Like everything else in retail, fashion trade shows are being forced to transform in the name of relevance. In recent years, attendance at these shows has been down, thanks to more brands ramping up their direct-to-consumer businesses or trading up for individual showrooms.
The state of Market Week
On Saturday, UBM Fashion’s three-day Coterie for the spring 2019 season kicks off at Jacob Javits Center in NYC. The trade show, known historically for hosting contemporary and advanced contemporary brands and retailers, has seen its fair share of updates in recent years, including adding beauty products in September 2017 and a vintage section this past February. Also in February, it incorporated a 5,000-square-foot “Coterie Experience” installation, demoing buzzy, high-tech technology, like augmented reality, just starting to seep into stores. This season, again, Coterie is looking to go beyond product-focused transactions. The big focus is becoming a service for brands and retailers looking to evolve their businesses.
“The trade-show organizer is becoming more of a business development consultant than a real estate provider,” said Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel, UBM’s evp of strategy and business development, and founder of its events company, Remode, launched this year. “We believe we need to help fashion brands become more vertical, build up their direct-to-consumer businesses, build up their influencer marketing and take more of their supply chain to become more sustainable.”
The company plans to achieve that a number of ways, from “matchmaking” brands and vendors, to advising brands on all-new store matrices.
UBM’s trade show side of the business isn’t going anywhere. “We all know there are now fewer retailers at market,” he said. “But at some point, DTC brands are going to want to do wholesale. And teaming with wholesale partners is the easiest, most affordable way for brands to enter international markets.”
Danielle Licata, who became the vp of Coterie three years ago, said the event’s brand-retailer ratio is still strong and has remained consistent for the past five seasons. Still, she’s looking to make big changes. “We will be extending the Coterie brand outside of the [trade] show and into a more B2C capacity,” she said, noting that a small section of the show is now available to the public. “We launched a pop-up shop over the summer at Miami Swim Week, and it was hugely successful. I can confidently say we’ll be continuing with that initiative and other initiatives in the same vein.”
Trade shows often shine a light on what’s working in retail and what’s not.
A contemporary label founder-designer said that, during market weeks, buyers from traditional retailers are now asking her how to go about marketing and connect with the consumer. “They need our help,” she said. “It’s ‘What ideas do you have?’ and ‘How do we talk to our customer?’”
Some retailers, however, are further ahead and have noticeably brought more expertise in house.
Another brand founder said she’d long worked with the same retail buyers, but this past market, she barely knew anyone. “It was a younger group, following restructuring by several retailers,” she said. “They got what I’m trying to do, and now I’m in a lot more stores.”
Both of the founders said retailers at market are now seeking more exclusives from brands, and the brands are working to accommodate them.
Mohamed Haouache, co-founder of Storefront — which acts as the middleman between real estate owners and brands, and self-identifies as the “Airbnb of showrooms” — has noticed a showroom boom. He said demand for Storefront spaces is highest in September, or spring fashion month — during this time, even more so than fashion shows and retail pop-ups, brands are booking storefronts for multi-day showrooms. In fact, some brands book four Storefront spaces over the course of September — in New York, London, Milan and Paris, syncing their showrooms with the fashion calendar.
The company’s goal is to eventually own Market Week in New York — now Coterie — as it does in Paris, where it currently makes the most money, said Haouache.
Bag brand Baggu, which is used to taking part in NY Now and Coterie trade shows in New York, opted instead to meet buyers in a showroom setting this season, working with Storefront to find a space to hold its appointments kicking off today.
“We’d noticed an industrywide shift in this direction,” said Tamara Shkurkin, Baggu’s head of sales. “Deepening B2B relationships is a top priority for us right now, and a showroom allows us to provide a more personal, immersive brand experience for buyers that’s difficult to achieve in a traditional trade show setting.”
Dress brand Fame & Partners also went the showroom route, which it manned from September 11-14. “We timed it to coincide with New York Market and New York Fashion Week,” said Camilla Mayer, the brand’s communications manager. “We invited buyers, fashion influencers and bloggers to customize capsule collections from our resort 2019 collection.”
Licata said showrooms make sense for luxury brands, which sell through a limited number of stores — often a maximum of one per city. Contemporary brands, on the other hand, often sell to multiple stores in major cities, and trade shows allow them to see more shows in a concentrated amount of time.
In addition, she said she’s not concerned about seasonal buying transactions moving online. “Ultimately, buyers want to talk to brands about who they’re selling to and what their brand story is. And they want to see the pieces and touch them — it’s not like buying for yourself; you can’t send back what doesn’t work.”
Other brands on the relevance of trade shows:
Lorraine Oddo, evp of global sales for Ramy Brook:
“I think Coterie is absolutely necessary for emerging brands so they can begin to develop relationships with buyers. But I also think that it is important for established contemporary brands to continue to have a presence there. We have a booth every spring and fall. As our business grows, we have been holding a higher frequency of private market appointments in our showroom, but Coterie presents a great opportunity to interact with new accounts we may have not seen otherwise. The best boutiques in the country attend Coterie and so to not have a booth would potentially mean missing out on getting in front of those buyers.”
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“We want to create a marketplace to connect buyers with beauty and lifestyle brands.”
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“Retailers are fearful that tech will impact their relationships and/or their existing processes.”
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“We wanted to find ways to bridge technology and fashion that aren’t too far out there, and that retailers will feel comfortable trying [in their own stores].”