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The trade show scene in Hong Kong and China is reflecting the shifts in sourcing hubs and demographics, while Japanese fairs continue to deal with economic malaise.

This story first appeared in the November 12, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In China, despite rising labor and raw material costs, which, in turn are squeezing margins for Chinese manufacturers and causing higher prices for buyers, trade shows in the country and in Hong Kong still appear to be major events for sourcing from the region and from the West.

According to Wendy Wen, senior general manager for Messe Frankfurt Hong Kong Ltd., which operates a number of trade fairs, including the biannual Intertextile Shanghai, the trade show industry continues to expand in greater China with new players emerging as existing players search for new ways to expand their offerings.

“Buyers are also demanding more comprehensive trading platforms to achieve a one-stop sourcing experience and holding concurring fairs together is one way of achieving this,” Wen said, adding that Messe Frankfurt now holds a number of fairs on the same dates to meet this demand.

A number of shows slated for next spring have shifted dates from last year and are now being held in the same month at virtually the same time. The 23rd China International Fashion Fair 2015, also known as CHIC, will now be held in March, coinciding with a number of other exhibitions.

“Grouping similar events helps trade fair organizers achieve a competitive advantage while consolidating industry resources, enabling enterprises to save time and money,” Wen said.

She noted that Messe Frankfurt’s 2014 textile fairs in Mainland China showed a “strong” increase in visitor figures compared with 2013, particularly from abroad, indicating China still remains a key sourcing market. There were noticeable increases in buyers from the Middle East, Russia and Europe, Wen said.

The 2014 fall edition of Intertextile Shanghai witnessed a 3 percent rise in visitors compared with the previous year. Of this figure, 24 percent were from overseas, which “proves China continues to be the main place to source in the region for overseas buyers,” Wen said.

Another major trend is the shift of trade fairs from Beijing and Hong Kong to Shanghai. While major fairs are still slated for Hong Kong next year, virtually all fairs held in Beijing have shifted to Shanghai for 2015. Earlier this year, Messe Frankfurt announced the cancellation of its biannual Hong Kong-based Interstoff trade fair to focus more on shows in China.

“Textile manufacturing and fashion buying offices have steadily shifted from Hong Kong to Mainland China,” Wen said. “We have decided to focus all of our efforts there.”

Richard Hobbs, co-founder of The Hub trade show, which is held in Hong Kong and showcases brands seeking buyers mainly from China but also regionally, echoed a similar sentiment.

“Everything is gravitating toward Shanghai,” Hobbs said. “I will say now we are thinking long and hard about how quickly and how soon we should do something in China.”

Hobbs said he sees continuing demand, particularly from Chinese buyers, for international labels that represent something “different.”

“There is definitely much more interest in smaller niche brands,” he said. “I feel there is a latent and upcoming demand for this. We are serving [China’s] burgeoning middle class, which is almost an unstoppable force.”

Hobbs said the show is also seeing exhibitors from more diverse product categories outside of apparel, including footwear and accessories, also a sign of demand for trade fairs offering a one-stop shop for buyers traveling to the region.

“Their normal route might have been a jewelry fair,” he said. “We are starting to attract not just clothing brands, but a whole mix of lifestyle and accessories brands, as well.”

Abe Chehebar, chief executive officer of the New York-based AHQ — Accessories Headquarters — said despite rising costs with mainland manufacturers, China remains the top choice for sourcing.

“We find these shows to be very productive,” he said. “We always come out learning something new.”
Uncertainties about Japan’s macroeconomic landscape, particularly plans for a second sales tax increase, are looming large.

While Japan’s economy performed relatively well over the latter part of last year and the first part of 2014, it took a tumble in the second quarter, contracting an annualized 7.1 percent over the April-to-June period. April’s sales tax hike — the rate grew to 8 percent from 5 percent — put more of damper on consumer sentiment than originally anticipated. The country is now waiting to see whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will proceed with plans to push through a second sales tax increase to 10 percent next year. Economists are sure to be eyeing third quarter GDP figures due later this month. On Oct. 31 the Bank of Japan expanded its economic stimulus measures, a move the boosted stocks and weakened the yen.

While most Tokyo fairs are moving ahead without any significant changes, one of the best-known fashion events has undergone a large rebranding. RoomsLink used to run concurrently with Tokyo’s fashion week, even hosting some of the runway shows. But organizer Tomonori Matsuri of the public relations agency PR01 said many international guests were confused about the difference between RoomsLink and Rooms, an affiliated trade show that includes a wider variety of products, such as home decor and gift items, as well as fashion. Organizers decided to change the name of RoomsLink to PR01 Trade Show.

The first edition of the rebranded PR01 Trade Show took place in October one week after Tokyo fashion week at the EBiS303 event space in Tokyo’s Ebisu neighborhood. The second edition will be held in March of next year although the dates and location have not been determined.

While RoomsLink used to host around 120 brands, PR01 Trade Show had only 60 for its inaugural edition. But Matsui said the selection criteria was tougher than it used to be. The fair was divided into four sections, each with its own director. Each director selected a concept for their section and then chose brands that fit that theme.

For next season, PR01 Trade Show will again be using the director system, although Matsui said he gradually wants to increase the number of directors and choose ones from various countries outside of Japan. However, he doesn’t plan on increasing the number of brands drastically, noting that he thinks next season will have between 60 and 70.

“This time, everyone told us that the products were very easy to see and to navigate,” Matsui said. “So I don’t want it to get too big too fast.”

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