Organizers say exhibitions help navigate tough times.

Despite the many challenges buffeting the apparel manufacturing and retail sectors at home and abroad, Germany’s fair organizers are gearing up for a solid second-half trade
show season.

This story first appeared in the May 11, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

When the season kicks off in Berlin on June 27, the German capital will again be hosting 10 trade fairs, the largest concentration of such activity in Europe.

At the same time, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin will be staging runway shows and presentations of domestic and international designers and brands, adding up to a something-for-everyone scenario. Yet Berlin’s strength is split between variety on the one hand and specialization on the other, offering divergent platforms packed with information and merchandise, and geared to focused target groups, mind-sets and style orientations.

Some shows are already (or almost) booked up, while others are in the midst of acquisition but forecasting exhibitor growth.

But challenges persist. It’s precisely in hard times, some suggest, that trade show platforms gain in standing. For the small, handcrafted brands that populate the men’s denim-heritage show Selvedge Run, a trade show “can be a question of life and death. They don’t have the money for classic marketing” to otherwise get their product noticed by buyers, observed the show’s cofounder and owner, Andreas Becker.

“There’s an incredible amount in flux and more questions than answers out there,” said Jörg Wichmann, director of Panorama, touting the increasing importance of fairs. Geared to larger-scale players, Wichmann sees structure, as well as presenting a clear, relevant overview of the market’s massive offer, as Panorama’s primary role.

To do so, the show is introducing new classifications this season, like plus-size women’s wear, sharpening the profile of existing segments and frequently remixing or reorienting clusters such as best-ager (people over 50) collections into a younger, more cosmopolitan, lifestyle-driven sector by adding yoga and home accessories.

Panorama is also expanding the show’s Nova hall featuring apparel and non-fashion products to create “worlds of experience” to help retailers inspire the end-consumer to spend more time in and more frequently visit their stores.

Though overall economic conditions continue to be favorable in Germany and consumers remain in the mood to buy, many apparel retailers aren’t reaping the benefits. As elsewhere, retailers are fighting declining footfall, changing consumer spending habits, uncooperative weather patterns and a flood of similar merchandise.

“It’s not a good time for most large-scale retailers and they’ll be buying cautiously,” said Jürgen Dax, director of the German Apparel Retailers Federation. “But online and small- to midsized stores have seen sales increases.”

“The economic data is presumably OK and the money is there,” Dax continued. “But the willingness of consumers to buy fashion has changed,” with many preferring to spend on experiences like gastronomy, travel or culture.

The digital revolution certainly has and continues to move the fashion market, which is why Premium Exhibitions is not only again integrating, but expanding the subconference #FashionTech (within Re:Publica) to two days and two floors during Premium’s three-day run June 28 to 30.

“While we show collections and brands at our shows [Premium, Seek and Bright] we also present services, devices and information via #Fashion Tech. Berlin is the innovation hub in Europe,” said Anita Tillmann, founder and director of Premium.

New at Premium this season: the more avant-garde Dissonance section is becoming [’PE:PI] Studio, inspired by Korean pop culture and featuring a new wave of Korean designers.

Berlin is also the only trade show hub to fully integrate sustainable fashion into its fashion week activities. Going into its 10th season and fifth year, the Green Showroom and Ethical Fashion show platform grew to 127 brands in January from 36 brands, with new names such as Knowledge Cotton apparel, Daily’s Nothing’s Better, Dedicated and El Naturalista joining the June lineup. The green shows also serve as a communications forum and will host a full-day lecture series on “Responsible Management of Supply Chains — Social Compliance and Chemical Input.”

Reflecting the current dialogue concerning consumer-oriented fashion events and seasonal timing, the contemporary trade fair Show & Order, which opens the season June 27, will host consumers from 7 to 11 p.m. on June 28. The show’s accessories and jewelry exhibitors will present their latest collections and a trend preview directly to consumers, who in turn will be able to purchase exclusive items and get a behind-the-scenes view of a fashion fair, Show & Order founder Verena Malta noted.

The most anticipated fair event this season, though now on a B2C track, is Zalando’s first Bread & Butter show for consumers. Scheduled for Sept. 2 to 4 at The Arena (also home to Seek and Bright), the platform will feature 20 to 30 men’s and women’s brands and their fall collections “that are all somehow involved with Zalando,” said Ingrid Kritscher, director of experiential brand marketing at Zalando, Europe’s largest fashion and footwear specialty e-tailer, which bought Bread and Butter last year.

Intended as a platform “where consumers can interact with their favorite brands,” the labels will be invited to “create a live experience that’s an inspirational and aspirational product experience,” Kritscher explained.

The two Arena halls will house fashion shows and exhibitions during the day, with concerts planned at night, plus a huge outdoor area including a food-stall market and bathing ship on the adjacent river bank. The motto for Bread & Butter is “Now,” as “ideally the consumer can buy what’s on the catwalk now,” Kritscher said. “We’re trying to bring what we do online, offline.”

Germany’s fair activity is not limited to Berlin, with more regionally oriented ordering events and platforms being staged in Munich and Düsseldorf. Nor is apparel and fashion the only focus. Munich Fabric Start and its pre-show View have grown from predominately local textile sourcing events to an important seasonal kick-off not only for Germany and its neighboring markets, but a steadily growing number of international apparel brands.

The next edition of Munich Fabric Start, running Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, will feature about 1,200 collections, according to co-owner and director Sebastian Klinder.

The denim-oriented Blue Zone will be relaunched in the coming season, and under the heading The Key, aspects of ecological fabric production, as well as new industrial technology, innovative new fibers and machines will take center stage.

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