After a season of quieter-than-normal trade shows, is now the time for a rethink of the traditional exhibition format?
As we approach the end of the spring 16 round of European trade shows, it’s time to look back on the highs and lows.
At Pitti Uomo in Florence, Berlin’s plethora of exhibitions, the UK’s big four (Pure, Scoop, Jacket Required and Moda) and the expanding Danish offer, we saw quieter shows and a sometimes sluggish buyer turnout, although for some the mood remained positive and decent orders were placed.
A successful trade show is one filled with brands wanting to sell and buyers ready to buy. But why did this season feel a little flat? Are people bored of the standard approach to trade shows? I think it is time to shake up the traditional exhibition set-up. But what could or should trade show 2.0 look like?
The reinvention of the trade show is not new. 40°, launched by EMAP on September 1, 1996, in London Arena at Docklands, was ground-breaking in its day because of its totally different attitude - a fun and engaging party-like three-day event with an edited selection of jeanswear and streetwear brands. In its early days, Parisian show Who’s Next delighted visitors by hosting the show in a large circus tent. And Bread & Butter’s beginnings, in 2001, led the way for picking derelict warehouse locations.
But these shows all grew. Their concepts became diluted, brand edits became broader and new formats lost their shine as they became familiar.
This season, it was the turn of Danish fair CIFF to introduce something new with its Raven Projects. ‘Curated’ in collaboration with John Skelton, the founder of London concept store LN-CC, around 20 emerging menswear brands were shown in a spacious hall with interesting fixtures, such as high-quality rails and design-led fittings. This created a look and feel similar to retail spaces such as LN-CC or Colette in Paris, merging a sales platform with a directional shopping experience.
“It’s refreshing to walk into a trade show and feel excited. Raven Projects’ format means you see the product much more clearly,” said Laura Southern, Topman’s senior buyer, brands and concessions, at the show.
Ben Hurren, men’s casual and denim buyer at Selfridges, also enjoyed the new look: “The layout and look feels like brand installations, which is a lot more personal and gives a real idea of what the brand is about straight away. You can even envision the product in store. It’s very refreshing.”
Brands were equally impressed. “Clothes on simple rails can get boring, so this is refreshing,” said Raven Projects exhibitor Charlotte Long, director of London menswear designer brand James Long. “Buyers see so much over a season, so it’s good to have a new concept to excite them. This set-up also allows buyers to actually visualise what the product will look like in a store, which is a great idea.”
Katy Rutherford, co-founder of London denim brand Story Manufacturing, which was also part of the new show, agreed: “We spend a long time designing the collection, so it’s nice to be able to show it somewhere that feels just as considered. Buyers will be more inspired and get to know the brand better than at a normal show.”
It was certainly refreshing to see brands showcased in a more inspirational and interesting way. However, while I did spot buyers perusing rails and looking through line sheets, footfall wasn’t hectic and this is one of the reasons it worked so well. But I’m not sure how successfully it would translate for brands that pull in more hectic crowds, and I don’t think the spacious, edited approach would work for labels with much larger collections than those shown here.
Either way, it is interesting that CIFF is trying something new and it would be refreshing to see more trade shows think outside the box to energise our trade show calendar. They need to innovate to keep trade shows relevant, and brands and buyers involved.