What's on trend this season for the fashion industry? The answer may surprise you.

Try big data. At least that's what a story I recently read suggested.

When I think of Fashion Week in New York, the last thing that likely comes to mind are data scientists sitting in a front row seat on the runway. But maybe I should change my perspective.

The adoption of big data represents a big step toward changing the operating principles of an industry that has for years represented the antithesis of customer-centricity.

Beyond the Obvious Uses

Now the story itself went on to highlight a company that’s providing real time analytics to the fashion industry, eliminating the need to do in-store competitive research like finding out how many kinds of skinny jeans were being offered and, of course, who was discounting then when and where. While using big data for this intel definitely has value, I think it misses the bigger point.

The fashion industry is the poster child for brands deciding what the trends should be, then going out and promoting, marketing and pushing its point of view all the way across paid, earned and owned media.

We see the pieces on the evening news in pieces like  “what’s hot for this upcoming season” and on social channels. Woman’s Wear Daily reported last summer that the top independent fashion bloggers earn millions. And I’m not sure the last time anyone counted the number of ads versus editorial in magazines like Vogue.

But big data can change all of this. Instead of trying to second guess or more cynically put, manipulate popular culture, the fashion industry has the ability to find out what really interests people and bring to market what each audience wants.

For example, instead of relying on traditional market research, brands can create and track online panels numbering in the millions or sub-divided almost to 1:1. They can see not only what has been hot, but what is hot in real time and even begin to predict what will be hot tomorrow or the next day. Now that is hot!

Gathering - and Acting On - Insights

This ability to draw real time insight from very large data sets of people means that business can become more agile and responsive to demand than ever before. In the case of the fashion industry, imagine instead of next year’s fashions being decided by a few designers seasons in advance, deciding to increase production of warm coats on-demand when an extraordinarily long winter hits.

What happens then is a change from a “build it and they will come” mentality, to “listen and then give them what they want.”

Combine the research aspects of big data with the evolution of technology and just- in-time manufacturing and we’re finally approaching the ability for brands to demonstrate their agility and personalization to respond to actual demand rather than try to artificially create it.

And while I may never follow the skinny jeans trend, I am a fan of using big data.

Title image by Susan Sermoneta  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.