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Denim Consultant Kelly Harrington on Unearthing the Next Big Trends

Kelly Harrington, trend forecaster and member of the Rivet 50, is a cool hunter.

From new store openings and brands, to livestreaming fashion shows from all corners of the world, Harrington is a purveyor of what’s new and next.

“It’s my job to know it and find it,” she said.

Harrington sat down with Sportswear International editor in chief Sabine Kühnl at Bluezone in Munich, Germany Tuesday to share how she pieces together her seasonal denim forecasts and why it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find originality.

Capturing trends

Travel and festivals are a well of information for Harrington. “I’m a visual person, so I take lots of pictures wherever I go,” she said. “When I travel, I do a lot of people watching. That’s huge for me.”

The visual that Harrington takes home with her helps inform her seasonal forecasts, but a large part of her job is to sell brands the vision—or at least a version that suits their look and consumer. “I analyze and give a picture of a high level of trends,” she said. “It is my job sell that picture.”

It isn’t always an easy sell to brands, but Harrington said she comes prepared. “It’s my gut instinct,” she said. “I don’t normally check statistics.” Rather, she uses “evidence” like street style photos and Instagram to support her case.

Trends to watch

Influences from the ’80s and ’90s remain key. Tie-dye, shades of white denim, dusty desert shades and clean utility looks are gaining momentum, Harrington said.

Comfort is driving trends as well. Harrington said brands are transitioning boot cut and super wide-leg baggy silhouettes. Jumpsuit are on the upswing, thanks in part to being easy one-stop dressing. “We want this like carefree attitude,” she said.

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But skinny jeans aren’t down the count just yet. “I think for the mass consumer, it’s an everyday item,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a trend item.”

Eco education

Sustainability is slowly having an impact on denim trends—Harrington favors vintage—but she believes consumers still lack knowledge about how their jeans are made to make informed decisions.

“I believe that it’s our job to educate,” she said, adding, “There’s a lot of work to do. I think we’re obviously better than what we were, but there’s always room for improvement.”

Small brands are stepping up to the challenge. Harrington said she’s drawn to small labels with transparent stories like Tortoise Denim, Boyish Jeans and Story Mfg. However, she sees big brands taking important steps in the right direction through denim and textile recycling initiatives.

Digital world

The Internet is a curse and a blessing for trend forecasters. On one hand, social media allow forecasters a global view of fashion. On the other hand, trends are spreading across the global simultaneously through influencers and bloggers.

“Influencers are even more influential than celebrities these days,” Harrington said. “I think it’s because it’s like more of a close relationship. They’re showing their every day.”

And whereas there was once a time when traveling to foreign countries meant new brands, retailers and trends to discover, Harrington says fashion is homogenizing.

“The edges are blurring. I recently went on a trip to Japan and what once was a street full of very individual Japanese stores has become a street of global stores, which I think is a shame,” she said. “But of course, it just means that those smaller stores go further and further out. They may be harder to find, but I love that.”