How to Make Trendspotting Your Superpower! How to Spot and Anticipate Trends

4 Tips to Spot and Use Trends in Your Handmade Business

Answer: Farmhouse, Nordic Minimalism, Color Blocking, Rainbows. With Mid Century Modern coming up strong. It’s a quick answer to what’s trending this year, but there are reasons behind it that make those answers a pretty safe bet. Having this knowledge in advance is critical because, as a small maker, you need to sell what you make. You can’t afford to create products that no one wants. You need to know what’s on-trend, what’s trending a season in advance. Big businesses spend thousands on researching, marketing, and promoting seasonal campaigns. Being able to leverage that desire for your small business can make all the difference between a successful sales season and not. So how does a small maker do it without the resources and research dollars? After years of product development, I’ve learned there are ways to predict and know the lifespan of trends. So here are 4 tips for the small maker on how to spot and use trends, as well as the timeline of trends.

My 4 Tips to Spot and Use Trends to Make Sales in Your Crafts Business.

Tip #1: Do research Online and Offline.

Online

It helps to expose yourself to what’s popular in your area of interest.

My go-tos for online research are Pinterest, blogs, Facebook groups, and Instagram. What images are people sharing on Facebook and double tapping on Instagram? Pay attention. A quick tip is to use an app like Feedly. Feedly gives you a survey of the latest posts from popular blogs in your areas of interest. But do take the time to find blogs that are the most trendsetting and popular in your area of interest. These are owned by influencers that can often spot a trend at least a year before others in their field. You can also google Etsy 2020 trend report.

Offline

The small niche boutique stores near you are great places to look because they are geographically local, and if you sell offline, they have the same customer base as you.

They are also small enough that they can pivot quickly once they identify a trend and get it in stock. Larger retail stores have a much slower pivot.

These big businesses have to plan a lot farther out because their timeline has a lot more steps and involves large quantities. In order to get their goods designed, mass-produced, and distributed in time for a specific season they often have to decide on their collections over a year in advance.

This also means that they will spend a lot of advertising dollars making sure that what they bet on is what their consumers want. This is awesome for you. You can spot a trend today and have something on the table at your craft show this weekend. AND the big businesses are helping fuel the trends you’re ready to capitalize on.

Other Resources to Know.

Another easy resource to mine for information is the print media in your niche. They sell trends every day. Because of the time it takes to publish print, their editors and contributors are often looking for trends months and years in advance of the general public. You can leverage their experience and use it to develop your products. Just a caveat here, when I was writing for art and craft magazines what I made was often a year or two out from becoming a mature trend. Large market magazines like Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart are usually reporting what’s on-trend now.

The Take-Away for Tip #1.

What the small maker needs to know is that by researching online you can spot early trend influencers (especially in the UK and Netherlands). And offline you can do geographic-specific research by window shopping in local trendy and affluent areas. As well as just paging through magazines at your local bookstore.

Another tip is to go to the sources your client goes to. If your typical buyer is a Target shopper, make sure you know what Target is promoting. This research will give you valuable insights you need when developing products your customers are already primed to want. 

A trends case study- Unicorns and Rainbows

Tip #2: Every Trend has a Lifespan- Know the Timing.

We’ve all seen major trends of the past come and go. After all, “everything old is new again.” Nostalgia is an emotion that can motivate purchasing. Quick example: I just found a sheet of those prism stickers, with my name on them, from the 1980’s. It’s all unicorns and rainbows. I still totally love them. Not only am I a sucker for the trend myself, but I’m standing in the aisle at Target trying to think of a reason to buy unicorn things. And don’t get me started on the Blockbuster and Trapper Keeper games I saw in the toy section. They may say on the box that the games are for kids but we all know who’s purchasing power the game makers are trying to tap with those blasts from the past. 🙂

Another element of timing to consider is the seasons. For instance, a trend we might start to see one Chistmas could potentially have a lifespan of several Christmas seasons. Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern:

  • The first season of a trend is building exposure.
  • The second season is planned introduction.
  • The third year is full saturation.
  • The fourth is a lingering exploitation.

As small makers we can recognize that the consumer has been exposed to a trend on a large scale and are now primed for purchase without our doing any marketing at all, but we have to be prepared with products that can capitalize on the trend. Does every trend follow that schedule? No, some are much more limited and don’t necessarily mature to “major” status. Looking at the other considerations below help us to discern the probability of this happening.

Who purchases when?

Keep in mind that not all areas of the world are in the same place at the same time. So what may be the fifth or even sixth year in your corner of the world may be a new trend elsewhere. That’s why looking to the UK and the Netherlands works.

What consumer purchases at which time is based on how exposed they are to different sources. This was a lot more marked before the internet. Trends spread much more quickly. But a typical trend progression geographically is Europe, then the US, then Australia. I’m not sure about areas of the world and can’t speak to them.

Another trend progression is High Fashion to Architecture to Home Decor. And we’ll typically see it go from high price point items to lower mass-market items. This is how Target was able to rock the discount store model. Instead of trying to be the low price leader they sought to capture the budget-conscious who were also trend-conscious. They worked with high fashion designers to create exclusive lines that gave everyone their champagne on a beer budget and then added a sense of scarcity. Suddenly everyone was rushing to Target for rain boots designed by “Liberty of London for Target”. Boom! Mic drop! They changed everything.

The Take Away for Tip #2.

Large companies like Target pay big money for trend analysis and focus group testing. These agencies were with marketers who are then responsible for the large campaigns that use the trend and push it from a small niche group to a large national exposure. Again, using millions to do market research.

So pay attention to what they’re telling you. I can walk into Hobby Lobby last July and tell you that they were banking on Farmhouse, Black and White, Nordic Minimalism, and Mid Century/Nostalgia being big trends this last Christmas because that’s what they had in their aisles. Next year we’ll see a shift. Less of the Farmhouse, and more of the Minimalism or Mid-Century Modern palette and style elements.

Black and White Buffalo Check Trend
Black and White Buffalo Check is IN.

Tip #3: See the possible combinations

To stay fresh, trends can take a bit of a sideways pivot for each year they’re strong. This can extend the life of a trend far beyond the “four years cycle” that is most prominent in the seasonal trends. An example is the buffalo-check plaid that’s been big the last several years. It started as plaids, then it pivoted and refined into a more specific red and black buffalo checks. Last year I predicted we would start to see it changing again into the white and black buffalo checks and it absolutely has. I’m not awesome, it just all follows a pattern and makes sense when you think about the different influences.

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” That works for spotting and anticipating trends as well.

Gnome Christmas Wreath | 4 Tips to Identify and Anticipate Trends
I LOVE this hanging with my gnomies wreath inspired by Whipperberry.

A Pivot from Elf to Gnome.

Another fun niche of the Nordic Minimalism is the prevalence of gnomes in Christmas decor. This also makes sense because the elf on the shelf is frankly looking a little worn. We saw a couple of big budget animated movies featuring gnomes, AND they’re a whimsical side of the magical and fantastical about Christmas. How to make a DIY Farmhouse Gnome from Dollar Store Supplies has over 55k views since it was published in August. Boom. The gnome wreath in the pic above is one that I made after I saw a post on Whipperberry. I usually don’t make other people’s designs but this one was SO CUTE I ran right out to get the materials and then made it. I had to have it. That’s what you want your customers to experience.

What caused the changes?

I think if you look at popular décor trends, you’ll see that there was a strong exposure to the farmhouse trend, the Nordic aesthetic (and cultural mindset of hygge and lagom), as well as a growing trend towards minimalism over the last couple of seasons. If you factor in the knowledge that chalkboards (black and white) were so huge for years, trendsetters could make a strong prediction that this year, black and white for Christmas would appeal to their consumers. The year before last, there were some early hints of that trend, but last this year, we saw a major on-trend niche line at Target – Hearth and Home by Magnolia, introducing black and white ornaments. That was a total clue that this year we would see more of both the black and white and the minimalism.

The Take- Away for Tip #3.

If it hits mass market does this mean the trend is unusable for the small maker? No, but what the small maker needs to know is that, because of our cultural influences, the odds are we will see a major retail campaign expansion of this trend next year. If this happens, the trend will likely follow the entire timetable I mentioned above. For instance, last spring the whole blog world was abuzz with the Marie-Kondo-championed minimalist movement (which has the force and reach of a media giant like Netflix promoting it). That will add momentum to the Nordic Minimalism trend.

Tip #4: Take a fresh look at the product design elements

When we create products, we make some large design decisions – like what kind of materials to use, what size to make the product, what form to make the product, and what colors to choose. These all trend.

For instance, wood has been a major design decision we’ve seen for years.  We see it representing “fresh and clean” in spaces like the Apple store’s use of maple and poplar, but also in the special occasion décor (weddings) and then in the more widespread rustic home décor trend. If you look at wood in commercial design you’ll see that big retailers like Target and Starbucks are using darker walnut wood (horizontally) in their exterior design. They specifically want their stores to look up to date on trend for the next several years. So they’re going with what they feel is going to be the next big trend. What the small maker needs to know is that darker woods like walnut are increasingly being used. And often paired with galvanized metal accents to keep the trend fresh. The farmhouse trend is a huge influence on this morphing.

Another material trend is the handmade white, matte ceramics you’ll notice appearing online and in stores. This is (you guessed it) another natural outcrop of the farmhouse, minimalist trends combining with a handmade trend that has been gaining momentum for the last decade. Fiber is another material we’re seeing more of, and in the fabric world burlap is dead and cotton duck canvas is now reigning.

Colors are easy to keep a pulse on, just by being aware of the influence design companies like Pantone have on our color choices. A tip here is to realize that the bolder the color the better it is suited in small, easily changeable elements. People are much more likely to purchase emerald throw pillows then they are to embrace it as the color for their living room walls. So look to neutrals for large pieces.

How to Use this Power For Good.

So these are my 4 tips to spot and use trends. I hope that it helps you as you create products both for this year and the next several. Even if you aren’t a small maker though, being aware of how these trends work and the machine that goes into identifying and promoting them is interesting. It may also influence your gift buying and decorating by making you more confident in what you’re purchasing for yourself and others.

So look at the major trends you see now, factor in current societal influences, and try to imagine how it might “pivot” into a new direction, as well as how different trends might overlap. These insights will make your work seem fresh and on-trend without any additional work on your part. It will also mean your customers will want what you create from the moment they spot your work, no selling or convincing required on your part. It’s really kind of beautiful.

For more inspiration…

Just a word of caution: knowing all this doesn’t guarantee a successful product. For more on what else to consider when doing product development for your small crafts business check out my Cheatsheet for Product Development. Also, I would love to know if you have other tips or considerations to share!

Love this? Share it!

If you found this post helpful I would LOVE to have you share it on social media, on your Pinterest Board, or over coffee with a friend. It really helps me to grow my audience. And THANK YOU from the bottom of my trend loving heart for taking the time to read this today!

wellcraftedtstudio | Jen Swift

Want to Remember these 4 Tips to Spot and Use Trends in Your Small Business?

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2 thoughts on “4 Tips to Spot and Use Trends in Your Handmade Business”

  1. Excellent information! It would have really helped back in the day but I never thought about such things. I just wanted to make pretty, according to my tastes:$

    1. Thanks Mom!!! You should make things you like and think are pretty. This is just additional info to help someone tweak a product a certain way or to help them make design decisions. ❤️ Love you!

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