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What is the future of trade shows?

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.”

CIFF Raven Projects

CIFF Raven Projects

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.

Readers' comments (4)

  • Shows are good to dip in and out of, but their hey day has long since gone and isn't going to come back. Many retailers are in consolidation mode, so they don't need to attend - or at least not every season. Their net gain is at best, marginal.

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  • John Alston

    I am very surprised when reading this artificial that there is no mention of the Digital potential of Trade Shows online - this in my humble opinion is Trade Show 2.0?

    At the end of 2007 I started to sell designer clothes online for a previous Multi-Drapers-Award-Winning Independent Retail. This took a bit of convincing at the time as the consensus was that no-one would buy a £700 Nicole Farhi Dress or a £2000 Dom & Ruby Shearling without trying it on. I referenced Net-a-Porter, a relatively small U.S. company at the time, from an article in Drapers and he agreed to a trial. Within 3 days we had sold a Mulberry Suitcase. From this point forward the owner instantly saw the potential and we went full steam ahead, taking 7 figures online within the first 18 months before Selfridges, Harvey Nichols & Harrods had started selling clothes online, let alone the brands we were stocking.

    The point is that back then everyone was worried Online would take sales away from the shops - it didn’t. Now, the buzz-word is 360 degree retail and online creates store sales & visa-versa.

    I strongly believe that the same is true for B2B Trade Shows and that the first one, maybe Pure London of i2i Events Group, which we attend, that goes fully digital and takes both Forward and Stock Orders online will lead this sector both now and in the future.

    As a business 50% of our turnover is wholesale, only 14% of that comes from trade shows. Apart from a few showroom appointments, the rest is all Online Wholesale Stock Order. Delivery is Next-Day UK, 3 days Europe & 5-7 rest of world. This tool has massively grown our Niche Company to a good-sized SME. We have grown 5 times the size we were 4 years ago and this is mainly because of the internet. We have an Online Wholesale Forward Order Platform launching in weeks, which I believe will eclipse our Trade Show income in the first season.

    Our current website is dated but in less than one-month we have a serious bit of kit going live that will be on the cutting edge of Online Retail & Wholesale Stock Order. Both sites are coming from the fantastic Middlesbrough-based Visualsoft with a tight bespoke brief from our company.

    UK Digital platforms such as (Established by ex-Pure London Event Director) are leading the way and with Alibaba becoming the highest grossing IPOs in history.

    I believe the future is clear; everything in the article above is very true and exciting but without a digital element, in my opinion all these ideas are back in the dark ages.

    The future of selling clothes is the perfect combination of: Design, Technology & Logistics.

    Just making beautiful garments at the right price is no longer enough to win in these exciting times.

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  • Wow what an advert for his Company! Like a shop window or a webpage manufacturers/ retailers need to show their product to the greatest number of buyers, the only place to achieve this is at a show. The quality of presentation at some to say the least is very poor so that's the reason they don't write orders, some chrome rails with a multitude of mixed garments and colours is not the correct way to attract buyers!
    Pitti is a success, Jacket Required is a success, Raven was a success. Exhibitions allow buyers to meet suppliers old and new both parties away from their relative spaces We need them to keep fresh and to meet our fellow sufferers!!

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  • I thought the traditional trade show died years ago along with the demise of the indie. Don't think we will ever see the likes of the trade show's that we did in the 80's and 90's, everyone worked hard and certainly played hard, indie buyers in their droves came from North, South, East and West of the country to converge on London for a few days. In Europe these show's still exist as the Indie's still dominate, for how much longer who know's. Of course the current format needs a shake up, but hey if it didn't then it wouldn't the fashion industry.

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