VisioNxt: Trend Insight and Forecasting Lab is the first ever AI and EI enabled forecasting initiative, whose intent has been working towards developing indigenous forecast for India, by India. It is funded by the Ministry of Textiles under their Research & Development scheme to develop an AI-based deep learning model enabled to forecast fashion directions for India.
Over a span of three years, this initiative will create its first ever indigenous forecast for the Indian Fashion & Retail industry. The service is a first of its kind in India. It hopes to interpret Indian tastes and preferences and map fashion aesthetics of the country with an aim to put India on the global map of technology-enabled fashion direction.
The project is expected to benefit a wide range of industries in the area of clothing and textiles apart from helping retailers plan and build their next set of products. Towards this, Dr Shalini Sood Sehgal, Director Creative, VisioNxt and Dr Kaustav SenGupta, Associate Profressor, NIFT Chennai Director- Insights, VisioNxt, launched a trend book 2023-24 at the India Fashion Forum 2023, held at the Conrad, Bengaluru in March.
“When we started the endeavour, we started by trying to understand the whole aspect of machine learning and AI and applying it to fashion trends in India. There was a obviously, an already existing traditional system of forecasting, but we wanted to study real-time trends. In fact, both of us had a lot of learning and re-learning to do and we also took up an AI course in order to really understand where we are heading and how we were going to deal with the kind of complexity it means for us,” said Dr Sehgal.
“Interestingly, today, fashion is not only about garments – from your phone to your car and even your house and interiors, everything needs to be fashionable. So, fashion is not a single industry. We need to study what constitutes today’s consumer, how he thinks, and this is where the idea of other related industries comes in. Fashion retail is not a single industry. It’s a cohesiveness of all these industries together and that is what builds up our aspects of forecasting,” added Dr SenGupta.
VisioNxt has two labs – one in Chennai and one in Delhi. The Chennai lab is where all the insights come in. That’s where the data is collated. Here, data goes through a number of processes, it’s analyzed and insights are derived. The creatives are then churned out in Delhi.
And at VisioNxt, it was not just the humans who had to go through a learning process. Machines were equipped with AI, but these too had to learn to differentiate between different fabrics.
What is a Trend?
To put it simply, a trend is essentially a direction to identify which one requires data points. These data points need deeper insights to decipher and data scientists may need to work with multiple elements like signals, hype (or a fad), mega trends and macro trends.
“We have offices in 16 cities across India and we have 800 human transporters who help us get data and information. Aside from this, we have an inhouse app through which connect all the points of data. Our app certified by the Government of India and so we have access to ethical, informative and ground level data,” explained Dr SenGupta. He went on to say that this is not retail data, sales data or social media data, but instead is real point data, which VisioNxt vets.
“For example, we have been following the trend of ‘gulabi’ colour. Our transporters spotted it in February 2022, before it became a hype. This gulabi became richer, transformed into a ‘rani pink’ and other bright pink tones trend. These shades of pink are being mixed with yellows, whites and grays and people are wearing these colours,” he stated.
He explained that data collected with the VisioNxt app, along with other secondary data points for example data vetted in social media gets collected in VisioNxt’s in-house server, and then moves into the company’s deep learning process. “We call this division. The data is then clustered and analysed and sent back to us and our core team of 40 academicians who are AI experts, 10+ industry experts on board who are key advisors as well as a dedicated team of workers and transporters. We then finally analyse and forecast this data. Not the machine, because a machine cannot predict. It can only give a simplified version of data, statistics if you may.”
“When we were following the gulabi story the data from all over the country, we could see the color palette moving towards the palette of red. So now we know what India is wearing on a day-to-day basis, we are getting signals on how people are thinking. So, how does the app do this? Let’s say for example that we get a signal of a shoelace in rainbow colours, we immediately broadcast this to our transporters to ask them if they see something like this across the country. We get immediate answers on whether Indians are reacting to this trend, if they are reacting, what is the manner in which they are reacting? This is how we collate data and understand trends across the length and width of the country,” elucidated Dr Shalini.
VisioNxt Data: Usefulness for Retailers
Dr SenGupta says that their trend bytes go to their users every month in a PDF document. This could be a mindset which is emerging or a trend which is taking root. Retailers can use this for a in their business strategies, to build a quick hype in their markets.
“We don’t really wait for seasons, because seasons have all but vanished in fashion retail. We also don’t believe that there is something like structured ethnic wear or western wear. We simply wait for directions from trends and this is what we publish in our reports, which are out every four to six months,” he said.
VisioNxt’s Mindset Book
- VisioNxt has already published 52 reports, which are available online on their website.
- Aside from this, they have published a mindset book as well as a trend book. This is a glimpse of the rapidly evolving customer landscape which is very important for business strategies, product strategies.
- The mindset book explains signal sets which tell retailers what are the emerging trends of the moment. It also covers multiple industries, which may be directly related to changing fashion trends.
- VisioNxt also imparts information on the kind of age groups, genders that these trends affect – thus bringing a broader mindset into its fold.
- The company has organized its entire data into evening wear, festival wear and street wear, while also looking at a broader colour palette and coordinating this palette with other colours.
VisioNxt, whose parent company is NIFT, prides itself on using Indian names for its colour palette. So, for them, colours mean Rani Pink and Bengal Gulab, not Lily white. Aside from the fact that they are proud to be Indian, these names have a far wider reach and connect, resonating especially with retailers and consumers in Tier III and beyond.