new kind of luxury that has emerged in recent years. It’s the pursuit of near-perfection (not unattainable perfection itself) in our daily actions and mindful purchases, practices which are all fundamentally human. Edelkoort makes the distinction between unnovation and innovation, the former being the idea of slowing things down to fully appreciate what we currently have rather than getting swept up in the fast pace characteristic of fashion in the past. 

In general, our spaces have become smaller and more intimate. The tiny house movement is still in flux, architecture of interiors is trending tighter and cozier, and the eternal center of the house, the kitchen, is not just a place of work, but a central living space and a place to gather.

“Perhaps the tired word lifestyle is not so old after all?”

LOCAL LOCOMOTION 

Our changing world has spurred us to rethink travel, turning to fast, ground-based modes of transportation, such as trains, that allow us the flexibility to use them as work spaces or gathering spaces and to truly observe the spaces that we travel through and not just pass above them. Even in 2019, before the pandemic, flight shaming had begun to take hold. 

As for cars, we have entered into a time when almost every purchase, small or large, is subject to our highly customizable consumer culture. Whether across town or around the world, travel will continue to be made to measure—and made for pleasure, especially as we settle into a new normal.

Togetherness Principles

In person or over video calls, people are emancipating time together more and more. Men are becoming better, more attentive fathers, and as a culture we see more generations living together in houses that are designed to allow us the freedom to live that way.

CLOTHES IN COMMON

Current clothing trends balance the dichotomy of high-end quality with low style. Trending fashion is both ageless and design-driven, couture is in a courtship with streetwear, and fashion is now skewing masculine, yet romantic. Edelkoort notices that “the power suit is not about armor anymore,” and clothing in general is made better and in smaller quantities.

Slow Time

It’s a time of learning and of cultivating patience. The age of the amateur is upon us, with a renewed interest in domestic arts like baking and making, crafting our own couture, and celebrating the global yen for items that are made by humans and not manufactured by machines.

COLLECTION ICONS

As a culture, we are in love with objects, perhaps more than ever. But we have fewer of them now, sampling the simplicity of treasuring the things we have without a strong drive to acquire more and more. In our communities and among our belongings and daily activities, we are celebrating diversity: in the people we see, the foods we eat, the materials that surround us. Rather than trying to be all things for all people, a retail store may, for example, become focused on just one excellent thing, like only products from Japan. Store inventory and household collections are grouped into families of objects and colors.

SPIRITUAL ROOTS AND ANIMISM

We are all taking a longer view of our impact in the world, seeing our lives as being bound up in longevity, tied back to our ancestry, immortalized through narrative objects. There is an intermingling of the human experience and a spiritual element, a connection forged within our souls and at the very heart of our personal stories. In conjunction with the trends of slowing time, prizing togetherness, and consciously consuming, there is a general consensus that the more things we have, the less likely we are to form a relationship with those things.

Photo from A Labour of Love for purchase here.
NYTM : Generation 2020 for purchase here.

CLOSING THOUGHTS FROM TREND UNION 2020

I hope this article has been enough of a teaser to persuade you to take in one of Trend Union seminars. If you do, in addition to gaining valuable insights into forthcoming trends, you’ll also receive a complimentary book to keep for yourself and consult in the future. 

To keep up with what Li’s working on now, check out one of her next seminars. Her latest book, A Labour of Love, is an inspirational visual guide that is currently available for purchase. She has also started what she is calling The World Hope Forum, an event to which all are invited. “At the heart of the exchange,” she says, “themes such as the environment, industry, economy, architecture, waste management, diversity, and society will all be addressed. The idea is to inspire each other, collaborate, and imagine a new path forward.” Follow along to find out more about this effort on Instagram and YouTube.

So here’s to a healthier, more responsible, more beautiful future. Luxury, fashion, and consumerism has a new way of life. And as my husband Jeff says, “Perhaps the tired word lifestyle is not so old after all?”

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