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Is more actually more, or less? Retailers and vendors will be considering that question this week when they welcome two new trade shows to the biannual New York market. Designer Forum and MR ket NY join the Big Apple’s trade show portfolio, bringing the total number of major men’s wear markets in the city to five including The Collective, Project and Capsule. The launches raise both new and long-standing questions about the increasing diversity of the men’s wear business, the elasticity of the New York marketplace and the competition for lucrative trade show dollars in a retail environment where most everything else — stores, open-to-buys, prices — is contracting. For buyers and vendors, it comes down to whether the New York market is ample enough to support an expanding trade show infrastructure.
This story first appeared in the July 16, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
If there’s one thing the apparel industry can be relied upon to do, it’s trying something new. And early tallies suggest that all the New York shows, despite recessionary pressures, are receiving significant support. The Collective/Blue will host 140 vendors; Project NY, 106; MR ket NY, 115; Capsule, 75; Designer Forum, 70.
That attendance shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the New York market. Good or bad, New York has long served as a laboratory for the trade show industry. It bore The Designer Collective in the Eighties, witnessed the rise of the premium denim business with Project NY in 2003, shepherded the ascension of Italian luxury brands via an alliance with the Italian Trade Commission and more recently tapped into the growth of niche men’s wear brands with boutique shows like Capsule. As New York goes, so goes the nation — at least when it comes to apparel marketing. “In Vegas, you have the large trade shows, but New York is the leader,” said Elyse Kroll, chairman and founder of ENK International, producer of The Collective, which opens at Pier 94 on Sunday. “We have company headquarters, major retailers, manufacturing and fashion week. This is where fashion lives.”
Supporting new ventures is a way of life for New Yorkers. The city has a strong appetite for innovation and an abiding respect for entrepreneurship. For many in New York, new business is good business. “A rising tide does lift all boats,” said Edina Sultanik Silver, a partner in publicity firm and showroom BPMW, which launched Capsule, a trade show dedicated to progressive men’s wear brands such as Oak and Our Legacy. Capsule takes over the Angel Orensanz Foundation on the Lower East Side on Monday and Tuesday. “If it adds more people to New York, then that’s a good thing. It all supports the market.” More shows mean more competition. But in a market where businesses are trying to do less with more, the arrival of MRket NY and Designer Forum that, like The Collective, cater to the classic men’s specialty segment, has some wondering if this is the right time to offer more choices. “I do not think that New York needs three shows attempting to do the same things and courting the same suppliers and catering to the same stores,” said Marty Staff, chief executive officer of JA Apparel, which will not exhibit at a local trade show this season. Others, however, view the new competition as a way to energize the trade show market. “I don’t see a problem with the new shows,” said Aniello Musella, trade commissioner and executive director for the U.S. division of the Italian Trade Commission, which is supporting Italian brands at The Collective and MRket NY.
“When you have more choices, you have more opportunity.” But in general, retailers are less enthused about the prospect of adding new stops to already packed market week itineraries. “There’s no show so weak that
we can skip it,” said Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans in Manhattan. “It’s a logistical problem. Retailers want convenience.” Collective/Blue is hosting the likes of Victorinox and Cole Haan. MRket, which runs from July 18 to 20 at the Jacob K. Javits Center, nabbed specialty store veterans like Barbour and Jhane Barnes. Even Designer Forum, which in its previous life as The Haberdashery Show catered to smaller brands, pulled in substantial names like Vineyard Vines, Coppley Apparel and Alexander Julian. Designer Forum runs Saturday to Tuesday at the Warwick Hotel. Although they may not love it, retailers have long abandoned one-stop shopping
in New York. As larger companies retired from trade shows to the brandright environs of their own showrooms, New York market week has become a frenzy of trade show dashes and in-office appointments. “There might be people who are not excited about hopping around,” said Lizette Chin, director of MRket, “but they’ve had to do that in New York for years now.
That’s the way business is done in New York. The bottom line is that retailers will go to all the shows if there are vendors.” For some, the proliferation of trade shows is merely the natural extension of two parallel trends: the growth of niche men’s wear markets, and the desire for smaller, more boutique shopping experiences.
“We started Capsule because there was no place in the New York market that was serving the niche of progressive, more directional brands,” said Sultanik Silver. “We felt that being in a huge show wouldn’t serve that aesthetic.” Other trade show executives agreed a successful event is about maintaining a serviceable size. “For me, a trade show is all about an environment where people can get work done,” Chin said. “If you are able to be at a scale where you can take care of your exhibitors and retailers, then that’s key.” In some ways, the trade show expansion in New York mirrors that of Las Vegas, where the market has continued to be segmented into niche shows such as ENK Vegas and Pool. That diversification has in many respects been beneficial.
In addition to drawing a wider swath of retailers and vendors to Sin City, increased competition has raised the bar on quality across the board. For example, Project’s success has served as a lesson for trade show producer Advanstar Fashion Group, where executives used the show’s format and branding to update its flagship MAGIC trade show. Could the growth of the trade show business in New York lead to a flowering of ideas and result in shows that better serve the men’s wear industry? ENK said it’s already at work on a revamp of The Collective. “This is a transition show for us,” Kroll explained. “We’re planning great things going forward and will be presenting a new Collective.” Increased competition or not, the role of trade shows in the marketplace is in flux. In an environment where major retailers are relying more on showroom appointments and trade shows are hosting fewer vendors, they also stand as perhaps the only place where new vendors can prove themselves and established players can plug in to the market. “Shame on the industry for not supporting trade shows more,” said Tim Bess, men’s fashion director at Doneger Group. “It’s essential to the merchandising process to see new ideas from new vendors.” Kroll agreed. “I’ve gone through two recessions, and I know the first impulse is to cut back on marketing and trade shows,” she said. “But during any given day, your showroom is not going to have the traffic you get at a show. These are dire times. People need to see people. You need to understand what’s going on in the marketplace. I’m a trade show dog for that reason.” The Italian Trade Commission’s Musella, who has overseen the incubation of many Italian labels via the ITC, said the store windows of major retail firms speak volumes about the viability of trade show industry. “Just look at Saks or Barneys,” he said. “The windows are full of Armani and Valentino and all these big brands. They were just a name on a booth one time, too.” The Collective, a staple of the men’s wear industry, is getting a revamp next year. Project NY’s launch marked the beginning of segmented trade shows in Manhattan.