The fashion industry is traveling around the globe from one stop to the next. And the calendar of international fashion events is getting longer and longer. Does it have to be this way?
The summer is full, chock-a-block full. The elegant Pitti Uomo in beautiful Florence gets things started, followed by a stressful week in Berlin. From there the nonstop schedule continues to Paris, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Munich, Milan, Copenhagen, New York, Las Vegas and London. If you still haven’t had enough, you can fly on to Hong Kong and Moscow.
And carry on doing that season after season. There are new trade show concepts unveiled every season, locations and dates are reshuffled. Bread & Butter has Seoul in its sights and the Panorama is moving to downtown Berlin. The Düsseldorf GDS footwear trade show has been moved to an earlier date and is resplendent in its revamped look. Is there anyone out there who can still keep track?
How are you supposed to get all these events covered? And what is the net result at the end of the day? Every visit to a trade fair calls for strategic planning. Evelyn Hammerström, owner of the exclusive Jades store in Düsseldorf, is at trade shows and visiting showrooms from early July to mid-October.
Her preferred stops are the Premium, Tranoi and Coterie. “I really have to be fully informed in order to maintain our high fashion standard. Going to trade shows costs a lot of money and time, but I always discover good things when I go,” says Hammerström, who usually takes some colleagues with her. Donna Ida Thornton, the owner of Donna Ida Denim Stores in London, also stops in regularly in New York, Paris and at Scoop International in London on the lookout for new labels to include with items offered at her stores. She also says: “Going to a lot of trade shows is hard work and you have to prepare in minute detail.”
For buyers, who put a lot of time, energy and money into visiting trade fairs, this amount of effort needs to pay off of course. But exhibitors also have expectations. Alexander Gedat, CEO of Marc O’Polo says, for example: “We expect trade show landscapes to be continuously renewed and modernized.” The label is showing collections at Bread & Butter in Berlin and will be on hand to exhibit footwear and accessories at GDS in Düsseldorf.
For both parties trade fairs are about making new connections, about image, about seeing and being seen. “Nobody has time anymore. That makes trade fairs an important place to meet–for retail and for suppliers,” says Sabine Dellmuth of Aigle. Many companies no longer use trade fairs as platforms but instead are organizing their own events or inviting customers to showrooms. The outcome is that more multibrand retailers focus on only a few trade fairs or simply just stay home. Unifa GmbH, which imports luxury American brands, has decided not to be in Berlin for the second year running.
So far it feels the decision has been the right one. “It was quite costly and accommodation was getting more and more expensive,” says company president Reinhard Haase. “The real selling takes place in Düsseldorf and Munich, where the American collections are completely finished.”
This results in many events lacking an international flair, with many European trade shows turning into regional events with poor attendance figures. People like to criticize ostentatiously large trade show booths, but the niche events are also failing to fulfill high expectations. This means the industry finds itself in a Catch-22 situation with those who spurn and those who love trade shows. And it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. “First of all, a trade show has to work for those attending them. The service given, a clear vision and a convincing concept are the three most important factors,” says Marie- Luise Patzelt of Berliner Seek talking about trade shows.
Fashion is dynamic and in flux and consequently trade shows have to constantly adapt to what is happening in the market. “Today we are benefiting from the latest developments and the next day is a whole new story,” says Thomas Martini of Bright. Who will win out in the end, though? What can generally be said is: A saturated market will always lead to a market shakeout at sometime or another. But still: The fashion industry needs a trade show world which works well.
A TRADE FAIR MARATHON THROUGHOUT GERMANY
Berlin kicks off the new season. Everyone is getting excited and feeling good. But after three days everybody is tired, feet are sore, it’s just impossible to visit Bread & Butter, Panorama, Premium and the small trade shows Bright, Capsule, Seek, Show & Order and Greenshowroom all in one go. Hardly anybody does all of them. “You have to make your choices in Berlin,” says Andreas Klaus of Konen, Munich.
He regularly goes to Bread & Butter, Seek, Premium and Panorama. Bread & Butter is always a controversial issue in the fashion world. But Karl-Heinz Müller is able to take everyone by surprise each season, unveiling new concepts, and a trade show in Seoul is moving closer. But first of all this summer he is transforming the Lunapark into a festive Brazilian soccer village with beautiful people, great food and partying until sunrise.
However some people and brands who attend keep on complaining about the perpetual “everything is groovy” vibe, music being constantly played, disturbing the work atmosphere. More big players such as Converse and Scotch & Soda will be absent this time around, Kangaroos is going to be at Bright. A season ago the departure of G-Star, Tommy Hilfiger and Denim & Supply was a hot topic. They all stay away for various reasons though. At the same time this offers space for newcomers.
Müller says: “Leading brands have lost a lot of ground, but new brands are replacing them. There was a general feeling of exhaustion and if I get the feeling it can’t go on like it has been, then I have to change things.” Is Seoul an alternative? What would happen if Müller gave up on it all and left Berlin? Would the other trade shows survive without him? Panorama got off to an excellent start and is thriving like never before.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the giant trade show has emerged and is being showcased for the first time in an central location at Messe Berlin. Hidden away at the ExpoCenter Airport close to the planned BER airport, Panorama attracted many visitors during its first season. Finally, the mainstream market had found a new home. Now it has its own gargantuan trade show–just like in the good old days–with about 500 exhibitors. Trade show head Jörg Wichmann says: “We have more space and can expand our portfolio of brands. We are offering a new supplementary platform of regular and flash order programs.”
Everybody is happy with these developments. Frank Schäfer of M.O.D says: “Attendance is good and we have many new customers. The quality has been constantly improving.” Sven Schlager of Timezone agrees: “The Panorama has turned out to be quite a success in just short period of time.” The Berlin Premium Exhibitions is also growing in leaps and bounds and has a long waiting list. Founded in 2002, the Premium has over 1,400 collections and has long been established as an international trade fair. It works, it’s successful and it’s getting bigger and better. “Our concept is quality not quantity. We select our portfolio in an innovative way every season, respond to the latest retail trends and update our portfolio with many new brands,” says Anita Tillmann, Premium Exhibitions. Premium is hoping to tap into new sources of inspiration by including avant-garde labels and supporting up-and-coming talent in design.
Also on the rise is Show & Order, which has become a place to go for retailers on the search for womenswear and accessories. In July there will be a new segment for premium flash collections and a pop-up store. Launched five seasons ago as a niche event, Show & Order will stay that way. “By the high demand of space at our trade show we can tell that niche events are highly requested. They represent the market and are en vogue,” director Verena Malta says.
Berlin Bright specializes in streetwear, a strategic choice that makes sense. About a third more exhibition space will be added to this summer’s trade fair to meet a rising demand. “The modest size of the Bright event makes it easier for us to respond to market changes. That is harder for bigger trade shows to do. A niche event is currently more rewarding for labels,” says founder Thomas Martini. People looking for something really special go to Capsule, Seek and Greenshowroom. The familiar atmosphere and the feeling that you are going to discover something new makes it so popular.
Marie-Luise Patzelt of Seek says: “The unique atmosphere is created by people visiting and those working the booths. They give the event its special flair.” They cut to the chase in Düsseldorf when orders are placed. After the CPD trade fair was phased out in 2011, there was a strong sense of uncertainty whether Düsseldorf would ever recover. Things go from strength to strength now with the CPD as an umbrella brand. Düsseldorf-based CPD runs over 800 showrooms, the Gallery with about 300 collections and the Supreme and its 450 collections.
That is why the location on the Rhine works. “For me, Düsseldorf has a good name as a center for placing fashion orders and is more important than Berlin in this regard,” says Hammerström. Demand continues unabated at the Supreme. “We have to keep in close touch with where things are going, take note of market change and offer collections corresponding to these changes,” says Mirjam Dietz of Supreme.
The GDS now takes place six weeks earlier every year. This was a big change but now allows the Düsseldorf trade fair to kick off the international footwear and accessories season. Dwindling attendance and the late timing of the event made a strategic change necessary. The trade fair now has the new themes of Highstreet, Pop Up and Studio as a general guideline for visitors. It took a long time for Kirstin Deutelmoser, director of GDS, to implement the new format: “It is about making the right assessment as to where the sector is going and then coming up with the best response. Only those who have the energy and courage to
address new developments will be among those who succeed in the long run.” The shoes and accessories fashion sector has responded well to the change. Familiar brands such as Lacoste and Marc O’Polo are coming back-primarily because it takes place earlier in the year. Michael Kleine of Camel Active Footwear says: “Berlin only offers a part of the footwear market, many collections are not completely represented. Düsseldorf is becoming a must-see event for retailers because it has all the most important retailers there.”
DINOSAURS IN ASIA
The big trade fairs in China and Russia are not going to make do with niche topics only. The events there are marked by high attendance and an electric atmosphere. Chic, Asia’s most important fashion fair, is spread across 100,000 sq. meters (1,076,391 sq. feet) and has 1,000 exhibitors at flagship booths. The new location in Shanghai has given it a new image including themed lifestyle worlds and Chic wants to establish itself as an international fashion business platform.
If you want to get into business in China you have to get out, meet and greet. Margit Jandali, adviser for Chic Shanghai and Chic Young Blood, explains: “In China trade fairs are the only chance you have each year to get into touch with decisionmakers. Business works in a similar way in Russia. The market is growing there and demand for fashion which satisfies consumer tastes continues to be huge. “Despite the political situation in Russia and devaluation of the ruble, people place a lot of trust in the CPM Moscow,” says Philipp Kronen of Igedo Company.
PARIS: THE FASHION CAPITAL
For decades now Paris has been defending its reputation as the world’s fashion capital with a trade show policy involving strict and clearly defined rules enforced by the city’s Chambre Syndicale. In addition to the Who’s Next fashion show and Tranoi avant-garde show, new showroom formats and platforms have also been launched. The new trade show organizers are aware of the new competition coming from many showroom events such as the Le New Black online trade show and are working hard to protect their market position.
In the summer of 2013 Tranoi sold 30% of its shares to the Perfectis Private Equity investment fund and invested in modernizing the trade fair and making it more international.
The trade show also went from being held twice a year to four times a year and launched an online platform named BEtoSEE. The new portal is meant for customers who want to order new labeled goods the whole year round. Who’s Next is working on a more clearly defined profile within its portfolio. In January 2014 the trade fair was given a makeover and now has four key sections: Who’s next Ready-to-Wear, Fame (trendy fashion), Première Classe (trendy accessories) and Who’s Next Accessories. The dates are being changed for the July event to make it easier for people to fit it into their schedule.
Plus, there are new services such as a Retail Expert Club offering retailers free professional advice. Is that what the market really need? Lylian Richardière, CEO of the Le Temps des Cerises and Japan Rags, has his doubts. He feels there’s still a place for trade fairs to market and show off fashion, but whether it is profitable is another matter. “Once established in the marketplace, it’s no longer necessary to exhibit.”
He thinks many trade shows are far too self-serving and aren’t daring enough to really put new ideas out there: “This explains why major trade fairs are losing of their appeal. Small, local formats are taking their place.”
For international visitors, going to Pitti Immagine Uomo in historic Florence is a trip worth making. Nowhere else can so many elegantly dressed people be seen or such a tasteful mix of brands and events. With about 1,050 exhibitors and 200,000 international visitors, it is a traditionally important event on the trade fair calendar. The head of Pitti Uomo, Raffaello Napoleone, describes the concept of the trade show: “We are constantly on the lookout for labels which offer outstanding quality. We have chosen the motto ‘Made in Italy’ to show pride of place in the excellent work of our Italian fashion industry.”
G-Star has decided to participate in only two trade shows this summer, Pitti Uomo in Italy and Liberty in Las Vegas. Camiel Slaats, sales manager at G-Star International, explains: “Pitti Uomo in Florence is our first priority because it goes well with our brand identity and is very international. We exhibit at Liberty in Las Vegas because it is important for the North American market and attractive to threshold countries.”
In addition, the small but high quality White show with about 500 brands is attracting Italian and international buyers with innovative and high quality labels.
AND WHAT ABOUT LONDON TRADE SHOWS?
The fashion trade fair scene in the British metropolis is in constant flux. At the moment Jacket Required, which started as a niche event with a handful of London labels and which has evolved into a highly regarded international fair with more than 200 menswear exhibitors, is attracting attention. The London Collections: Men event is also gaining a good reputation.
The best known womenswear show, Pure, offers a very attractive range of young fashions, but many critics are saying that it is has become more and more “madamish.” As an alternative Scoop is inviting new labels from the denim and fashion scene to mingle with premium exhibitors. That’s because a gap has opened up since Margin was phased out. Generally, in the London fashion scene believable events without an overtly commercial appearance are regarded as attractive. In London, a great deal of space for expansion is as rare as anywhere else and established trade fairs have shown again and again: there is no denying that events which have grown too big have always lost part of their credibility–the casualwear fair To Be Confirmed is a good example of that.
The International Copenhagen Fairs outdo European colleagues in one area most of all: being chilled out. At the CIFF, Gallery and Vision, professional warmth, friendliness and sincere interest are more important than over-the-top enthusiasm for fashion. As an arena for hip Scandinavian streetwear brands–starting from Henrik Vibskov and Soulland all the way to Wood Wood–Gallery enjoys a good reputation, especially with fashion individualists.
However, since last season CIFF has been giving Gallery stiff competition. Despite its large area, the clearly organized building layouts have helped CIFF steal a bit of Gallery’s coolness. Once the trailblazer, Vision is returning to the Øksnehallen venue for the first time next season and has gained a name for exhibiting less widely known labels which make visitors want to take a closer look around.
Local, relaxed and with plenty of visitors–those are the main descrip tions being heard again at Modefabriek in Amsterdam. “We’re very pleased with the way things are going, and we have gotten good feedback from visitors,” says Nieke Mulder of Modefabriek. The local aspect seems to be precisely the thing which sets this fair apart. For Lee that is an advantage compared to Bread & Butter, says Gilles Laumonier, president of Lee International: “We simply felt lost among the big majors. So that is why we chose to only be at local trade shows such as the Modefabriek in Amsterdam. That is perhaps less international but customer interaction is way stronger.” Regardless of how much praise
is given to the straightforward style and strong focus on local retailers, others criticize the lack of international visitors. Nevertheless, Modefabriek has a bright future ahead with smaller fairs so well liked.
TRADE FAIRS STRESS PEOPLE OUT, RIGHT?
The international examples presented here show that trade shows have and should have varying formats with different strategies. Naturally, they cannot please everybody or fit every taste. However, one thing is clear: Everyone who has gone to a series of fairs comes back home full of ideas.
New collections, interesting people and the many new impressions are a valuable source of riches upon which everybody can draw for a long time. As many virtual fashion worlds as the Internet might produce–the Web can’t take the place of a trade fair with personal interaction and the emotion involved. For the fashion industry, trade fairs are and will remain an indispensable arena for finding inspiration and networking.
There are more and more fairs, but at the same a flagging interest in fairs is also spreading. People like to complain about mega trade fairs with their towering brand booths, blaring music and pizazz, while small back courtyard events don’t always satisfy expectations either. As a result, the world of trade shows is and remains a matter of debate. The industry is caught in a dilemma, with refuseniks and trade fair advocates. But staying at home sulking has never achieved anything either.
Fashion undergoes constant change, and contents have to constantly be revised. Only at the fairs do buyers get a complete overview of all collections. And those who think carefully in advance about which fairs are relevant for what they will sell, do their homework, plan efficiently and apply themselves will definitely gain added value from these events. And if you come too late, trends will punish you.