AUSTIN, Texas — Olivier Zimmer wasn’t surprised that Karl Lagerfeld sent emojis down the Chanel runway at Paris Fashion Week earlier this month. A fashion data scientist at Google, Zimmer is on the team that creates Google’s trend reports, and he’d used data to determine that emojis were a major trend months ago. But this time, they were driven by street style, rather than a designer.
Zimmer was joined at a South by Southwest panel here by experts who regularly use data in fashion and retail: ThoughtWorks retail consultant Rachel Brooks, Shoptelligence founder Laura Khoury and Zappos product manager Kandis Yoakum.
They were tasked with sharing where “big data” belongs in fashion, and how crunching the numbers can reveal what shoppers might want — sometimes even before they do.
Zimmer, who regularly works with brands and designers, said that he is able to observe both macrotrends, like ath-leisure, and microtrends that are increasingly more frequent, thanks to an accelerated fashion cycle. Sometimes, all that data can be overwhelming.
“When we face this challenge,” Zimmer explained, “we sit down with the client and talk about where that data can help. A designer wants to understand what is going through the mind of the audience. They want to understand where they can get inspiration to feed the creative process.”
He described a “trends girth” — broken into early adopters, the early majority and the late majority — that allows brands to decipher where the trend’s momentum was going. “At the end of the day, we want to inspire the creative process. We won’t tell them that this is what you need to design, but we are here to support the decision-making process,” Zimmer said.
In the case of emojis, for example, he spotted it being a big trend, and it was interesting because it wasn’t coming from designers but from the streets. “And that doesn’t happen in other industries. In the insurance industry, users aren’t building an insurance package.” In this instance, the emoji trend didn’t pick up, and he thought it had fallen away. But this past Paris Fashion Week, they appeared printed on textiles at Chanel. “So who knows,” Zimmer said. “Maybe it will pick up this year? We will see.”
What is his hope for fashion’s future? Zimmer said he hopes that brands and designers will be able to bridge the gap between the creative process and the data. “In my day job I feel like Brad Pitt in ‘Moneyball,’ but at the beginning of the movie when no one listens to him. I hope it moves more toward the end of the movie,” he said.