U.K. Fairs Battle Adversity

The recession-weary country sees conditions improving in the second half.

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LONDON — U.K. trade show organizers are planning to expand and upgrade their spaces and fine-tune their events  against a backdrop of economic crises in Europe.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While some are focusing on larger or additional venues, others are offering entertainment, business seminars and runway shows in a bid to make the visitor experience as worthwhile as possible.

“Retail in the U.K. is still consolidating, so every season it’s more important to deliver the right retailers, rather than just the numbers,” said Nick Cook, commercial director of Moda, which showcases contemporary and classic apparel and accessories. “At the same time, the demands on a buyer’s time and finances are getting ever greater, so we have to make it as easy and as rewarding as possible for them to visit our show.”

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Cook said he doesn’t think anyone is expecting an easy year in 2013, and it’s likely there will be store and brand closures.

“But retail is changing, and there are still exciting opportunities for good retailers and good brands,” he said. “We’ve had it very tough in the U.K., but I think there’s now light at the end of the tunnel. There was definitely an air of cautious optimism at our most recent show.”

Brian Duffy, managing director of Stitch London, a venue for emerging designers, is also looking at the bright side.

“It’s hard for any brand in today’s economic climate,” Duffy said. “But I do think that the strong brands will come out the other side with their brand presence and loyal consumers [intact]. I think it makes trade show involvement even more important as sales and retail strategies become more of a focus for brands. The trade show environment is competitive and with budgets being cut and/or frozen, we need to be able to demonstrate to our brands why our show is worth taking part in.”

While Stitch was initially a men’s wear-focused event, organizers will introduce a women’s wear section that will play host to emerging fast fashion. Stitch has also relocated from the Business Design Center in Islington to the London Sorting Office on New Oxford Street.

“It’s a fantastic blank canvas for brands to really bring their product offering to life,” said Duffy. “The inclusion of a catwalk show this season will add to the experiential elements to keep buyers and brands engaged. Also, the addition of women’s wear to the show will mean we have everything covered from men’s, emerging, streetwear, and women’s wear/fast-fashion brands.”

Duffy added that the men’s wear brand mix “grows stronger every season,” and this season will be no different.

“Streetwear is certainly seeing a growth here in the U.K., and shows no sign of slowing down,” he said. “If anything, it’s developing and innovating more. I expect this area to continue to grow and develop. I also expect a continued international interest in the U.K. based on emerging and upcoming brands. London has always been an innovative fashion capital and with the success of London Collections: Men, the world is looking at us for the next big thing.”

Expansion is also in the cards for Scoop International, a boutique showcase focusing on contemporary labels, which is expanding into two venues for the July edition, showcasing more than 400 designer collections, said Scoop International organizer Karen Radley.

“We had a 200 [name] waiting list of exhibitors and we addressed this situation by bringing on board an additional venue,” Radley said. “We are launching a second venue — the Phillips Gallery in Howick Place [near Victoria Station] — a five-minute car journey from the Saatchi Gallery.”

Textile Forum has also opted for a bigger show space this season.

“We are…moving to a larger venue for our autumn event, which will be held at One Marylebone in London,” said Linda Laderman, cofounder and organizer. “For the autumn show, we are looking to fill the first floor, which will give us around 40 percent more exhibitors. At this venue, we also have the option to expand into the ground-floor space in the future. For the first time, we will also have a uniform stand layout, giving an upmarket feel to the show that will complement the venue, as well as be more suitable for exhibitors and buyers.”

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Stephanie Dale, marketing and operations coordinator of Off Price, a stock trading show, noted that her event, too, will be moving to a larger venue in September. This is to cater for the growing demand and will feature a seminar program with tips and strategies to enhance business.

Yet another show that’s expanding its horizons is Moda. Cook said Moda has invested a lot in visitor experience over recent years,and the August show will have the largest events program to date.

“The seminar program we run throughout the three days has become a hugely popular aspect of Moda, and with the addition of a second catwalk and seminar theater in February, we’re now able to open up the scope of the kind of events we can host,” he said. “Obviously, the whole fashion retail sector is undergoing massive changes at the moment, so as well as running expert seminars on individual topics, we’re also going to be hosting a series of debates on the future direction of branded fashion retail.”

Highlighting new brands, and offering entertainment to show attendees is a priority for LondonEdge Original, LondonEdge Fashion, and The Ledge showcases.

“Our projections for 2013 are to grow Ledge a little more and to at least maintain the size of LondonEdge,” said Carole Hunter, director of marketing for LondonEdge Original, LondonEdge Fashion and The Ledge, which features the alternative and streetwear market. “We’re looking forward to a fresh new take on our entertainment and fashion show, and a crop of exciting new brands who are looking to join the show in September.”

Show organizers aren’t the only ones seeking to generate more business at the fairs.


On May 10, the U.K. Fashion & Textile Association said it had secured an increase in funding for U.K. exporters to take part in key international trade shows. In some cases, U.K Trade & Investment, a government body, has pledged to double the amount of money available to UKFT over the next two years. Grants for European shows will increase to 1,500 pounds from 1,000 pounds per show, or $2,330 from $1,550 at current exchange, and exhibitors at key U.S. shows will see their grants almost double to 2,000 pounds, or $3,100.

“We have been lobbying government for many years to maintain the Tradeshow Access Program, but this is the first time we have seen an increase in the money being allocated to the scheme,” said Paul Alger, director of international business development at UKFT.

Grants will be available to cover most key European and U.S. shows, including Paris Fashion Week, still the most important international showcase for more than 300 U.K. designers, UKFT said.

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