October 3, 2018
The journey to becoming a top trend forecaster with a world-renowned business has been far from plain sailing for Joanna Feeley. Having been told she may never achieve her dream due to the rarity of such roles, and then going for more than eight months without any work coming in, it was only dogged determination and rapidly-decreasing savings that saw her through the early days.
But now, ten years on from Joanna founding Trend Bible, she and her agency have both become highly esteemed names internationally, working around the world in predicting future trends for an array of major corporate clients.
The fast-growing business, based in Newcastle, has become one of the leading names in trend forecasting worldwide, currently employing 20 people but with scope to more than double that as Trend Bible continues to thrive, with plans also being considered for expansion overseas. Joanna herself was recognised for her hard work last year when she was named North East Woman Entrepreneur of the Year.
Joanna, who hails from Northumberland, is now truly living the dream she had as a student hoping for a career in trend forecasting, but acknowledges her journey to success has not been easy.
“I would definitely say it has not been straightforward,” smiles Joanna, who graduated in fashion design from Kingston University. “Even when I was a student and I had some careers advice from a very knowledgeable recruitment specialist in the fashion industry, I still remember her telling me there were only 200 jobs in trend forecasting worldwide, so there was no chance, and at this stage in my career I should just get a job as a designer. I felt very deflated but wanted to prove her wrong.”
While Joanna did get a job as a menswear designer in New York after graduating in 1998, she decided to combine her role designing clothes with building her experience of trend forecasting, and became an unpaid trend forecaster for the company.
“I quickly developed a sideline for myself in the business and spent lots of my own time on evenings creating colour palettes, mood boards, collecting fabric samples, doing creative writing, I just loved that whole side of it. I generally made a nuisance of myself, leaving mood boards on the boss’s desk. I was told I could continue to do it but they couldn’t pay me for it, but that was fine – it was a brilliant opportunity for me,” she remembers.
After returning to the UK for a job with Topman, the opportunity came up that Joanna had been waiting for in trend forecasting, at a trend agency based in London, working with brands around the world. It here she discovered a love not just of trend forecasting, but also of being part of an agency.
“Agency life has a very particular way of working, but I found I loved it. You must have a full understanding of one brand for one project, but then minutes later can be working on another brand which you have to understand to the same depth. It is not for everyone, but I got the bug for it,” says Joanna.
“But while I loved trend forecasting and I loved agency life, I wanted to move back to the North East at some point. I knew there wasn’t a trend forecasting agency in the North – and even now Trend Bible is the only one – so to me there was an opportunity. But so many of my friends told me I would be mad to give up all my contacts and connections in London to try and do it in Newcastle.”
Eight months after moving back home, Joanna had not managed to secure any work, and while she never considered giving up, she does remember “having the words of those friends ringing in my ears”.
She continues: “I was having two or three meetings a day every day, but although I knew how to trend forecast and I had a portfolio, I had no idea about sales or marketing. And all the while I was running down my savings but still trusting the break would come. I am an optimistic person but there were definitely times when I thought ‘what have I done?’.”
But the months of determination paid off when Joanna landed her first client, Tesco – the third largest retailer in the world, no less – to forecast trends across a host of departments.
“It all happened quite by chance,” she says. “I had sent my CV speculatively to someone who it transpired had left. Someone else had printed the email off and left it on the printer. Another person stumbled across it quite by chance and gave me a call as she was working on a project and needed some trend forecasting. She even apologised when she called and said she hoped she wasn’t being nosey by seeing my email!”
From there came the foundation of Trend Bible, with other clients coming on board to take advantage of Joanna’s trend predictions which, by now, were fast becoming sought-after.
To help develop her offering even further, she created a written ‘trend bible’. Although it has been purchased by huge corporates like Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s, again, it was not without its initial challenges.
“These types of trend books had been written to huge success in Paris, New York and Amsterdam for over 30 years, whereas I didn’t know how to use the computer software, I didn’t know how to print it. I approached distributors around the world and went to meet with one in the US, who I really wanted to work with as they were the best,” says Joanna.
“The lady I met with gave me some really brutal feedback, saying my paper quality was terrible, my pages were too cramped, the images and logo didn’t work – but as tough as that was, I saw it as getting advice from an industry expert, so I needed to take that on board, and I did. As chance would have it, five years later the same lady called me, saying she wanted to represent me as she had just discovered us and thought we were amazing. She had no idea we had met previously – although I did remind her of our chat years before and how she had told me my book was rubbish.”
Trend Bible has now firmly established itself on the global map for its insight and ability to predict the future, and its recent investment in sales and marketing to help support the continued global development of the business promises to yield even further growth.
But while the business grows, Joanna, a mum of two young boys, is committed to creating an enjoyable and flexible working environment for her team.
“We get the best people to join our business through a really rigorous recruitment process, but because we attract excellent people, we want to keep them, and I think offering opportunities around work/life balance does play a big part in that.
“At Trend Bible, if someone has a family crisis, their dog needs something, or whatever it might be, we tell them to go and do what they need to do. Real life doesn’t wait and we appreciate that.
“My husband is a chef so works evenings and weekends and we have two young children, so we certainly don’t have the ‘9 to 5’ routine, but we always make time for family and I make sure I take time off – I don’t work the ridiculous hours that I have in the past,” she says.
“Newcastle is a fantastic place to live and work, but it still maybe doesn’t have the same reputation for its creative scene as Manchester or Leeds. Once people come here and see it and find out the things we have here – the food and drink, arts, intellectual activities – they love it, clients who come to visit think Newcastle is amazing, but it still can be a challenge to get people from outside the North East to relocate.
“There is so much work being done here, and the development of the tech scene plays a huge part in that, and we like to think we are playing our role too.
“We love the North East and will always be proud to be here.”