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Business & Economy

Interview: Booking the trend

When Jo Feeley picked up a creative industries honour at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards late last year, she could have been forgiven for pondering whether she’ll collect the accolade in two years’ time. After all, it is her job. TrendBible, her Newcastle-based trend forecasting creation, fashioned from experiences in both the UK and US, stands on the brink of becoming the most influential player in its field, while also acting as material proof companies can recover and thrive from pandemic-related depths of despair. Jo’s MyTrendBible guide to the future of the home was launched online a year ago, with the aim of securing 30 subscriptions in a year. It gained 36 companies in just three months, with its client list including stellar names such as Lego, Samsung and Valspar. Here, she tells her fascinating transatlantic tale to Colin Young.


Jo Feeley was five-years-old when she started cutting and sticking from fashion magazines.

She’d wait patiently for mum Anne to finish with her bi-annual Laura Ashley catalogue and, with her permission, literally cut the luscious pages to ribbons.

“I loved to cut and stick,” says Jo.

“I was very creative as a child, always drawing, writing and playing imagination games; I was just naturally creative.

“I’d cut out swatches and make them into little outfits and lampshades, and create little room sets too.

“My dad’s quite creative, he’s a builder, and my parents have developed and refurbished houses, so there was always an interest in paint, colours and decor.

“But this belonged to me, rather than something I’d seen anywhere else.

“The more I think about it, the more I think it was inherent in me to be drawn in.”

The hamlet of Gunnerton, near Hexham, is not exactly renowned for nurturing such extraordinary creative talent, but that was never going to deter Jo, now 47, even if it took her until her late teens to discover a path into the fashion industry even existed.

Inspired by The Clothes Show, the late 1980s BBC programme hosted by Jeff Banks, Selina Scott and Caryn Franklin, and dedicated to latest trends, Jo continued her designs at home, and was encouraged to present a project on fashion for her A-level graphic design course.

She says: “I had a brilliant teacher, who was really pivotal in helping me with research and illustrations, and giving me the permission to think this was a route into a world I thought was just a hobby or a chance to look nice.

“There was a local girl called Gemma, who I heard about but never met, who also went into the local arts shop for supplies, and the owner told me she was studying fashion at Kingston University, and that maybe I could think about that.

“It was, and still is, one of the best in the country and I managed to get in.

“Gemma was always this mythical creature, and eventually I did work experience with her when she worked for Topshop.

“I was massively inspired, and could see this path from the North East into a career in fashion.”

After her foundation course in art and design at Newcastle College, at Kingston Jo quickly swapped to menswear from the over-populated womenswear module and in her final year, made the brave decision to look for work in New York.

“I used my grant on flights to see a recruitment agent,” she recalls vividly.

“I didn’t tell my parents until I booked the tickets because I knew they’d go crazy.

“I should’ve spent the Easter holidays finishing my projects instead of jumping on a flight, but I was in a class of 28 students, one of the best courses in the country, and there were high-flying fashion designers being headhunted as couturiers in Paris.

“I wasn’t one of those and I knew it.

“I could’ve gone to London, but I wanted to see more of the world, and two people from Sunderland, who went to Kingston, had an apartment in New York and I slept on their sofa.

“I arrived the night before, saw the agent the next day, she arranged an interview that afternoon, they offered me a job, told me to get my degree and they’d pay for my visa.

“And after finishing my degree, I lived and worked as a fashion designer in New York for about a year-and-a-half.

“People were showing me it was possible; they were laying breadcrumbs and I tried to pick up the bits that resonated with me.

“My job now is to make sure, as an entrepreneur or business leader, that I can put those pebbles down so young people in the North East can see what track you can take.

“I spend a lot of time signposting careers, because youngsters really don’t know what we’ve got on the doorstep in the creative world.”

Jo joined American Eagle Outfitters, and while her time in the Big Apple was not without its trials and tribulations, it was well spent, filling a void and presenting an itch – called the world of forecasting – that Jo kept scratching.

She says: “I said yes straight away because it seemed a brilliant opportunity, but I didn’t really think about living in New York.

“All I could afford was a terrible, cheap hotel; the TV blew up in the room, the fire brigade had to come out.

“It was near Times Square, where no real New Yorker would live, but after four months, I lived in the Webster Apartments, a renowned safety base for working British females.

“You learn everyone runs to New York for a reason; I heard interesting stories from women from so many different backgrounds and cultures, and I’ve remained friends with many of them.

“I was designing men’s t-shirts, socks, hoodies and, from accepting the job in April, they grew 300 per cent that year.

“But it was not the pace I wanted to work at.

“I wanted to be active and busy, but I got bored quickly and wanted to push on.

“I had a commercial eye and loved the front end of the process like colour and mood boards, and understanding the consumer and what they wanted next.

“It was not until second year I realised that is a job and what trend forecasters do; they figure out where the market is going, and designers use that information to develop their ideas.

“When I got bored, I started doing mood boards and one day my boss said he knew I wanted to be a trend forecaster, but couldn’t pay me to do that.

“But, if I wanted to do it in my spare time…

“That was all I needed, and I stayed all hours after the day job and came back from America with two portfolios; trend forecasting and fashion designer.”

Jo returned in 2000 and headed for London, where a design director at Topman gave her an internship before she was appointed menswear designer at Racing Green – back then the quintessentially middle-England brand of the Burton/Arcadia Group.


Jo admits she was not expected to survive, but the role at the heart of one of Britain’s leading fashion retailers allowed her to delve into trend forecasting.

And with only around 200 jobs across the globe, the former Queen Elizabeth’s High School pupil helped set the trend to become a trendsetter.

She says: “It was at least a couple of stops above where I was career-wise, and some people thought I couldn’t do it – I did too.

“It was quite a daunting job, but I thought I’d take it and learn. And I learned. A lot.

“I did the two jobs, moved around the group, a trend forecaster’s job came up, which was such a rare opportunity, and I joined a small agency called Bureaux, in London.

“It was a good jump, but I was determined to do it and spent three or four years with them, forecasting trends for designers and travelling the world. I loved it.

“But it was heavy work, a lot of travel, really exhausting and just not sustainable for me, especially in the London agency culture.

“I left in 2005, saved three grand, came back to the North East and – against the advice of some colleagues who said you need to be in London, Paris or New York to work in trend forecasting – set up as a freelancer in my flat in Fenham.

“The world was starting to become more digitised, and you could present remotely, which of course has changed hugely now, but I’d no intention of turning it into a business.”

Among her early clients was Tesco, and the supermarket giant soon made the most of Jo’s expertise, expanding her role across a range of products and markets, including the food section and a prediction that a new TV show called The Great British Bake Off might lead to a surge in home baking…

After meeting chef Simon Walsh, once of Tynemouth’s Longsands Fish Kitchen and Close House fame, the couple had their first child, Aidan.

And, without the backing of maternity rights, as a freelance, the work dried up.

So Jo began teaching at Cleveland College of Art and Design and Northumbria University to fund her next project – the creation of a trend forecaster’s bible for companies.

It was back to cutting and sticking for the creation of an A4-sized booklet, and a return to New York.

“I wanted my own agency, but I needed a product that would sell and give me time to do other stuff and earn a living.

“That’s where the idea of TrendBible came from; a physical document I created and sold.

“I had an unpaid intern, and we’d sit on the spare room floor in my tiny Tyneside flat cutting up swatches and making this tangible product. It was like being five again.

“As my dad says, I’ve made a career out of cut and stick.

“It cost me £500 to get a minimum order of 50 printed, and when they landed at my flat I remember thinking, ‘I’ve created these and don’t know how to sell them’, so I took some funding from the Department for International Trade, got on a flight to New York, and took it to agents who sell trend books.

“My competitors made excellent trend books, with whole teams of people from London and Paris.

“I tipped up with mine and they said, ‘well, it’s not very good’. And it wasn’t.

“I did sell two to Target and JC Penney, and thought if two US supermarkets want this, there is something in it.

“I took the feedback, came back to make it better and season-on-season improved the product.

“In the second year, we sold 13 and then 30-odd…”

As more companies signed up for their MyTrendBible subscription, so the company continued to expand and develop, with Jo winning North East Woman Entrepreneur of the Year five years ago.

At the beginning of 2020, the firm secured a new deal with a Chinese company, just weeks after celebrating reaching £1 million turnover.

And then along came COVID-19 – a black swan event very few in the industry predicted could have such a devastating and long-lasting impact on the entire planet.

Jo, who has a second son, Cameron, seven, says: “I have a picture from February 2020 with confetti cannons, cake and all the staff. We’d just signed a three-year deal with a Chinese company.

“We’d been out there and knew something was happening – and then it unfolded so quickly.

“We lost 80 per cent of the business and furloughed 20 staff, apart from me and the sales guy.

“I had no choice.

“I couldn’t get staff in to create or receive goods for printers, and it was then I realised I needed to switch to digital output.

“Having wanted to for years, but having never had the guts, I took bank loans to use as an investment to develop an online platform, staffed it and created an online subscription for a digital version called MyTrendBible.

“It was very difficult; home-schooling two kids, trying to run a business, furloughing everyone and losing a massive chunk of our income, not knowing if we’d make it through.

“But I learned a lot of new skills, like building resilience.

“I spent a lot of time on Teams with other more experienced entrepreneurs, who stayed calm, and I took a lot of comfort from them.

“I learned to be level-headed and clear-headed on decision making and not taking myself on an emotional rollercoaster every day.

“I needed to switch off from the living room, live elsewhere in the house, and put down clear boundaries.

“Before the pandemic, the business and I were so intertwined, you wouldn’t have been able to separate them; now there’s a healthy distance.

“I had to delegate, allow autonomy in people’s roles and stand back.

“We’ve been recovering ever since, and finally this year started to grow again, but it’s taken three years and been extremely hard.

“Thank goodness we took the gamble to launch the online platform in March 2022.

“When I was younger I was impulsive, and would just go for it, but by then I was a mum and had responsibilities to my family and 20-odd staff.

“It was frightening making decisions like that.

“But there’s a risk to not doing anything at all, and some of the publishers who didn’t switch to digital are no longer here.

“It’s a balance, and that’s always the way to run a business.”

Jo’s currently writing her first book Trend Leader, which will be published in the summer.

It will highlight the online training programme which, she says, is part of her commitment to developing the next generation of trend leaders.

She aims to build TrendBible to as much as a £10 million turnover operation within the next five years, expanding its customer base across the UK, US, Australia and Northern Europe.

She adds: “We’re really confident about growth, and we’ll push on.

“We have ambitions to be known globally as the trend agency that owns the future of life at home, so if people are forecasting trends for the home, we are in the number one spot for that.

“And we’re so nearly there.

“We have a couple of enormous and brilliant competitors, but they mainly focus on the fashion industry.

“It’s about anything that will have an impact on the home, such as the laundry routine of the future.

“If water becomes an even more precious commodity, will washing machines work on half the water, what will the powder have to perform like?

“That’s forecasting for the home.

“People think it’s decor, cushions, paint and wallpaper, and it can be, but sometimes it’s about the dynamic of family and relationships, and how that is changing.

“Researchers around the world ping new information to us 24/7, and my team’s job is to make sense of that, cluster it into themes, decide which are the safe bets and which might inspire design teams.

“I love it.

“No two days are the same.

“The nature of tracking and forecasting is born out of curiosity – and that is in me.”