"Sustainability communication. Trend institutes' influence on the decision-making of a fashion designer"* is the title of a recent research conducted by our Marketing & Management manager Johanna Muvira in conjunction with her masters in fashion management at The Swedish school of Textiles. The research addresses the question of trend institutes' sustainability communication and how it affects designers in the design and development of a product throughout its lifecycle. A topic that has not been given much academic attention until now.
Designers are responsible for approximately 80 per cent of any product that is created. They have therefore the power to influence the sustainability aspects of a product. The research starting point is that designers do not work in isolation thus any opinion on their role or responsibility need to be considered in relation to other fashion professionals. The author limited the research's scope to trend institutes as they are often involved in the design and development of clothes and fashion.
The research is based on two major fashion trend institutes in the world - WGSN and Promostyl - and reveals that they have little or no influence at all on small and high-end fashion designers, especially in sustainable fashion design. The main reason is that trend institutes are not perceived as knowledgeable enough or advocates, yet. It is important to bear in mind the need to maintain the picture of the fashion designer as the one and only fashion contributor. Designers are key figures in the production of fashion and play a crucial part in the maintenance, reproduction and dissemination of fashion So without designers, clothes do not become fashion.
Further, the research shows that trend institutes do not consider sustainability communication as their mission. Their goal is "to communicate what is happening in the world - and not voicing their opinions - in order to inspire designers or other users to develop products that will appeal in the future". Presently, sustainability is oftentimes communicated inappropriately, revealing a lack of expertise. The much bigger economic interest in fashion trends makes their focus on sustainability little. Also, the paper shows that trend institutes have gained a bad reputation, especially in relation to sustainable fashion and therefore not the first place to turn to for inspiration. An interesting point in the research is that sustainability communication at trend institutes is inexistent. Although, there is a sign for future engagement, WGSN and Promostyl are currently trying to identify how to incorporate and address sustainability in their work.
This research, although based on a few cases, is the first in its kind with empirical conclusions showing a gap in sustainability communication at trends institutes and contributes to renew the thinking within the industry of fashion forecasting. It provides critical insights in the state of trend institutes' take on sustainability but also how other players perceive them, which the author believe is "the basis for a change in order to foster sustainable practices that are needed in fashion forecasting".
*The research was published in June 2015.