Coping with economic uncertainty, many innerwear executives attending this week’s market are assessing the costs, relevance and timing of lingerie trade fairs.
The recession forced manufacturers and retailers to downsize the teams sent to buy, source and glean directional trend information at the shows. Several companies are turning to the Internet, online runway images and digital look books that showcase fashion and private label products as well as trend reports and textiles. Executives also use the Web to complete transactions with distributors, suppliers and sales agents and vendors are customizing appointments at company headquarters, where meetings are conducted with fabric, lace, print and embroidery specialists before a major trade fair.
At the same time, other firms say there is no substitute for in-person attendance and interaction, whether to properly judge a pattern or a trend presentation or cultivate business relationships and network.
The costs for exhibiting at trade fairs in the U.S., Europe, and Asia can range from $5,000 to $50,000 or higher depending on the real estate, and travel expenses may easily reach $10,000 per person.
The main fairs for the lingerie market include the CurveNY and CurveNV venues in the U.S., and four produced by trade show giant Eurovet: the Salon International de la Lingerie, and the Mode City edition in Paris, France, and two in Asia — Shanghai Mode Lingerie and Hong Kong Mode Lingerie.
“I think all of these trade shows have to be evaluated, especially regarding timing,” said Josie Natori, president and chief executive officer of Natori Co. “Even Premiere Vision is running too late in October, and I think everyone is looking at all of these ratios…people are questioning the need for trade shows because suppliers come to New York to see you. It’s becoming a way of customization.”
Jill Fuerst, director of design and merchandising for women’s intimates and sleepwear at Delta Galil USA Inc., said the global marketplace is changing priorities.
“People used to travel to the trade shows looking for the Holy Grail,” she said. “Now, it’s not so sacred because suppliers come to the U.S. and everyone [in product development] travels constantly to Asia…seasons used to be rigid, but now everyone wants to bring to market what’s in season.”
Michelle Clark, senior merchandising manager at The Age Group, which produces the upscale Flora Nikrooz sleepwear collection, sees the impact of technology as a major factor.
“I can see products, directional trends, even prints on the Internet or on a CD,” she said. “There has to be a compelling reason to go to trade shows today and it has to be a profitable venture…I think trade shows will need to reinvent themselves.”
Laurence Teinturier, executive vice president of CurvExpo Inc., which produces CurveNY in New York and CurveNV in Las Vegas, acknowledged the effects of the Web, while citing the nature of the product as a compelling element in the continuing relevance of the shows.
“We ourselves are using Internet tools to promote the brands that exhibit with us,” Teinturier said. “But for retailers, nothing will replace seeing all of the brands under one roof. People wouldn’t need to go to trade shows if we were selling nuts and bolts. We sell fit and beautiful, sophisticated product, which people need to see.…You have to give many reasons for buyers to come to trade shows, and the business is about people and people talking to each other and developing synergies together.”
Eurovet executives could not be reached for comment.
Other industry executives agree with Teinturier. Gwen Widell, senior vice president of merchandising and design at Wacoal America, said there is no substitute for “the real thing.”
“You can look at lace and embroidery patterns on a computer, but it’s very different conceptually unless you have it in your hand,” Widell said. “Trend presentations are very important at the shows with tables with fabrics, embroideries and laces tacked on so you can touch and feel the swatches. It’s not the same thing seeing virtual product.”
Despite the desire to economize, some venues are attracting more visitors because of locations that are close to strategic partners in Asia, a main sourcing hub.
“The Hong Kong and Shanghai shows are gaining momentum and importance due to the increase in exhibitors, driven by proximity of local suppliers and vendors,” said Martha Olson, group president of intimate apparel and swimwear at The Warnaco Group Inc. “Additionally, a great deal of textile innovation is happening in that area of the world. However, the Paris shows continue to be a good resource for our designer business.…There is a concern that the timing of the Paris Mode City show in July [moved ahead from September for 2011] is too early.”
She further noted that the combination of the lingerie and Interfiliere textiles forums at the Paris shows is “beneficial.”
“It allows good exposure to both at one time, and gives companies the opportunities to maximize travel budgets,” Olson said.
Sandy Waitz, chief design officer of innerwear at Hanesbrands Inc., said the Shanghai venue “will allow more local suppliers who do not have reps in the U.S. to showcase their lines and innovation. As companies continue to manufacture in the Eastern hemisphere it allows for local materials and components to be utilized.”
Tracy Lewis, ceo of London-based Eveden Group, a full-figure bra specialist, said, “We sent several people to Shanghai and they said there was a greater presence this year and it was extremely beneficial to us. It’s still relatively small compared to the Paris shows, but with the importance of our partners in that part of the world, we can get a good amount of business done on a short amount of time,” said Lewis.
Guido Campello, vice president of sales, marketing and innovation at Cosabella, said he believes trade shows are relevant but should offer diversity to draw a bigger audience.
“We are looking at the global market…Denmark, Brazil, Greece, Taiwan, Canada, and the U.S., and regional markets,” he said. “We are crossing boundaries like showing at the Who’s Next [apparel] show in Paris. We won’t be doing the Paris [Mode City show in July because we’ll be showing at the Mare d’Amare [intimates and swimwear] fair in Florence.”