Up and down the aisles of the first FashionGo trade show, exhibitors were waiting for buyers to appear. But they were few and far between.
Yes, there were retailers, mostly from online sites, who ventured out to the dusty desert of Palm Springs, Calif., where the temperatures climbed into the high 90s and swimming pools beckoned. But there were not enough customers to keep exhibitors very busy. Vendors were passing their time looking at their smartphones or computers.
“I honestly thought that because this is with FashionGo, and they have so many buyers, there would be a line to get inside. But it is rather quiet,” said Ora Yeganeh, co-owner of Ariella, an L.A.-based clothing label made in the United States.
FashionGo, an L.A.-based business-to-business online marketplace, selling categories including womenswear and menswear, accessories, shoes, children’s apparel and beauty, did the unusual. It organized a new trade show, held May 3 to 5 at the Palm Springs Convention Center, at a time when many trade shows are struggling to bring back exhibitors after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled events and people moved online.
FashionGo teamed up with trade show veteran Tom Nastos, who spent decades organizing mega-shows including MAGIC, Project and ENK International, to create the online platform’s first omnichannel trade show. Many of the exhibitors at the show sell on the FashionGo site, which was founded in 2002 and now has 1 million registered buyers and 1,800 brands.
“I felt strongly that post COVID[-19], things have to change,” said Nastos, who saw that FashionGo was a busy platform and figured he could take its online sellers and put them into a physical setting using new technology.
Attendees could use the platform’s app to search for categories and brands they wanted to visit at the show. Other tools include StyleMatch+, which helps buyers identify styles and price points they want and match with what is being shown at the show.
Paul Lee, the chief executive officer of NHN Global in L.A., which owns and manages several platforms, including FashionGo, felt buyers were itching to get out and establish relationships with vendors and touch the merchandise. “As time passed, it became apparent there was pent-up demand for a physical experience and a natural extension of our services,” Lee said.
This first trade show, with nearly 100 exhibitors, will be followed by a second one in Palm Springs from July 26 to 28 and a third one in New York from Nov. 5 to 7. Next year, the idea is to have four trade shows in Palm Springs and two in New York.
At the inaugural show, retailers wandering the floor came from California and all around the United States. Most had heard about the trade show by using the FashionGo app and decided to meet new vendors, find new products and feel the material.
Jessica Perez, who two months ago started her online clothing store La Dreamy, traveled from Manchester, Conn., with her husband, Julian, to check out the trade show and visit Palm Springs. “I wanted to see first-hand the quality of the items and get a new perspective from some new vendors,” she said.
She was looking for on-trend items for her price-conscious customer who ranges in age from 18 to 40 and likes to wear form-fitting clothing.
Maria Osorio, from Manteca, Calif., is also relatively new to the online store business and recently opened a pop-up store in nearby Stockton under the name Mgaleon Designs. This was her first trade show.
“It is way different to see things in person than to shop online,” she observed. “But I was expecting this show to be bigger.” (Show materials suggested 300 vendors would be on the floor, not 100.)
Despite the limited size, she placed orders totaling $1,200 for pants, dresses, two-piece sets and a blazer on her first day at the show. She used one of two $150 discount coupons offered by FashionGo to show attendees.
Nordia Brown and Tonya Thompson, two online store owners from Jamaica, do a lot of their merchandise shopping by roaming the Los Angeles Fashion District showrooms. But they wanted to check out different vendors and build more relationships.
Brown, eyeing a colorful maxidress, said they were walking the show, taking notes and then going back to buy dresses, skirts and pants.
Retailers, however, have been in a cautious mood, vendors said. “Retailers are in safety mode,” said Gene Lee, owner of the L.A.-based White Birch womenswear label. “They don’t have as much spending money because with inflation customers are spending less and the economy is uncertain.”
His sales the first day were decent, but he wasn’t expecting much on the second or third day. “Everyone I know already came through,” he said.
Rafael Chin, a sales representative for L.A. womenswear brand Flying Tomato, consistently attends the trade shows in Atlanta, Dallas and Las Vegas. But he thought the FashionGo event’s timing was off, which hurt it.
“Honestly, this show is kind of slow,” he said. “Thank God our main customers showed up. We won’t be losing money, but we came here to make money.”