Jacqui Ma

...WGSN Senior Trend Editor, "Not enough intellectual discussion goes on about fashion because it is typecast as being frivolous."

by Mariel Reed
Jacqui Ma, is Senior Trend Editor at WGSN. Her degrees in business and industrial design respectively from University of Canberra in Australia and Les Ateliers in Paris have given her an alternative view into the world of fashion. Jacqui has designed products for Microsoft and Nokia. More recently, she extended her design sensibilities and made the transition into accessories, as a luggage designer for a collaboration at Debenhams and as the senior accessories designer for Puma International. She talks about how she feels like a guest in the industry, being more fascinated and wowed by materials, details and form. Excited about WGSN's recent partnership with NJAL, she says, "This is a match made in heaven! WGSN has always been dedicated to fostering future talent and NOT JUST A LABEL is a global hub of creativity. WGSN is all about saving time and reducing risk and this aligns perfectly with NJAL's digital platform, connecting consumers directly to designers. This is an exciting partnership with great potential for both parties".

You are Senior Trend Editor at WGSN, however your background is in industrial design. With Dior’s appointment of Raf Simons, who also studied industrial design, as Creative Director, do you foresee this field having a particularly heavy impact on the fashion industry—more so than it already has?

I feel that not having studied fashion, I am slightly more removed from the more dog-eat-dog side of the industry and sometimes I feel like a guest in this industry. I am more fascinated and wowed by the materials, details, and form, and can look at objects from a distance, for example I can absolutely love a pair of shoes or a piece of jewellery that I know I would never wear myself. I feel that the design and fashion industries are interchangeable. The industrial design community could also benefit from some hardcore fashionistas to balance the sometimes dry engineering side of things. In industrial design school we learn about ergonomics, engineering and functionality, and these things are always present in fashion. I think throughout time there have been architects that design shoes, and artists who design jewellery, so this is not new. The important thing is not to see those invisible boundaries yourself and therefore not feel limited to a specific industry. A designer is a designer.

What is one of the greatest challenges of working in the accessories industry? Any wise words for young designers?

Accessories are just that… accessories. So it is important to look at the wider context. When you are designing a piece of jewellery, it is very much about looking at the entire outfit – the neckline, the silhouette, the textures, materials and colours that are already going on. My advice to young designers is to do lots of research so they can feel confident about their ideas. Try to be unique but also balance that with commerciality. Try to get as much work experience as possible and if you can, don’t worry about the appalling pay, because it will pay off later.

Accessories have largely been dominated by brand names as status symbols, but Antoine Arnault of LVMH recently declared ‘the end of the bling culture’. How have you seen this play out? Do you see a change in how consumers are approaching accessories? What does a young designer have to do to compete with the big names?

Young designers without big brands behind them are in a very good position at the moment. We are in a time where word spreads so virally through blogs and word of mouth that it is sometimes the big brands that are actually suffering. People are not only buying products more and more through channels like etsy and pintrest, but people are becoming wise to the actual worth of products, extending way beyond the brand. ‘Bling’ is still big and actually we are seeing a resurgence of ultra bling accessories – gold, crystals and logos, but not in a traditional way. For young designers this means that it is even more important to have at least a vague career plan. If you want to work for Burberry, then work backwards to figure out what you should be doing now in order to get to that point in the future. If you would like to have your own brand, just be prepared to work hard and do it for the love of it, not for the money. One of the best quotes I ever heard was someone asking Lulu Guinness what her advice is for young people planning to start their own business. Her answer was, ‘don’t do it’. I don’t think this was literal advice, but just that you need to be seriously realistic about how much hard work it is going to be for a very long time.

Does this kind of change come from within the industry, or from the consumers?

It is definitely a symbiotic relationship. Catwalk designers are often inspired by street fashion – which we call a ‘trickle up’ process. That is why at WGSN we look at everything from music, obscure artists, festival culture, politics and technology in relation to fashion. With the power of crowd-sourcing, which has been enabled by technology, the consumer's voice is more powerful than ever.

What is the role of artisanship in the footwear and accessories sectors. With so little manufacturing left in the UK, what can be done to bring English artisans back into the spotlight?

The artisan footwear designer has a harder time than the artisan accessories designer, I feel. Shoes have to fit all different size feet so you cannot just make a one-off here and there like a bag maker can do.

As a trend forecaster, where is the best place to conduct your research?

Gathering primary research is great. Talking to people, taking photos on the street and going to exhibitions is amazing. I am always suspicious of young designers or interns who, when asked where they do their research answer “on the Internet”. The Internet is becoming increasingly excellent for research but it cannot and should not replace real life research. There are always stories behind products and the stories are part of the trends, not just the physical products themselves. It's hard to get all that excited about a photo of a product on a screen, but when you can touch something, try it on, smell it and bend it, the passion and inspiration comes to life. However, research is not just all about the gathering side, it is also about the analysis. You must ask yourself, ‘Why do I think that works? Why is that new? Why am I seeing lots of tassles? Is it a move-on from fringing, or is it from somewhere else altogether?” Make statements about your opinions and believe in them with conviction and then you will be able to influence and discuss them with other people. Just like some people talk endlessly about politics, fashion can be the centre of some very interesting and worthwhile debate. Not enough intellectual discussion goes on about fashion because it is typecast as being frivolous.

WGSN is the world’s most trusted source for fashion information. What, in your eyes, is the best service you offer?

For designers, WGSN offers lots of raw inspiration. I personally find the thousands of street shots really inspiring because they show how real people interpret trends and play them out in their outfits. I love doing street shots myself when I get the chance and I would never turn down anyone asking to take a photo of me on the street because it is a really valuable thing to do. It makes you really look at people in a certain way. However, our Macro trends are something very close to my heart. I am very involved in how we develop our three macro trends each season. Having witnessed this intensely creative process, I have full confidence that it is a great way to look at future trends because ultimately you are trying to predict the future and in order to do this you need to look a wide variety of influences, which is what we do. I have been working at WGSN for over 4 years now, so that is 8 seasons, and this has been long enough for me to see with my own eyes how spot on we can actually get it and it still surprises and amazes me.

What has been your biggest triumph at WGSN?

It has been launching the WGSN tumblr blog in February of this year. The idea behind it was to offer a continuous and free stream of inspiration to everyone, not just to our paid subscribers. This allows us to post immediately and continuously, wherever we are around the world, whether it be a tradeshow, fashion week or festival. We have an amazing team of contributors who all do it for the love of it. It is extra special to work with such inspiring and motivated people.

What is one trend you would have placed all your money on in a bet?

In hindsight, I would place all my money on Wayfarers being so massive. Right now, I would put some money on mirrored metallics as a material for accessories and footwear for both men and women, and the return of the baseball cap!