Brands are putting their faith in Harrogate Fashion Week as a new gateway to northern accounts.
If there is one thing fashion brands want right now, it is a way to cut costs without jeopardising sales. Harrogate Fashion Week is hoping to capitalise on this by offering a cheaper alternative to the bigger UK trade shows, and its strategy seems to be working.
The second edition of the womenswear, footwear and accessories trade show took place on 27-28 January at the Harrogate Convention Centre, just north of Leeds. Despite the looming threat of Brexit, the timing of the event’s emergence could not be much better: Birmingham trade show Moda is going through a period of instability, including the relocation of its menswear brands to ITE Group stablemate Pure London this season. Combine this with the rising cost of stands at the big exhibitions, and many brands are exploring alternatives.
Occasionwear brand John Charles is a notable name that has decided not to show at Moda this season in favour of testing the water at Harrogate. Others are hedging their bets and doing both.
“It does feel like perfect timing,” acknowledged Harrogate Fashion Week director and co-founder Sarah Moody.
Moody and her co-founders, Wendy Adams and Stephen Dixon, are another draw. Between them, they have a long history of putting on successful trade shows – Moody was womenswear event director at Moda for more than 20 years and Adams has worked as operations director for Scoop.
Exhibitors Drapers spoke to clearly have faith in the team’s ability to grow the show: “We believe in them and what they can pull together,” says James Ellis from occasionwear brand John Charles (more views from exhibitors and buyers below).
“We’re trying to do something a bit lower cost to help out the brands,” Adams tells Drapers. “Rates are going up every season, but people are doing less business. It’s not costing them a fortune to be here. And people have an affinity with Harrogate.”
To keep costs low, the show ran over two days instead of three and, despite its name, there were no flashy catwalk shows. Stands cost £150/sq m with no additional marketing charges, which one exhibitor said was a “fraction” of the price at larger shows.
The event was relatively small – around 80 exhibitors – and the simple layout worked well. There were two adjacent halls, and the cafe at the back neatly pulled people through.
Many brands noted that it was the little things that made a difference: when they arrived, parking was easy, there was free tea and coffee, and help to set up.
Getting there is also reasonably straightforward. There are direct trains from most cities to Leeds or York and regular connections to Harrogate, where it is less than a 10-minute walk to the convention centre. Many buyers and exhibitors expressed fondness for the attractive Yorkshire town, which certainly beats Birmingham’s NEC (where Moda is based) in the charm stakes. Harrogate has a strong fashion heritage: buying events were hosted at the convention centre for more than 25 years before moving to the NEC.
Most of the brands were familiar names, some serving the mid-market and a handful with a more contemporary offer. There was a clear crossover with Moda: Latte, James Lakeland and John Charles are – or were – all regular fixtures in Birmingham.
Animal print continues to be a strong trend for autumn 19, and brands were playing with new iterations – for example, Bitte Kai Rand offered a print that looked at first glance like zebra but was in fact the blown-up pattern from a butterfly wing.
The mix of brands must be a focus for next season – it would be good to see some newer names and a clear point of difference. Harrogate Fashion Week needs to decide if it wants to be the new Moda, or the Pure or Scoop of the north, or can it form its own distinct identity?
The show felt relatively quiet, but pre-registrations were almost double that of last season and footfall did pick up over the course of day one (Sunday). Most of the exhibitors seemed happy with the number and quality of buyers, most of whom were from independents in the north of England and Scotland.
Harrogate Fashion Week has the backing of brands and buyers that are keen to see a good new trade show emerge outside London. It is still finding its feet, but this felt like the winter warm-up to a bigger, busier summer show.
The next edition will take place on 28-29 July.
Views from the show
James Lakeland, founder of the eponymous brand
“It’s busier than last season. I’m here because I love Harrogate, I’m friendly with Sarah [Moody, the show’s co-founder] and I don’t know what’s going on with the other trade shows – they are so expensive. I think this show is going to grow.”
Noreen Puri, brand director, Pomodoro
“We like the idea of a show up here – it’s such a lovely town. It’s easy to get to and very cost effective. Everyone we have seen says they want to support the show. I feel it will grow. It’s important to be there from the beginning to get a good spot. We’re very happy with the stand and the organisers are so helpful. Moda has been going for a long time, and sometimes you need a change. It’s a challenging time in the industry – people want to lower costs. Regional shows lower costs, because you can come for the day. We have had a good season so far, but I think people with slightly higher price points are suffering. The [retailers] that buy strategically are doing well, but everyone is buying more cautiously than before, and focusing on trans-seasonal product.”
Joel Alexander, owner of eponymous Newcastle occasionwear independent
”We came here for [occasionwear brand] John Charles but we’ll have a look around at the other brands. The show looks smart. It’s well laid out and well lit. It’s not massive, so it feels quite personal. We can wander into Harrogate and have a bite to eat. I think smaller shows with the right brands may be the way forward. The high street is struggling but for us business is fantastic.”
Ben Dunhill, UK sales manager, Laurie
“This is a local show for me. We have exhausted Pure. It’s far too big and you can get lost in such a big exhibition with so many big brands. Here, we can stand out a bit more. Also Pure is far too expensive once you factor in travel to London. More local shows are the way forward. I’ve been pleasantly surprised – it’s been busier than I thought it would be. Some retailers are worried about Brexit, asking if we’re going to put our prices up. We’re not. I don’t think there’s any point worrying about things you can’t control.”
Hilary Haresign, managing director, Snooty Frox of Harrogate
“This is local for us, so it cuts down on expense, and we want to support the show. We try to support all the UK shows as we don’t want them disappearing to Europe. We’re buying as much here as possible, so we can spend less time in London.”
Sam Hunt, owner, Hunted Brands, representing Spanish footwear brand Unisa
“So far we’ve seen four customers that I haven’t seen for years, and one has placed an order. There is a really nice feel to the show. For us it’s about making contacts and getting exposure in the north. We used to show at Pure and Moda but we stopped both – they want too much for the stands. With Brexit uncertainty I didn’t think we would make the return [on investment]. Harrogate Fashion Week is only two days, so already the costs are lower, and the stand was also a fraction of the price. I’m not writing off the other shows – it’ll be interesting to see how Pure does – but I have to look at alternatives. We had free tea and coffee yesterday, and they helped us set up. Those little things make a big difference.”
Rachel Wiles, country sales manager UK and Ireland, Bitte Kai Rand
“We’re here for our northern customers. It’s quiet, but it’s still a new show. They need more brands and a point of difference. We couldn’t fault them on the set-up: the parking was well organised, and everyone was so helpful.”
Robert de Keyser, owner, Jonny Drama, representing Passioni, Expresso, Marie Mero, Tricotto, Maggy London and Lara de Keyser
“I think it’s excellent. I’m very pleased. We’ve seen a good quality of buyers: serious mid-market, classic accounts. I like the fact that it’s only a two-day fair and the accommodation in Harrogate is great, all in easy walking distance. People can get around the show easily.”
Contemporary womenswear brand Darling is relaunching in the UK this season under its new owner, GB Agencies, run by Gerard Burke. Formerly its Irish distributor, Burke acquired the brand last March and focused first on relaunching it in Ireland. Standout items include a sparkly grey tulle skirt and animal print sweater.
Wholesale prices range from £19 for an entry-level skirt to £75 for a coat.
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Lara de Keyser
Among the six brands distributor Jonny Drama was showing at Harrogate Fashion Week was new launch Lara de Keyser, led by and named after the group’s sales director. The brand specialises in buttery-soft leather jackets, some with a real fur trim, which are made in India in partnership with Levinsky Furs.
Wholesale prices range from €79 (£68.56) for a short style with no fur to €175 (£151.87) for a jacket with fur.
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