Orlando's Orange County Convention Center.

MAGIC is taking the plunge.

After the pandemic forced the trade show operator to convert to digital exhibitions last year, the company is sticking its toe back in the water with the MAGIC Pop-Up Orlando, kicking off at the Orange County Convention Center today. The show will run through Thursday and will include brands that have traditionally shown at WWDMAGIC, Stitch, Project Women’s and MICAM Americas in Las Vegas. The limited-capacity, appointment-driven event will focus on women’s trend and contemporary apparel, accessories and footwear, as well as an assortment of men’s classic and contemporary brands.

In addition to MAGIC, Womenswear in Nevada and the Offprice Show also relocated from Vegas to Florida to join MAGIC at the pop-up, although registration for each show remains separate. WWIN focuses on women’s fashion and accessories and Offprice will continue to specialize in discounted apparel, accessories and footwear in a variety of categories.

Informa's Kelly Helfman.

Informa’s Kelly Helfman. 

In the name of safety, the show is offering more of a “curated selection,” according to Kelly Helfman, commercial president of Informa Markets Fashion, which owns MAGIC, and will feature a few hundred brands. While many of the large labels that would typically show in Las Vegas will be missing, Helfman believes the eclectic assortment will appeal to a wide range of retailers.

She said a few thousand buyers pre-registered for the show — big boxes, department and specialty stores, as well as independents. And a last-minute check with registered retailers to ensure their attendance found that they were indeed on board. “They’re in,” she said. “Our goal was to draw deep, quality retail customers to this show, and we see that happening.”

Helfman added that prior to deciding to move ahead with a live event, MAGIC conducted surveys of exhibitors and attendees and found that many are ready to return to in-person events. “They want to get back to live events and do business,” she said.

That prompted the company to search out a location that would be safe and convenient for its community. With Las Vegas still closed to large events, they settled on Orlando — a decision she called a “no-brainer.”

The Orlando County Convention Center is only 15 minutes from the airport and offers a centralized layout with several hotels, restaurants and retail stores within walking distance, limiting the requirements for shuttles, taxis and other transportation.

Orlando's Orange County Convention Center.

The convention center features a pedestrian bridge for easy access. 

Even so, to safely host an in-person event while the pandemic continues to run rampant around the world, the MAGIC team will implement stringent health and safety precautions including proof of negative COVID-19 tests for all participants, either before arriving or on site. Aisles will be 20-feet wide or wider to allow for six feet of social distancing, and face masks and temperature checks will be required for exhibitors and attendees.

Once inside, attendees will find that the majority of the vendors will be women’s brands such as Chinese Laundry, Elan International, Lush Clothing, Hale Bob, Bed/Stu, Laundry by Shelli Segal and Nicole Miller in women’s and Psycho Bunny and Hook & Tackle in men’s.

While MAGIC started as a men’s show and continues to be important to the men’s retail community, Helfman said the response from the women’s segment to the pop-up was “really strong,” which is why the mix will be weighted in that direction. “But we have a lot of men’s brands too so the men’s retailers will be happy,” she stressed.

The MAGIC Pop-Up will also feature a variety of live and pre-recorded educational programs. On Feb. 9, Ashley Alderson, founder and chief executive officer of The Boutique Hub, will take on the topic of Customer Engagement: How to Attract, Engage and Grow Customer Relationships That Last. Later in the day, Helfman along with Wendy Bendoni, professor and fashion marketing chair for Woodbury University, will offer up a Trend Alert session with celebrity host, actress Rachel McCord. That will be followed by Helfman, Alderson and Taylor Jones, owner and CEO of Shop The Tiny Closet, taking on the issue of how to Stand Out on Social in 2021.

On Feb. 10, Darlene Mitchell, retail boutique adviser and coach, will speak on the topic of “The Five Most Important Inventory Planning Tips You’ll Need to Succeed.” In the afternoon, Josh Orr, founder of Streamline Retail, will take on: “The New Retail: The E-commerce Experience for Brick-and-Mortar Retail.” That will be followed by WGSN’s Amiyra Perkins, director of its Mindset trend division, who will be joined by Noah Zagor, director and senior North America men’s wear strategist, to explore fall trends in both men’s and women’s wear.

Finally, on Feb. 11, Erin McDonald senior marketing manager at Informa Fashion, will help retailers learn how to most effectively navigate the digital trade show space. And that will be followed by McCord moderating a session featuring “Gossip Girl” actress Jessica Szohr, as they talk about fashion, trends and being new moms.

In addition to the pop-pp, Informa Markets Fashion is also holding virtual events this month for its other U.S. shows in partnership with business-to-business e-commerce platform NuOrder. Project virtual will run through Feb. 22, MAGIC digital will continue through March 1 and MICAM Americas through March 16. Coterie Digital will kick off virtually on Feb. 16 and run through March 16.

And looking down the road, Helfman said Informa is still planning to move ahead with in-person events in the second half of this year, with WWDMAGIC, Project, Project Women’s, MAGIC Men’s, MICAM Americas and Sourcing at MAGIC, slated for Aug. 9 to 11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Coterie taking place Sept. 19 to 21 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.

“We’re hopeful this is the start of getting back to live events,” Helfman said about the pop-up. She said Informa has also staged events in Asia and the U.S. recently and they have proven to be successful with “positive return on investment. So we’re carefully monitoring the situation to ensure we too can deliver a safe show.”

That being said, Helfman sees some lasting impact from the pandemic with a “hybrid” model of in-person and digital events being employed going forward.

“That’s going to be part of the future,” she said, adding that because “no one size fits all,” the goal is to offer both. “Trade events in the fashion industry are evolving into a more ominichannel approach.”

For those opting for the digital option, Informa is working harder with retailers to help them navigate the online platforms and has also added direct credit card payments to smooth the order process. In addition, the platform is now more “product-driven than brand-driven,” she said.

But no matter how strong a digital experience is presented, shopping in-person just can’t be replaced. “Fashion is so tactile and you really want to touch and feel the product,” she said. And while retailers may feel comfortable working directly with some of their existing suppliers in their showrooms or virtually, it’s hard to discover new brands remotely.

“So the future will be a hybrid,” she said. “We’re really excited about how the trade show industry will evolve to better engage our community.”