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How I Became… A Trend Forecasting Director at WGSN

From late nights sewing care labels into trousers to running a department at a globally renowned forecasting agency, Jane Monnington Boddy has over 20 years’ experience working in fashion. Here, she shares her career advice.
Source: Courtesy
By
  • Sophie Soar

LONDON, United Kingdom — At the start of her career, Jane Monnington Boddy held design roles at Yves Saint Laurent and Champion Sportswear, was a trend forecaster at Debenhams and launched her own knitwear line. Then, after working as the senior director of forecast at Stylesight for eight years, WGSN acquired the website, taking over 100 percent of its shares in 2013. Since, Boddy has held titles including head of womenswear, swimwear, beauty, swim and intimates at WGSN, embracing data and digital disruption along the way. Today, she is head of colour, with her work informing the global creative industries and the 47,000 active users on WGSN.

What drew you, and held you, to a career in fashion?

I was born in the 1970s and my parents were not into fashion or design, so I didn’t have much [inspiration] available to me in my childhood. But I was inspired by the extreme glamour of fashion in the 1980s — and when I had the opportunity to experience the Elle supplement in the Sunday papers, or buy i-D magazine from my local spa shop — I was intrigued by the cultural aspects of fashion.

I started illustrating at quite a young age, but it wasn’t until I did my art foundation that one of my lecturers said to me, “You could do this as your career.” No one had ever suggested that I could work in fashion before, but she encouraged me to do it, so I enrolled in a fashion degree at UWE.

How did you get your first job in fashion?

Back in the early ‘90s, people were quite innovative with design, and for my final collection I made a dress out of driftwood. When I went to get my first job, that wasn’t really going to get me anywhere. But I also left university with a gigantic portfolio, full of artwork and sketches, and I got my first break working for high street supplier The Fielding Group because they could see I had really good drawing skills.

I have gone from colouring in with Pantone pens to now working in a world of social media and AI.

I’ve always found it easy to come up with ideas — I just needed a little trigger to set me off. Back then, that was what the job was all about. I was constantly meeting different buyers from UK high street brands, I would come up with ideas to inspire the buyers, I would design items and collections and then travel to the Far East to source and sample these items. I spent a lot of time in Asia too, visiting factories and making samples.

I picked up how to source, how to create specs and how to deal with tough people, and, above all else, how to pull everything together and get orders. It gave me a great foundation to the raw side of the industry.

What were the most important lessons you learnt in your first job?

The biggest thing I learnt was to be really adaptable. In my first job, I was working in this warehouse and some trousers came in without the care labels in, so I stayed there until 10pm sewing in the labels. I worked hard because I wanted to do well. I wanted to succeed in my career and I was really passionate about it.

I did however once have a meeting with a buyer from BHS and I wasn’t completely clear on what she had asked me to do. She was a little bit scary and I was too shy to ask her to clarify exactly what she wanted. I went away and worked all night on these designs and when I came back, she said, “No, you’ve got it completely wrong.”

You should not be afraid to double check and ask questions, because by not asking, I wasted a lot of time for everyone in the long run. I should have just stopped and asked in a professional way, “Is this what you want? And if not, can we discuss it?”

How have these experiences as a junior contributed to your success?

Some people look at trend forecasting and think it is a bit esoteric, but my success has come from having grounded experience in the fashion industry. I have worked in the supply chain and at Champion Sportswear, designed at Yves Saint Laurent and worked as a forecaster for Stylesight — it’s given me a really clear understanding of the fashion industry and what the needs of the supplier, the designer and the buyer are.

It’s also about learning how to adapt with the times as well, particularly now at WGSN, things are changing so fast. Throughout my career, I have gone from colouring in with Pantone pens to now working in a world of social media and AI. Whatever age you are, you need to be open-minded and follow the journey the world is going on. I have adapted to the resources that I have and learnt to embrace them.

What challenges have you faced with the impact of digital disruption?

My job has changed a lot with Pinterest and Instagram, blogs and Tumblr, and all these different bombardments of information that we have now. While I must look at all those things and learn how to curate that information, I’m also always a bit sceptical when people come to me with information they’ve sourced from Pinterest or Tumblr because some of those images could have rotated around the Internet for years. It’s about looking at that noise and learning how to channel it, seeing where the newness is and where the real trends are.

We have this mammoth machine of information going on and we will adapt with the way the industry and the world goes.

The roots of trends are very human. With all the movements we have seen throughout history, they are a way of humans expressing themselves. I think that will always remain and will always be grounded in creativity — and now, with all these data resources available to us, we will just use those as a tool to help us express and back up our ideas. We have this mammoth machine of information going on and we have to all try to adapt with the way the industry and the world goes.

How is the role of the trend forecaster changing?

There is a new strain of trend forecasting that has come about. An influencer will post something on social media, like Kylie Jenner will wear something on Instagram, and two days later, you can buy it on Boohoo. Or a girl band will wear lilac and 20,000 people like the post, so then a retailer will want to invest in lilac. It’s a faster pace reaction — it’s a fast-paced fashion — but it is trend forecasting at the end of the day because you are spotting these trends.

A lot of people think it’s a job where you just put nice pictures together. But it’s learning how to get your ideas, how to back them up with hard facts to prove they are relevant and then how to explain those ideas. That is quite a hard thing to do. It is learning how, in a very quick, clear and direct way, to explain an idea.

What do you believe is essential for someone starting a career in the fashion industry?

I’m always looking for someone who is adaptable, with lots of fresh, innovative ideas, and able to work with the brief, not just go for their own personal taste — not everyone can do that. I’ve had some brilliant juniors recently who are very smart and just get stuck in. It’s about rolling your sleeves up and being super helpful. You need to have your eyes completely open to everything, to be able to absorb what is around you so that you can create amazing ideas. You have to have real awareness of what’s happening in the market — loving culture in general — there’s nothing more impressive than someone who knows what’s going on.

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