At Fashion Market Northern California, Business Continues Despite California Fires
SAN MATEO, Calif.—It didn’t look like a good day to go to a trade show.
Newspapers and broadcasters were telling the story of what may be the worst fires in California history. A series of fires spread through Napa, Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino, Butte and Solano counties earlier this month. The fires killed 41 people and forced 90,000 people to evacuate their homes. By press time, the fires had not been completely contained.
But on Oct. 16, Hillary White, owner of the Understuff boutique, made the four-hour drive from the North Coast town of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County to go to Fashion Market Northern California, in the San Mateo County Event Center, a short drive away from San Francisco International Airport.
“The smoke was terrible,” White said of the fires. “In Santa Rosa, you couldn’t see the hills from the 101 freeway.”
White said the market was too important to skip. “It was the last market to get fill-in orders for Christmas,” she said.
Attendance for the Oct. 15–17 run of FMNC took a hit, said Ute Wegmann, president of the board of the trade show. “We have so many retailers up there,” Wegmann said of the areas affected by the fires. “We have so many staff members and reps up there.”
FMNC management did not have exact numbers of retailers who canceled because of the fires. But the disaster was on the mind of everyone at the show and the regional businesses. Sales reps reportedly donated clothing samples to organizations providing fire relief. One store, S.H.E. A Fabulous Woman’s Boutique in Santa Rosa, Calif., canceled a fashion event at its store on Oct. 19. Instead the boutique organized a drive for clothing, toiletries and phone chargers for people displaced by the fire.
However, vendors at the show were surprised at how many retailers from the affected areas shopped at the show. Wegmann also pointed out that FMNC could not ignore other places served by the show. “The North Bay is a huge part of the business. But it’s not the entire business. The market has outreaches to Alaska, Portland and Washington.” It also serves retailers from the rest of the San Francisco Bay area, which is home to more than 7.6 million people.
The show came at a relatively good time for the larger economy. Consumer confidence remains high, according to The Conference Board, the nonprofit that reads the national economic mood. And the unemployment rate remains low. It was 4.2 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Booth space at the show was sold out, according to Mary Taft, the show’s executive director in training. There were 443 booths with more than 2,000 brands at the event, which was even with the FMNC’s October 2016 show. Styles ranged from sportswear to activewear, denim, coats, tops, dresses, sweaters, lingerie and accessories mostly for a mature woman. FMNC produces five markets annually. The great majority of its attendees are specialty boutiques located in Northern California.
The fires created a sense of uncertainty at the market, Nina Perez of the Nina Perez Showroom said. “I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was going to get worse.”
But vendors reported steady buyer traffic throughout the show. Harlan Goodman, a Portland, Ore.–area representative for the Foxcroft Shirt Co. brand, said that he opened four new accounts by the midpoint of the second day of the show.
FMNC’s October market is traditionally one of the bigger markets for the organization. Vendors typically exhibit Spring fashions. But many retailers shopped for immediate deliveries and fill-in orders.
“Retailers are coming back to the lines that the have had success in selling,” said Don Reichman of Reichman Associates. “Are they shopping for new resources? Not as much as I was hoping,” he said.
Retailers shopped through every kind of fashion category from socks to leather jackets to gowns at the trade show. Shelley Hill of the Holly Hill boutique in San Carlos, Calif., said prints had been strong for some time.
“Prints are always popular,” she said. “We’re feeling overprinted. We’re focusing on solids and textures.”
During the recent run of the trade show, a speakers program that began with the January 2017 show continued. Retail consultant Lily Stamets spoke on Oct. 16 on the topic of “Solutions for Today’s Retail Challenges.” Other topics included social media and reorganizing boutiques’ strategic plans.
The next FMNC is scheduled for Jan. 28–30, 2018.