is colour forecasting ethical?

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Colour Forecasting is big business. What is it? Well, if you search on the internet you may find something like this:

Design firms and retail markets utilize forecasting services to predict trends in color. Color forecasting helps designers (who work a season ahead) what fabrics and styles will be popular in future months or years. Color forecasting resources help predict trends in the fashion industry, and also home home design.

This suggests that colour forecasting predicts which colours will be fashionable in the future; for example, next year. However, I think there is another way to look at it. I am not at all sure that it is a prediction process at all; I prefer to refer to it as a marketing process. This is what happens. A group of people work very hard and have a great deal of expertise and through their activity and global network they produce a ‘prediction’ of what colour will be popular next year. Normally the prediction is not a single colour but a colour palette; but for simplicity let’s assume that it is a single colour and it’s red. The last thing retailers want is stock they cannot sell so they are very keen to find out what the colour forecasters are saying. When they hear that red is going to be popular they make sure that they purchase and stock large amounts of red stuff. Fashion magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Vogue want readers to buy their magazines and want to be seen to be on trend and so they publish story after story about how the next big thing is going to be red. Now think about the consumer. The fashion magazines are full of red and the stores are full of red. What do you think the consumer is going to buy? Can you see why I think the process is more about consumer manipulation than it is about prediction (in the scientific sense)?

Actually, that colour forecasting is not a really a prediction process isn’t even my main gripe. Rather, it is that colour forecasting (and the fashion industry more generally) encourages people to buy more clothes than they need. Do we really need to keep up with the latest fashions? Our consumption of textiles is already unsustainable and we cannot go on behaving as we have done in the past.

One of the final-year students in the School of Design at the University of Leeds is undertaking a research dissertation in this area which I am supervising. She’s running a short questionnaire and needs as many people as possible to complete it. It’s very short; please take a look here.

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