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From Red Carpet to Retail: How to Capture Trending Colors

In the fashion business, speed to market often separates the winners from the losers as brands aim to catch the attention of fickle consumers who are constantly onto the next big thing. With this focus on faster fashion, being able to capitalize on a trending color, such as the vibrant pink that emerged on the awards season red carpet, is a differentiator for retailers in an increasingly competitive market.

From the Golden Globes to the Academy Awards, actresses including Cynthia Erivo, Idina Menzel, Rebel Wilson and Aja Naomi King flaunted various shades of pink, with the standout looks centered on a bold fuchsia hue. Celebrity trends often inform retail collections as well as consumer demand, as viewers take reference from their favorite stars or fall under the influence of post-event media trend recaps.

“Color evokes an emotional response in the consumer, whether it be nostalgic, or feeling fresh and new,” Raylene Marasco, founder and creative director of Dyenamix, said. “Perhaps it’s even with an attempt to emulate a celebrity that has been seen repeatedly wearing this trend, that causes the consumer to want the look. It’s a subconscious response that we, as designers and those who value sales, can’t ignore.”

Regardless of where a trend originated or the source of a designer’s inspiration, embracing the hue of the moment is an opportunity for retailers and labels. “I think the hope and the opportunity [around chasing a hot color] is you will be able to speak to your clientele, drive up sales, gain new customers because you are recognizing that trend that may speak to others that would not be your normal customer or your normal demographic,” Datacolor product manager Todd Lee.

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Fashion retailers can take advantage of celebrity red carpet moments and translate trends for consumers.
Broadway star Idina Menzel graces the Oscars red carpet in a strapless pink chiffon J Mendel gown. David Fisher/Shutterstock

But knowing the potential of playing into color trends and putting a swift go-to-market strategy into motion are two separate things. The process of getting a color from conception to finished textile can often be long and costly, requiring multiple mockups to be sent from the mill or dyehouse to the client via expedited delivery or numerous in-person site visits.

“I believe that the opportunity to reach new markets by following trends in color exists,” Marasco said. “Having pieces that work and are used in editorial, for instance, can launch a smaller brand’s visibility. The challenge can be moving quickly enough and producing pieces before the trend changes or is flooded competitors and considered oversaturated.” Capitalizing on a trend in the same season would be a “challenge from a production schedule perspective,” Marasco added.

Some companies have sought to make this process less painful and more streamlined through digital tools. “It’s really important when you’re chasing trends, things that are hot at the moment, then you don’t want this to take months,” Doug Bynum, senior partner at Natific, said. “You want to be able to execute it in as short a time as possible, so using digital communication is critical.”

The biggest hurdle revolves around whether a particular hue is feasible to achieve with a desired fiber. For instance, cottons cannot be dyed in neon shades, due to issues with colorfastness. Instead, a dyehouse might suggest an alternative that is in the same color family but less fluorescent.

Fashion retailers can take advantage of celebrity red carpet moments and translate trends for consumers.
“How to Get Away with Murder” actress Aja Naomi King opts for a fuchsia satin number at the Vanity Fair Oscars Party. Matt Baron/Shutterstock

High-end designer labels concerned with achieving a particular shade could swap out the fabric choice to enable their vision to come to life, trading polyester for nylon, for example. Natific has a feasibility screening service that can determine within a day whether a dye and color combination will work. However, Bynum explained that the real issues arise when designers do not trust the result and still attempt to match a color that will not work on their chosen fabric, squandering time and money.

“I think what [designers] don’t understand sometimes is that dying isn’t always a perfect science, and I don’t think they understand that certain dyestuffs don’t always adhere from a chemistry standpoint, that you can’t get certain colors on certain fabrications,” Lee said. “I think a lot of them sometimes think that if they can think it or create it in their mind and get it on an Adobe digital sketch, then the reality should be obvious, and that’s not always the case.”

Lee suggests including the color team for a retailer or brand in any color development process, since they can help guide designers through the realistic end result of how a textile will look and also caution against potential pitfalls of a selection.

One way to speed up time to market is by using dyes that already exist rather than creating a new color. However, it is possible to more quickly develop and produce a new hue using a digital standard. The other half of the equation is working with a dyehouse that is equipped to translate this information reliably, leaving out questions of how a completed textile will look compared to digital renderings.

Fashion retailers can take advantage of celebrity red carpet moments and translate trends for consumers.
Rebel Wilson makes an entrance at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Feb. 9 in a bubblegum pink gown. Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock

“I think searching for trendy colors or executing them based on what’s hot today or what’s forecast to be hot in two months, it’s about learning to use technical tools to confirm feasibility and then using competent suppliers to execute quickly,” Bynum said. “And to get you the color that you specify without you having to spend time either flying around the world to look at it or samples being shipped that are going to waste time and money to verify that they’re okay.”

Another time saver in getting product to stores, according to Lee, is retailers’ tendency to hold blanks, or merchandise that is already made and able to be dyed. Rather than waiting for production to use the trend color, these garments can be dyed in the chosen hue. If a company is making a last-minute color addition, a dyehouse might not have the capacity to accommodate the extra job. The vendor can swap out another later run in favor of the time-sensitive goods, enabling the retailer to act on trends.

“When it comes to trends, it’s about speed to market and trying to ascertain how is this trend going to work with our product or how can it be in my product category or my brand and be relevant to us and not look like we’re trying to be somebody else,” Datacolor’s Lee said.

“And understanding that trend isn’t all about an entire garment,” Lee added. “It can be represented in a stripe in a colorway of a shirt or a belt, as long as it can be seen and you feel like you’re getting credit for recognizing that trend for your customer.”