Nearby factories and 3D printing to satisfy consumers almost in real time: Carla Buzasi of WGSN’s opinion.

It is not easy to make trend predictions in the era of “see now, buy now”. WGSN, a trend-forecasting company, has been doing this for 20 years, monitoring consumer changes and analysing the behaviour of new generations.

During MICAM Milano, WGSN organised the seminar “Step into Generation NOW”, chaired by the managing director Carla Buzasi. The event was attended by the stylist Barbara Martelo, the footwear designer Merah Vodianova, and the sneaker fanatic Willem Osei – representing, respectively, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.
They all agreed on the importance of social media, which also characterises the Generation Now. We talked about this, and other topics regarding the future of footwear during an interview with Carla Buzasi.

WGSN is now turning 20 and has always monitored the evolution of consumer tastes. What has changed in the past twenty years?

If there is an all-encompassing trend, it is how quickly information is available today. To say that the Internet has changed the world is not breaking news, however it has really made trend-spreading fast. Today, consumers can more readily learn about trends and access information from all over the world. The fact that they can bring with them their information devices – their smartphones, and their apps – allows social trends, fashion and technology to change even faster. When the consumer can immediately get what he/she wants, you have to be in a position to meet his/her demands, regardless of what you sell.

How come, in these 20 years, shoes have become so important for one’s look?

Because attention to detail has surged. Here’s an example with cars, once they were used to bring us from point A to point B, as a pure means of transportation; today, however, aesthetics and not just function count in this sector too. Going back to footwear, the ability to satisfy the public from all perspectives, from the aesthetic, to function and comfort, is what is important. The consumer is also concerned today with where the footwear is produced, who made it, if it is biodegradable. We have gone beyond the pure and simple concept of a product and have started looking at everything else that comes with it.

What can still change in footwear?

Technology will play a major role in material innovation. For example, there are materials that can protect the shoe from the rain, change colour independently, or have a memory.

Moreover, there is a strong vegan trend, so a demand for materials with the same characteristics of leather, but produced from non-animal products.

WGSN anticipates two-year trends. Is it still possible today, at the time of “see now buy now”, to make fashion forecasts so far in advance?

We realise that it is increasingly difficult. We work on macro trends, using recurring indicators, linked to events such as political elections, Hollywood films that will always be there, music, and listening to visionary characters such as Elon Musk. We believe that in the years to come these macro trends will still be influenced by politics, technology, social changes, and we try to understand what impact they will have on fashion. But above all, we try to improve short-term forecasts. We pay great attention to social media, products that sell more on e-commerce sites, those that have been discounted or reabsorbed, observing the colours, the materials, the shapes that are chosen. Our task as a forecaster is to anticipate and help our clients develop this ability to observe. We realise that for shoes, unlike t-shirts and other simpler accessories, it is not so easy because the lead-time to get on the market is slow.

What did the theme of the seminar on the Generation NOW reveal?

This generation, thanks to social media, is used to immediately demanding what it wants. They want to search on Amazon, choose, and receive immediately. It will be very interesting to see how brands react to this demand for immediacy. It means that they will have to equip themselves so as to be able to produce on demand and to take ownership of technologies such as 3D printing. Another key element to consider will be nearby factories, in short, anything that allows you to quickly meet the demands of consumers.

Carla Buzasi during the seminar “Step into Generation NOW” at MICAM Milano