Liberty Fairs is taking a break as its owners contemplate the future of the trade show industry.
Last week Sharifa Murdock, who cofounded Liberty with Sam Ben-Avraham in 2013, sent out an email saying the decision was made to halt the shows in New York and Las Vegas for at least the next season.
“While it has always been our mission to showcase the rising talent and innovations within the men’s and women’s fashion industry through highly impactful trade shows and events, we feel there is no better time than now to hit the pause button and restructure our business model to better suit the forward-thinking and heritage brands we serve,” she wrote. “With that, we’ve made the collective decision to put a pause on hosting shows at least through the winter season. Although we’re deeply saddened to pause our shows that so many look forward to attending each year, at the end of the day our goal is to protect the best interest of our incredible brands and designers — which is why we’ll be taking this time to re-evaluate how we operate and implement new initiatives that allow them to scale and add value to their offerings in an even greater way.”
Historically, Liberty has aligned with Project, holding shows on the same dates in both New York and Las Vegas in January and August. But that changed in 2018 when Liberty and Agenda were both forced to show in downtown Las Vegas after Project shifted its dates and Liberty’s traditional location at the Sands Expo Center was unavailable.
Project, which was founded by Ben-Avraham and sold to Advanstar, the then-owner of MAGIC, in 2005, has long been the granddaddy of the men’s trade show business. But its return to an in-person event in August was lacking in terms of both exhibitors and retailers, many of whom decided to attend the Chicago Collective, which was held at the same time. Liberty did not hold an event in Vegas in August and Murdock is glad it didn’t.
Reached by phone, she said that although Liberty had hosted successful events in Miami during swim week in July and Los Angeles during L.A. Men’s Market in August, “we felt the men’s wear industry has changed and brands need smaller, regional shows like Chicago.” She sang the praises of the Chicago Collective and its organizer Bruce Schedler. “My prediction is that the Chicago Collective will have an amazing show,” she said, noting that it is able to be more cost-effective to vendors because it owns the building in which it operates, and is also “small and nimble.” The Italian Trade Commission also made a deal with Chicago to bring its brands there instead of Project.
Murdock said she is watching carefully what the Chicago and Man shows are going to do this season — Man is also returning to an in-person show in New York Jan. 26 to 28 in a new location, AG Studios in Tribeca — as well as Project, which will be held Jan. 26 to 27 in New York and Feb. 14 to 16 in Las Vegas.
Murdock said she’s been in conversation with both Man and the Collective about “building a stronger community for men’s wear. It’s sad if we didn’t learn anything from the past year. So we decided to pause for this season and see what everyone else is doing.”
She said many brands are still not ready to return to a traditional trade show format and with so much uncertainty still swirling about COVID-19 and its variants, “we don’t know what’s going to happen in January or February, especially in Vegas, which is so big. So I have no problem sitting out a season.”
On 2018, Murdock created Envsn, a consumer event for Millennial and Gen Z women with a marketplace and experiential activations. That is still going on and she’s hoping to hold three events next year: in New York, Miami and the Washington, D.C./Maryland/Virginia market.
“That’s where my heart is,” she said. She has also taken a role at Kith as chief impact officer where she will focus on that company’s philanthropic efforts.
“Trade shows still matter but we need to make them more important so that brands find the value in them,” she said. “We need to add something to bring excitement and benefit the brands.”
How that will be done, however, remains to be seen.
But while Liberty may be taking a break, Informa, which owns Project and MAGIC, is plunging full-steam ahead with in-person shows. According to Kelly Helfman, president of Informa Markets Fashion, “We have focused on understanding what the industry needs now, and going forward, so we can better serve the community. The fashion industry is a very tactile one — people want to touch and feel pieces, and in-person opportunities are vital to that. Plus face-to-face connection is irreplaceable and will always be key in business.”
She said that while in-person events will continue to be the core of Informa’s business, the company is expanding its offering with “advanced content, education, trend, and market insights as well as digital solutions to offer better connection, discovery and learning for our fashion communities. Digital solutions provide a powerful, yearlong, complementary opportunity to support the live event experience, and we absolutely see both physical and digital as long-term engines for us. We are excited to welcome the industry back to the showfloor throughout 2022.”