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Bread & Butter: The first interactive, digital pop-up mall

A fashion trend show replaces a trade show in Berlin

Bread & Butter Berlin made a comeback last weekend, after filing for insolvency in 2014 and cancelling its January 2015 event. This time, though, sponsored by European ecommerce heavy hitter Zalando, instead of operating as a trade show, it was open to the public. Carsten Hendrich, VP of brand marketing for Zalando explained pre-opening: ”Behavior through retail is changing so we felt it was time to revise the [Bread & Butter] concept to center it more around the consumer, both digitally and physically.”

On Friday evening, a big crowd of young consumers waiting patiently for the main doors to open took selfies in front of colorful B&&B signage (yes, two “&”s). Inside Arena Berlin – the same venue as the Seek show in May – pop-up shop after shop, for the 30 brands that took part, lured visitors in with interactive activities such as backpack painting by local artists at Eastpak, and shoppable fashion catwalk shows from brands including Puma and Topshop, which were also broadcast live on Facebook. At the indoor interactive digital pop-up mall, a bouncy castle took centre stage in the steamy space and hip-hop, produced by underground music community Boiler Room, pumped out of the speakers at a good volume. A manmade beach outside – the same one that featured at trade show Seek – was made popular with the addition of food and drink stalls – the cheesy spätzle from Heisser Hobel was delicious. 

The fully shoppable environment, made possible by QR codes placed in the brands’ shop spaces, was accessible by the Zalando app that scanned the codes and put them directly into a virtual Zalando shopping basket online. This process was mentioned in the programme booklet although some shoppers I spoke to did not realise that and it left some people at the event unaware of the fact that you could scan and buy clothing directly from the stalls. It could be that the signs and explanations for the code scanning process was sometimes difficult to spot in the Arena. Moreover, the fact that some brands, such as Levi’s and Mint & Berry, were selling stock on the floor may have confused the situation. When I asked Ingo Sonneborn, the German district manager from Levi’s why he was selling physical stock when most stands were selling digitally-only he said, “There was a miscommunication from the beginning but in the end, we just went with it. But once it’s gone, it’s gone.” The Levi’s station was very busy selling and also offering free repairs to denim late into Friday night.

The biggest news of the weekend was the introduction of TommyxGigi, the autumn 16 collaboration between model Gigi Hadid and Tommy Hilfiger, that Zalando was approaced by Tommy Hilfiger to showcase at the event. The crowd was stunned by a visit from Hadid, who wore the collection for its world debut at Bread & Butter – even before New York Fashion Week begins this weekend. The American tried to infect the crowd with her excitement, but it was to no avail. “It’s not so easy to excite the Germans,” said a bearded, spectacle-wearing German man that worked in retail (though he wouldn’t reveal where). The TommyxGigi collection was available to buyers when the show opened on Friday. In addition to shopping via the QR code system, it was also shoppable on an interactive digital shop wall, a huge heat conducing panel of flat screen touch monitors.

While there were evident growing pains at Zalando’s Bread & Butter, the virtually stockless (well, mostly), pop-up shopping experience has legs. More than 20,000 visitors attened the three-day sold out event and Hendrich followed up to report that there were more than 100 million impressions across Zalando’s media channels. Zalando’s presence in Germany including same-day delivery and pick-up services has been tried, and is true. Its collaborations with tech companies – such as the personal fashion predictor Project Muze, created in beta with Zoo, Google’s in-house creative team – mean it is known to be innovative. Its most profitable countries are Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, so with Bread & Butter in Berlin, Zalando might be on to something great.

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