Digital Tools Continue to Play an Important Role in the Hybrid Trade-Show Model
Through e-commerce platforms, digital fashion houses, video-conferencing options and artificial intelligence–powered event-networking tools, in 2020 the apparel industry relied heavily on digitalization of many of its practices—a shift that was long overdue. A harsh reality for many within the industry was that they should have been cultivating their digital approaches to business long before a pandemic brought business to a halt.
The companies that provide these digital platforms have proven themselves as integral to the fashion industry during the bad times as well as the good, which is on the horizon. From fashion’s trade-event segment, which shifted toward virtual productions, to smaller bricks-and-mortar retail operations, which relied more heavily on e-commerce, the digital revolution into which the apparel industry was plunged brought necessary changes.
The business-to-business e-commerce platform NuOrder has worked with Informa Markets Fashion,Miami’s SwimShow, Saks Fifth Avenue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.’s Runway360.Erik Ulin, vice president of marketplaces for Los Angeles’ NuOrder, sees a continued place for digital tools as productions return to on-site models.
“We are happy to see events come back online as it signals that the industry is ready for business. The difference we see now versus the in-person events prior to COVID-19 is that brands must be able to address their retailers’ needs both on- and offline,” Ulin said. “Even though in-person shows are coming back, there are many brands and retailers who will hesitate to commit to travel for either health or financial reasons. Being able to host a strong digital showing will be crucial to address these customers while also offering in-person appointments quick and easy ways of selecting and ordering product.”
Throughout 2020, NuOrder was a major presence within the movement to maintain the health of the fashion-trade industry. While a great deal of focus was placed on the virtual aspects of producing shows, the NuOrder foundation is a blend of elements that cater to in-person events and virtual productions, according to Ulin.
“The NuOrder platform is naturally a mix of on-site and virtual with the NuOrder app that brands use for in-person appointments and the digital-event component as a discovery overlay,” Ulin said. “We are constantly introducing new features to our product and are very much focused on making the brand-retailer relationship easier, including our credit-card payments solutions, more advanced features for product imagery and enhanced searchability for retailers.”
Working on projects such as Adidas X Karlie Kloss and counting among its collaborators Buffalo London, Puma, Soorty, Tommy Hilfiger and Under Armour, the Amsterdam-based digital fashion house The Fabricant is focused on creating greater sustainability within the industry through digitalization of how fashion is created, promoted and distributed. Founder Kerry Murphy feels that many within fashion will revert back to their former models, yet the hybrid of blending digital components will remain.
“A lot of brands will go back to their old ways and realize the limitations as they are still experimenting with the new ways,” Murphy explained. “The new ways are still far out of their reach simply because they don’t have the knowledge about digital technology, about how to implement it into fashion. We’re going to see a wide spectrum of the old, traditional fashion catwalk events and fashion weeks with a mix of a lot of digital. Digital won’t stop, it’s only going to keep moving forward, especially for us.”
The demand for edgy, new technological tools will grow, and Murphy is prepared as his company continues to focus on digital-only fashion. Initially popular within the online gaming segment, purchasing virtual skins or fashions for characters has been common. It’s made its way into fashion over the last few years, and Murphy encourages brands to explore the next level of presenting their apparel through digital-only methods.
“They really need to implement digital samples into their brand. That is where it all starts. If you’re already doing digital products within your brand, you can basically plug it into any channel, into any experience. You can populate your look books,” Murphy said. “It’s such a strong communication method. That is the starting point. The brands who are already doing that, they need to start looking into business models to start monetizing this digital-only clothing.”
As former models blend with the new, NuOrder’s solutions will continue to help brands create an experience for customers, thereby affording a sales approach that is uniquely their own. With the return to on-site trade events in the fashion space, Ulin foresees the virtual option allowing brands to cultivate their customer relationships while expanding opportunities from the show floor into a virtual customer-service environment that is available at any time.
“I think we will see even more focus on virtual events and digital marketplaces as we go forward, as a crucial complement to physical shows as well as a means of continued discovery and shopping on a 365-day basis,” Ulin said. “The leap the industry made in 2020 to accept digital as a crucial means of brand-retailer relationships gives retailers and brands more time to focus on finding great product instead of dealing with all the inefficiencies involved in the traditional order writing–and–taking process.”