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The Speed of the Market is the Biggest Challenge in Retail Business

Lisa White, Head of Lifestyle & Interiors at WGSN (World Global Style Network Limited) shares her experience on trends that are driving this industry globally and how clients are engaging with WGSN on a larger canvas.

Lisa White, Head of Lifestyle & Interiors at WGSN

WGSN is the world’s leading trend authority for creative thinkers in over 94 countries. With services that cover consumer insights, fashion and lifestyle forecasting, data analytics, crowd-sourced design validation and expert advisory services, the platform drives customer growth and connects business professionals in 150 countries through market-leading exhibitions and festivals, and information services. On her recent visit to India, Lisa White, Head of Lifestyle & Interiors at WGSN (World Global Style Network Limited) spoke to BW Businessworld about the trends that are driving this industry globally and how clients are engaging with WGSN on a larger canvas.

What is the purpose of your visit to India?

India is a very important market in terms of business and creative perspective. We want to keep a tab on both the aspects and how we can partner with clients like Marks and Spencer, Land Rover, etc to foster growth. The global trends help us to create products that would meet the market requirement.

You have a huge role to play in the company. What do you do on a daily basis?

I am always looking at research, how and what my team does, and we pull up all the resources together into trends that make sense for our clients. It’s a developing business with our clients as always. I keep an eye on what’s going on and why is that going to be important for trends in future.

What is trend forecasting and how do you decide a trend?

We don’t ever have just one trend. There are many trends going alongside others. Trend forecasting is done by researches put together as a package of stories that explain the lifestyle of how people are wanting to live and how that trend is going to transit into a product. We study how people are living in both aspects - qualitative and quantitative. For example we look at events, experiences and products. We launched a report called ‘Doing Beats Buying’, which means there is a shift where consumers prioritise memorable experiences over purchasing product. People love to spend on experiences than actual products. So one needs to be careful about fast fashion, fast interiors, as people will want to spend more money on restaurants, cinema, travel than on buying a car, or a new dress. It is a movement like Experience Designing where people want to spend money on experiences more than they want to spend money on product.

What are the key areas that you analyse to choose the latest trend?

There are so many areas. We observe everything. From what people are drinking in the morning, driving to work, are they taking some sort of public transportation, are they coworking, what are they working for, etc? We also take a look at what people wear, how people live and invent, how they buy products, how many children they have decided to have, we look at absolutely everything. And all this decides a trend. There’s nothing that is not interesting for us.

How do you perceive India market in terms of consumption and attitude towards trend?

It’s interesting to know that people are curious about trends here. It’s important to know that we do not waste time and money on a product so when we cater to our clients we don’t work on a product that’s not going to meet the market.

What are the key areas you analyse when searching for the latest trends and what inspires you personally?

People with interesting ideas inspire me so it could be Warren Buffet or even young Scottish designer Charles Jeffrey. I remember Jeffrey once said ‘the world is so complicated right now and my response is to go full fantasy’ so he referred to political and economic mess and wants to do very extreme. This explains we are living in difficult times so people want something that helps them to escape and that’s the rule of the fashion – to let people escape into other reality. So escapism is one trend that we follow.

People from different types of nationalities and background in the United States, the UK, India are living together so another trend is ‘common ground’ where you find similarities between people who seem to be very different. From a store perspective that’s important as you sell to everybody not just one party or one type of a person, so it is a role to explain how you can create product.

How do you think technological advances coupled with the influence of social media, impact the way trends evolve and the way we shop?

Technology is making easy to contact with people and communicate. That means you can be connected with somebody you can think – how it feels the way across the world. But there is a constant stress of what’s happening and that’s getting a lot of anxiety and even depression at the same time. So there are positives and negatives.

What are the top predictions for the forthcoming season? 

A key direction that will drive 2018 and onwards is the continuing importance of bringing a human quality to interiors and products, as a counterbalance to the ever-connected lives that we live. Surfaces, materials and tactilities that speak of warmth and authenticity celebrate a hands-on approach and become central to design, as we learn to embrace imperfection as a sign of quality. Tech continues to move away from futuristic looks towards a softer, more discreet and craft-embedded direction.

Nature plays a big role in this as well – with all the conversations taking place across the globe on the future of Earth, we are keen to reconnect with nature in all aspects of our everyday lives. This is behind the rise of greenery and biophilic design in domestic, contract, retail and hospitality – real plants, fake plants, natural materials, surfaces, patterns and shapes that reference nature and bring it inside as much as possible.

Looking back becomes a key driver to design forward. Seasonal upgrades will be challenged by modular components and timeless designs, which take the best of the past and apply it to today's lifestyles. A fresh sense of newstalgia comes to the fore, fuelled by the constant access to the recent and not-so-recent past thanks to digital culture and the pace of social media - therefore the focus is not anymore on one era, place or culture, but a vibrant and eclectic mix set to influence all design aspects.

What have you observed in the consumer behaviour? 

Ninety percent customer approaches are based on emotions and not on intellect. So it’s important to be in touch with the consumers’ emotion. Many companies think practically and quantify their products. There are brands that people like to buy make them feel good and connected. It’s less about a product and more about the feeling that it generates. The Power of Buying Less by Buying Better helps capitalise on consumers.

Do you consider environmental impact while forecasting trends? What measures do you take to make fashion sustainable? 

Absolutely. Sustainability is no longer a trend as it has to be baked into everything. It could be about finding new types of bio plastic to be able to recycle in the sea; it could be about repairing. It is good to know the fact that you can repair things in India but in other parts of the world you can’t. For instance, if I break my heels in Texas, they can’t fix my shoes. I should buy a new pair and this is not being sustainable. Hence, India in many ways, is ahead of the rest of the sustainable practices. We created a small prototype collection of fashionable denim clothes that are 100% sustainable.

What are the most compelling challenges in fashion and retailing faced increasingly in businesses?

The speed of the market is the biggest challenge as people do not want to wait. Clients need to speed up their production and creative process and that’s a huge challenge. We need to make sure that the trend is adaptable globally and clients translate them locally in all aspects.

What is your forecast for WGSN?

WGSN has been fast connecting with clients. Our global trend forecasters and data scientists obsessively decodes the future to provide the authoritative view on tomorrow. In lifestyle, we are backing the trends with data. We are also launching a new product called Coloro, system of colour that enables fashion and textile professionals to realise their creative potential. So we are connecting the dots to make sure the industry gets everything they need.

How does WGSN help its client in trend setting?

It is helping them to establish strategies that they need to think about ahead of trend so something happens in politics or an economy, one needs to plan out strategy from business perspective and creative perspective and that is something we can do on a general rule perspective. We work specifically with lines to tailor that information.

Any message for young entrepreneurs? 

Trust your instincts. It is something you really believe in, do a market research and never follow trends. You are the trend, you make the trend but you know where to go and you have to trust yourself more than anyone else. I personally follow people on Instagram, people into the business of interiors, flowers, food, lots of other small things as the big trend comes from small ideas. I would say ‘food is to design what lipstick is to fashion’, as food is something that you eat several times a day, you experiment a bit more just like lipstick, you buy a new lipstick you can experiment and that’s how trends are created in small ways.

In India, you still have what we have lost. In the West we are trying to bring back the artisan and achieve a higher level of personalization, both of which are inherent to Indian systems of production. I see an enormous opportunity there!

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