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Fashion's future is a 6-figure job
Fashion trend forecasting is a very small but lucrative field, with free trips to Paris.
January 7, 2005: 5:43 PM EST
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) "That's soooo last year" may be the cry of aesthetically offended fashionistas.

But "that's soooo tomorrow" is the rallying cry of trend forecasters, those fashion clairvoyants on whom designers, retailers, fiber companies, fabric manufacturers and financial institutions rely.

Their job is to take the pulse of the public's psychology and spot upcoming trends and products that will be hot next spring, next fall or even a few seasons beyond.

Take bamboo. Come spring 2006, you may be wearing it. (Don't worry. It's purportedly soft as silk when woven.)

That's what David Wolfe, creative director of the Donegar Group, is forecasting. In fact, he expects to see a lot of apparel made from newly manufactured natural fibers in what he characterizes as a fear-based quest to get back to nature and downsize our lives.

"We're so inundated with technological innovations we'll have an emotional reaction to that, a backlash," Wolfe said.

How does he know? A big part of his job is instinct, he said, coupled with 30 years of experience.

But he feeds his instincts by saturating himself 24/7 with cues from the world at large. That means lots of travel (yes, to Paris, London and Milan), shopping and media consumption. Or, as he put it, what most people do for fun.

A short attention span and a fascination with change helps, too. "I'm very easily bored," Wolfe said.

Kathryn Novakovic, the director of fashion marketing for Cotton Inc., a not-for-profit trade group, also pays attention to the music world, since stars think P. Diddy and his clothing line, Sean John -- can establish brands very quickly.

Reporting, writing, public speaking and sales skills are essential, since presenting analysis to clients is part of the job.

Trend analysts can work for forecasting firms, of which there are only about a dozen worldwide, Wolfe said.

Or they can work directly for fashion retailers, design houses and clothing and shoe manufacturers, which often have their own in-house trend teams.

The likelihood of making six figures is greatest for the stars of the forecasting firms. But if you're not one of those stars, don't expect a lavish salary.

"You don't have to pay a lot until someone becomes an outstanding talent," Wolfe said.

Trend analysts are not likely to make six figures at not-for-profits that do trend analysis. But they have a good chance at making between $100,000 and $200,000 working for a major fashion retailer or clothing manufacturer, after acquiring seven to 10 years experience, Novakovic said.

A college degree in fashion (such as a bachelor's in fashion design or fabric styling) has become a must. And an internship with a forecasting team is one of the best ways to break into the field, Wolfe and Novakovic said.

The field is very small and very competitive. All told, there probably aren't more than 750 to 1,000 positions in the country, Novakovic said.

Got a head for business?

Another type of trend analysis closely tied to fashion is business trend forecasting. The business forecaster isn't predicting the next hot color but the next hot apparel group or, conversely, the areas of apparel where sales are likely to decline.

That's part of Marshal Cohen's job for the NPD Group, a market research firm.

Take jeans. To get a read on where he thinks jean sales will go, he takes into account everything not just what's coming down the runway or what mall shoppers tell him, but a host of factors from the price of oil to the price of movie tickets.

"Consumers have to make decisions based on their income," Cohen said. So given the choice between, say, apparel (jeans) and entertainment (movies), he makes the call as to which will take priority in a given season. If it's movies and ticket prices are going up, that leaves less money to buy jeans.

As with fashion trend forecasting, business trends analysis requires not only analytical skill but a lot of gut instinct and market experience. "It's one of those jobs you either have it or you don't," Cohen said.

It also requires a lot of travel. Cohen estimates that at least 25 percent of his time is spent on the road.

A college degree is a must, and an MBA is big plus.

It might take up to 15 years to earn a six-figure salary if you're working at a market research firm, Cohen said. But if you're a top retail trends analyst for a major financial firm, you may be earning as much as $300,000 annually after six or seven years.  Top of page

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