The traditional parameters defining the fashion industry are being dislodged and the shake-up can be felt not only on the runway, but among the trade fairs, too.
As the see-now-buy-now trend transforms fashion shows and the direct-to-consumer business model shifts the emphasis from wholesaling to direct-to-consumer selling, the lines are blurring for the trade shows in Las Vegas.
One direction some trade shows might evolve in is toward a consumer-centric platform like the one introduced in early November at ComplexCon in Long Beach, Calif. Representing a mash-up of an apparel trade show, music festival and TED Talks geared toward Millennials, the two-day event organized by Complex magazine is “sort of a unique and new approach to what is a trade show,” said Matthew Fine, president of Karmaloop in Ontario, Calif., who premiered a collaboration between the e-tailer and rapper Nas at ComplexCon.
Kelly Helfman, show director of WWDMAGIC and Project Womens, acknowledged that ComplexCon is “a very interesting idea.” But, she added, “the end goal of brands is they come specifically to shows to sell directly to retail stores. We still need to focus on that goal on hand.”
That doesn’t mean trade shows are sticking solely to tradition. Helfman said WWDMAGIC is assuming a new role as a creator of content for VIP exhibitors.
“They want to gain more social media and content experience, as well as their booth space to debut their collections to their buyers,” she said.
Outside of the trade-centric events held twice a year in Las Vegas, show organizers have pursued creative ways to boost their brands and supplement their revenue.
Liberty Fairs created an e-commerce site, called Continuum, with Farfetch. Capsule opened its first retail shop in Los Angeles. UBM Fashion Group, which owns WWDMAGIC, Project Womens and Pool, dished out tacos and barbecue sandwiches to retailers at the Los Angeles Fashion Market in October, even though it didn’t operate its events there at the time. It’s also sponsoring a get-together for influencers and designers in Los Angeles in December, following similar parties, dubbed Connect, held earlier in New York
“Hosting these social gatherings puts our finger on the pulse of local market conditions, making us smarter and more effective in serving the industry,” said Michael Alic, managing director of UBM Fashion.
No matter what happens year-round, business at the trade shows in February is contingent on the performance of retail sales this holiday. In a domino effect, a healthy shopping season finds stores holding little inventory and benefiting from cash flow. Then, they need to order new merchandise and the manufacturers and factories need to make it. Executives are optimistic that a projected increase in holiday spending — even if only 3 percent as estimated by The NPD Group — bodes well for trade-show orders.
When checking out wares at the expos, retailers like to see a variety. Capsule responded last February by marking specialized sections, such as Elements for beauty and fragrance companies and Above Tree Line for outdoor brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia. “Look for further segmentation and new categories this season,” said Capsule cofounder Deirdre Maloney.
At Project Womens, Camp Collection is making an entrance in the main section and Roe + May is appearing for the first time in the Oasis area. The Collective is welcoming Pony and Zoo York.
Other shuffles on the show floor bring Stitch next to Project Womens from the Mandalay Bay Convention Center’s second floor. Moving to the Las Vegas Convention Center’s Central Hall from Mandalay Bay, AccessoriesTheShow is combining with WWDMAGIC’s accessories section to become ATS @ WWDMAGIC.
Another major move is bound to resonate at the trade shows: the start of Donald Trump’s presidency and his influence on trade deals.
“In the short term, that fear will drive attendance,” said Chris Griffin, president of Sourcing at MAGIC. “If they redo certain trade deals, if he were to redo NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement], that just makes Mexico less favorable as a place to get your goods produced, which means South America and Asia have a great opportunity to steal that market share. Therefore they should be present at the show.”