MONTREAL — For the first time in 33 years, the Canadian dollar is worth more than the greenback, which could have both a positive and negative impact on the domestic trade show industry, according to a number of show representatives.
This year alone, the Canadian dollar has appreciated more than 20 percent against its U.S. counterpart, which has seen a record number of Canadians scurrying across the border looking for deals. Four years ago, when the Canadian dollar was only worth about 63 cents U.S., American shoppers were heading north. Today, it's trading near the $1.05 range.
"It's an interesting thought," said Alice Chee, organizer of the Mode Accessories Show being held at Toronto's Doubletree International Plaza Jan. 27 to 29. "Most American exhibitors come into the show through their Canadian sales reps and we're already sold out. But the stronger dollar may be an advantage to us, because the lines should be a lot cheaper."
In many cases that hasn't happened, Chee added, noting that some products are still being sold at the same price as when the Canadian dollar was worth only 85 cents.
Of greater concern for Chee is the fact there will be no Mode Accessories Show in Calgary in 2008, since she's considering changing venues and possibly cities.
"Edmonton is an alternative, because that's where a lot of Western shows are held, and so is Vancouver. But they're building a new high-end shopping mall in Calgary, so we may end up moving there."
After combining the men's and women's show last August in an effort to find a balance between the ideal dates and venue, FashionNorth will combine the shows again at Toronto's International Center Feb. 3 to 5.
"Everybody loves the new concept," said Ralph Weil of show organizer Meteor Show Productions, which also puts on the Luggage, Leathergoods, Handbags & Accessories Show at the International Center April 30 to May 2. "We had 118 exhibitors roughly made up of a third men's wear, a third women's wear and a third that carry both."
The combined show also attracted new exhibitors, including Jones Apparel Group Canada, Levi's Canada and Liz Claiborne, the latter two jumping on board when the two shows morphed into one."That was a huge incentive for us," said Liz Claiborne sales manager Mark Castanheiro. "With Claiborne, DKNY and Mexx, it gave us an opportunity to showcase our better lines that some clients wouldn't normally see."
Levi's Canada also thought it was convenient to exhibit at FashionNorth to showcase its men's and women's outerwear under the Joseph Abboud, Esprit and Paul Landry labels.
"It provided a good venue for independent retailers who might not normally get to see our lines," said Levi's sales rep Paul Fournier.
For Jones Apparel Group Canada, it was an opportunity to educate customers who might not be aware that it also carries Nine West and Anne Klein, according to sales rep Daniel Doucette.
The first week in February is early for women's suppliers, but organizers didn't want to conflict with WWDMAGIC later in the month, said Joseph Nutzati of FashionNorth management.
He said the stronger Canadian dollar will make it cheaper for U.S. suppliers to sell to Canadian retailers.
"I've spoken to a number of U.S. suppliers who have been sitting on the sidelines, but may come into the show now that our dollar is so strong."
Montreal Fashion Week will be back at Marché Bonsecours in Old Montreal from March 10 to 14. Flush with government money, the show hopes to attract more international media and buyers.
The Quebec government announced a cash injection of $82 million over three years into the sector at the start of the October edition of MFW, including $3 million to promote Montreal as a fashion center.
"We had about 10 international media and 20 international buyers in October and hope to build on that in March," said Chantale Durivage, co-president of Sensation Mode, which operates MFW.
Unlike most fashion weeks, MFW is open to both local and international designers as a way to promote the city as a fashion center, and has made a number of contacts in Europe and South America for next March.
The October 2007 edition of L'Oréal Fashion Week was held in a 30,000-square-foot tent pitched in the shadow of Toronto City Hall and drew rave reviews, according to Caroline Quinn of the Fashion Design Council of Canada, which runs the Toronto show."It was a huge success, which gave us major exposure. We had over 60 designers, including 35 runway shows, and attendance was also up."
Despite the triumphant tent experience, Quinn said the same venue has not been confirmed for the next show from March 10 to 15.
Unlike MFW, the Toronto event is open to the public for $20 a show or $50 for the day, which boosts attendance figures. While L'Oréal Fashion Week manages to attract major international media exposure, it doesn't have the same success attracting international buyers.
"That's an area we're working on to improve for March," said Quinn.
The idea of combining the two fashion weeks has been broached a number of times over the years, but is not likely to happen anytime soon. That's because the two events have rival sponsors — L'Oréal supports Toronto, while P&G Beauty backs Montreal.
But unless one blinks and changes its dates, the two are on a collision course to be competing head to head in March.
The Ontario Fashion Exhibitors Market and 100% Fresh, featuring juniorwear, will be held March 15 to 18 at the Toronto Congress Center. Last year's combined show drew more than 3,000 buyers and around 230 exhibitors covering 200,000 square feet, according to show organizer Serge Micheli.
The Fresh portion is denim-heavy with lines from Guess, Parasuco, Buffalo and Phat Pharm, among others, and features a lounge area and DJ to keep the music pumping throughout the show.
"We had a lot of fashion shows last year, but we're going to focus on more seminars in March," said Micheli.
The North American Fur & Fashion Exhibition takes place April 30 to May 3 at Place Bonaventure in Montreal. It opens on a Wednesday rather than the traditional Sunday, due to Passover on April 20 and the Greek Orthodox Easter on April 27, said NAFFEM organizer Alan Herscovici, executive vice president of the Fur Council of Canada.
He said the stronger Canadian dollar will be a "definite challenge for the [fur garment] manufacturers who price their goods in U.S. dollars, which means they're getting less for their furs."I hope it won't have much impact on attendance. Four years ago, when the [Canadian] dollar was worth about 63 cents, hotel rooms were a pretty good deal. They'll be quite a bit more expensive today, but still relatively cheap compared to what you would pay in New York."
While the fur market has had a slow start to the selling season due to an unusually warm fall, Herscovici said fur is still a strong fashion statement, being used in boutique style furs and accessories more and more.
"But specialty boutiques are not used to coming to Canada to buy, because they still think this is only a Canadian show even though 55 percent of our buyers are American. There are a lot of items you see at NAFFEM that you won't see anywhere else, including the New York Coterie."
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