How to conduct effective market research for fashion

Are people buying more long-lasting, durable and luxury items in the name of sustainability? How big is the opportunity in second-hand clothes—and how does this affect spending in regular retail stores? Is Gen Z really not buying skinny jeans anymore—and have they scared millennials out of doing that too?

Questions like these keep everyone in the fashion industry up at night, in every part of the supply chain. Designers are frantically scrambling hints on social media to find out whether or not florals for spring are groundbreaking again, marketers are trying to find the next influencer that their target group will love, and commercial leaders are contemplating whether or not the latest fashion trend is a money spinner.

Fashion models walking on a runway in headscarves and long flowing clothes.

The fashion market is less unpredictable than it seems—and we’re not talking about low rise jeans from the 90s coming back to haunt us two decades later. If fashion professionals dive into research and get to know their target market as if they were their best friends, it’s very possible to create a proactive strategy for your fashion brand, as opposed to a reactive one. 

But where do you start looking? What sources should you combine, what questions need to be asked, and how can you effectively use all that data?

In this article, we’ll dive into the art of performing market research in the fashion business. This knowledge will be useful for not only brand managers, marketers and insights professionals, but anyone who wants to get ahead of the game by getting in the head of their customers. The right fashion market research tools can help you to:

  • Identify golden opportunities in the market
  • Spot emerging trends before your competitors
  • Understand what your target market is looking for- sometimes before they’re looking for it
  • Inform your overall fashion marketing plans, even in the face of fast-moving trends.

Defining fashion market research

Fashion market research is all about understanding what your target group wants, and will want in the future. From their spending patterns to the effectiveness of campaigns, fashion market research and market trend analysis covers everything that helps you uncover business opportunities for the next season—and many more after. 

The goals of fashion market research vary. A brand that’s getting ready for their first collection to drop might want to look into how big the potential is for their future market share, to decide whether it’s worth it or not to go live. 

But even big players, from Inditex to Chanel, are constantly keeping an eye on their target market. Reasons for them to perform market research are to gain insights into how different customer segments react to trends in the market and certain marketing strategies. They also try to gain insight into how much consumers spend on certain items, to identify areas for growth and new markets. They might even discover a new customer segment to tap into while they’re at it.

Long-term market research in the fashion business is all about collecting data that will help a brand understand how to beat the competition, simply by connecting with their customers better and creating new products they can’t resist buying. 

In the short term, fashion brands can perform research to measure the effectiveness of campaigns and commercials, or to gauge how successful a new line has been. 

A table covered in different issues of Vogue magazine, with Rihanna in focus on one cover.

4 reasons why market research in the fashion industry is important

Market research is important in any industry where there’s even the tiniest bit of competition—and the fashion industry especially is one that really depends on it. Here are four reasons why market research is vital for brands and businesses who want to thrive.

Philosophy aside: influencers have a huge, well, influence on the fashion market. In all types of market, they are directly impacting buying decisions. And it’s not just fashion bloggers—anyone with a decent following, can alter the way people shop. Just take the show Love Island, where winners get rewarded by having their ‘own’ clothing line on ASOS. And it’s become incredibly easy to shop items that were worn on the show. 

But it’s not just runways and social media trends that impact the fashion industry. Take the pandemic: after years of being on the rise, both online and brick and mortar fashion stores saw a dramatic drop in sales, one they’re still recovering from. The ways people shop have changed, and it’s up to brands to figure this out and react cleverly.

Plus, consumers getting more eco-friendly and more resistant to fast fashion, and a call for more inclusive clothing across genders and sizes, will also inevitably leave its mark on the fashion industry.

Reason 2: Target groups vary a lot

Fashionistas who grew up buying Primark and loving every second of the experience fast fashion affords, might have turned into environmentally conscious shoppers who are only interested in bespoke pieces, or who shop mostly on second-hand apps like Depop or Vinted.  

The moral of the story? Your current customers could shop elsewhere tomorrow. The fashion industry serves dozens, if not hundreds of customer groups in which consumers fall. It’s crucial to get to know them as well as you can, to keep them interested for long enough.

A main street lined with palm trees and fashion brands like Dolce & Gabbana.

Reason 3: The market is highly competitive. 

There are too many brands and stores to count, but together they make up for a value of $3,000 billion (3 trillion dollars!), which is 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It’s not uncommon for busy shopping streets to have multiple stores of the same brand, a stone’s throw away from the next one all within seconds’ walking distance from each other. If that doesn’t tell you everything about how highly competitive the market is, we don’t know what will.

Add the e-commerce part of the industry to that, in which brands can almost pop up and go as they please, and you find yourself in one of the most competitive industries on the globe.

Reason 4: It’ll help you bond with your target group

Last but not least: market research can be a sneaky yet smart way to connect with your target group. 

Especially when done on a large scale, for instance by online surveys that are rewarded with some sort of discount code, brands can reap extra benefits from asking their customers some quick questions. You can ask them about styles and certain products, but also test out if they’ve seen your recent ads and what they thought of it.

Secondary and primary sources for fashion market research

With the fashion industry being so big both offline and online, it can be hard to find data that really represents the part of the market that’s relevant to you. A fashion business that focuses on sustainability is less interested in what’s happening in market segments such as luxury brands and designer apparel, but in the big picture, all fashion data is often thrown in together. 

If you want your research to remain relevant, you’ll have to collect reliable data by combining both primary and secondary research. 

Let’s look at some sources you can gather information from that will help you make confident decisions. 

Primary sources

Information that comes straight off the rack comes directly from consumers, or even from store owners, depending on what you need. Here are some ways you can perform primary market research in the fashion industry:

  • Online surveys: the more you know, the better. Online surveys are great for that, but you’ll want to ask the right people. You can use it to test out campaign ideas, make more accurate consumer profiles, track your brand health or analyse the trends in the industry.
  • Focus groups: whether it’s with designers, buyers, suppliers, independent store managers or anyone else in the industry—sometimes the most valuable information comes out of a conversation between peers, rather than from market research reports. Determine what your topic is, and let the focus groups brainstorm—you never know what you’ll learn. 
  • Interviews: this could be interesting to do, for instance when you’re looking into a new customer segment. Sit some of your potential customers down and find out how you can convince them to buy from you. 
  • Test marketing: with a/b testing, brands can easily test out if certain campaigns—or even certain products—will be in demand. Create a mock-up campaign and launch it. Does it get a lot of traffic? Then it could be worth pursuing!

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Secondary sources

If you’re looking for numbers like annual spend, market size, growth numbers and price developments, dive into secondary research. There are countless government statistics out there, and even other fashion brands who will make it easier by publishing their own reports. 

How to conduct fashion market research like a pro

Like any type of market analysis, fashion research should always be tailored—pun intended!—to the goal you’re trying to achieve. We’ll quickly walk you through the steps of conducting market research effectively.

Step one: Define your objective

On one hand, you could just dive into all the secondary research you can find to see if there’s something worth focusing on. But that could be disappointing, not to mention incredibly time-consuming—think needles and haystacks. 

Instead, flip it around. What is the goal your company has? What are you curious about, specifically? Then, work backwards and find the information you need to achieve that goal or answer that question.

Step two: Find the right sources and tools

Like we mentioned earlier, informed decisions are often made on a mix of information. Determine how you’ll gain insights and what sources you will gather information from, before you frantically start looking.

Also, when working with a survey or anything like that for the primary research part, make sure you have it ready and checked by everyone involved before launch, so you don’t get the results back and realise you missed an important question. 

With Attest you can launch your first survey for free.

Step three: Analyse your insights

Start off this step by organising all the data you’ve gathered. You want to draw conclusions from the big picture, not from something that coincidentally was highlighted along the way. 

Step four: Implement!

Market research should be done to not just gain insights, but to take action. If you use it to formulate a marketing plan, make sure it gets implemented. If you use it to get more insights about consumer behaviour, ask sales and marketing how they plan to use this information.

Step five: Keep checking in

Depending on the type and length of the research, make sure to follow up with both the results and the way it was implemented. 

Rack of fashionable clothes designed by a small business owner.

Get fashion market insights and data with Attest

If you’re looking for a reliable way to reach a lot of people at the same time, who fit your target group specifics to a T—use Attest. 

Whether you’re an established brand looking to track your brand health or a fashion start up still creating a consumer profile, we’ve got you covered: you get access to 125 million people across 58 countries and can use our filters and quotas to make it as niche as you need.

Fashion industry market research FAQs

1. What is fashion market research? 

Fashion market research looks into consumer behavior and market trends in the fashion industry. It’s used to inform decisions about anything that matters to a fashion brand: from the next collection to the next commercial. Attest is here to make fashion market research easy.

2. Who should be conducting fashion market research?

Who shouldn’t? Everyone working in the fashion industry who is involved in growing a brand, is helped by doing research: designers, brand managers, influencers and store owners.

3. What types of primary research are most appropriate for fashion market research?

Online surveys are a great way to reach a big pool of people and ask them highly specific questions in a way that enables them to answer honestly. With our Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) template, gathering real consumer insights has never been easier.

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Nikos Nikolaidis

Senior Customer Research Manager 

Nikos joined Attest in 2019, with a strong background in psychology and market research. As part of Customer Research Team, Nikos focuses on helping brands uncover insights to achieve their objectives and open new opportunities for growth.

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