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Two British expatriates are looking to raise the bar for global fashion trade shows in Hong Kong.
Richard Hobbs and Peter Caplowe, who founded Entrepot Asia last year as a consulting business aimed at helping fashion brands gain a foothold in China and throughout Asia, have founded The Hub as a semiannual show to be held at Hong Kong’s Asia World Expo, starting with a three-day event beginning Aug. 28. The company has committed to two other shows — in February and August of 2014 — and has options to extend the agreement.
Initially, the show will occupy about 60,000 square feet in a single hall of the Hong Kong facility and the principals hope to draw between 100 and 120 exhibitor companies. But the space can be expanded to up to 165,000 square feet in three separate halls, with a proportionate expansion in the number of exhibitors.
“We want the first event to go smoothly and for everyone to leave with a smile on their face,” Hobbs told WWD. “It needs to look right and smell right as a fashion trade show and not like a flat, corporate Hong Kong trade show where they just might as well be selling ball bearings.”
The show will be divided into four separate sections — Indigo, Heritage, Street and Contemporary — with each bearing its own design personality. The Indigo and Heritage sections, for instance, will feature wood and other natural and recycled materials, while Contemporary will be distinguished by bamboo and stone and Street by an urban setting characterized by metal frames, scaffolding and chalkboards.
Hobbs and Caplowe are residents of Hong Kong who’ve served as matchmakers between Western brands and both retailers and prospective distribution or licensing partners in the Far East. Hobbs had worked with Mecca USA before a more recent association with Pepe Jeans, and Caplowe was the architect of Evisu’s international expansion.
“We’d both been doing pretty much the same thing, running around the region serving as marriage guidance counselors to brands from Europe and North America that know they need to be in Asia,” Hobbs said. “It finally hit us that we needed to create the thing that’s missing, what Las Vegas has with Project and Berlin has with Bread & Butter.”
He said he recognizes that many of the world’s largest exhibition companies have attempted to establish a venue like the one now being planned. “But the difference is they weren’t here,” he said, “or they were here for a week. There’s no one in the world who doesn’t want to do more business in China and throughout Asia, but there hasn’t been the right platform before this.”
The two have a majority stake in the company as well as a silent partner and are seeking additional sources of capital. Although initially interested in a direct association with a trade show company, they decided to form a series of other alliances, including one with Shanghai Mart, which will give them showroom space and access to the facility’s database of more than 400,000 companies in the region, and another with InvestHK, a government organization that aims to attract visitors.
There are also efforts underway to house a group of designers at downtown hotels and to arrange for participation of representative groups from other trade shows.
Hobbs said that he has commitments from exhibitors that would take about 20 percent of the space available and feels confident about the prospects for another 20 percent. “We’re ahead of our sales targets,” he said.
Among those already signed up for participation are Adidas Y3, Barbour, J.W. Anderson, Johanna Ho, Tkees and Mata Hari. “Barbour will be a marquee brand in Heritage and I can see Y3 sitting where Contemporary and Street come together,” Hobbs said.
The organizers expect about half of their exhibitor base to come from Europe, with most of the rest fairly evenly divided between North America and Asia.
“It’s pretty clear that any brand anywhere in the world that’s doing its homework wants to sell more into Asia,” Hobbs concluded. “We’re doing what we have to do to bring the people in to buy from them, and it’s pretty likely that they’ll be others coming in with the idea of buying some of them too.”