Are digital trade-show tools and virtual events here to stay?
Since late last year, COVID-19 has been causing widespread turmoil around the globe. As many apparel companies attempt to keep their clients and customers safe—while trying to remain in business—they are looking to their trusted partners for new paths to buying and selling. In some areas of the world, business is slowly opening up with safety measures such as social distancing in place, while others are still under stay-at-home orders. Eventually, the apparel industry will be back to business, but it will not be business as usual.
In the trade-show segment, which has seen many events being postponed or canceled, this shift toward a new way of doing business is most recognizable. Producers have launched virtual shows, engaged in digital and social media–based programming, and leveraged video communications. While California Apparel News hopes everyone is remaining safe and out of harm’s way, we reached out to event producers to discuss the methods by which they are utilizing virtual tools and the ways these options will be incorporated into the on-site trade-show model once stay-at-home orders are completely lifted around the world.
Show Director, Fashion and Apparel
Apparel Sourcing USA
These are certainly unprecedented times, and although nothing will ever replace face-to-face interaction—especially in our industry—we felt that it was our obligation to provide a short-term solution for our exhibitors and visitors by still offering a place to connect. We are excited to have a virtual event for this summer’s edition of Apparel Sourcing USA alongside Texworld USA and Home Textiles Sourcing. Amid this disruption, we have found an alternative to keep our community connected, both international and domestic, until we meet again.
We are aiming to make the visitor experience similar to the physical show by providing various opportunities to do business. These features include custom online “showrooms” to highlight innovations, AI matchmaking, and meetings and video chats to view the textiles and network. In partnership with Lenzing Fibers, our robust educational component will bring a strong daily lineup of industry experts sharing their insights on the latest trends, global sourcing post-COVID-19 as well as innovative sustainability initiatives.
Our goals were simple: to create a platform for the textile-sourcing community to have meaningful interactions, engage in educational discussions and continue to cultivate relationships to further their business needs. Now more than ever brands and retailers need to remain up-to-date on what’s new and relevant, and Apparel Sourcing USA, Texworld USA and Home Textile Sourcing are aiming to continue to fulfill that commitment.
CEM, Executive Director
Earlier this May, Offprice was scheduled to host our market show in New York City at the Penn Plaza Pavilion. Like many event organizers, we’re using this time to reevaluate and improve our virtual strategy to help more retail buyers find their best fits with off-price exhibitors.
As a thank-you to all sellers who were planning on showcasing their merchandise, we put together an NYC Look Book to highlight these exhibitors and their products. Digital look books and catalogs are an appealing tool for the fashion industry and are easy to share via social media and email marketing.
Thankfully, Offprice already had a digital marketplace about two years before the coronavirus struck. During this unprecedented time, we’re so happy to report that many retailers are still browsing (and buying!) online through Offprice365.com, and many of our exhibitors are still able to ship their quality, value-priced goods.
Our team is also in the process of developing a virtual component for our face-to-face events in the second half of the year, which will include technology-powered matchmaking and a digital showcase of merchandise across all product categories. As we finalize our plans, more details are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
All of the virtual tools Offprice has already implemented and are in the process of developing have one goal in mind—to connect more boutique owners, chain-store buyers and other retailers with the right exhibitors. But it’s also to help maximize our buyers’ discovery time, and by that I mean uncovering new exhibitors and new lines that make sense for their brand—which is the true treasure-hunt experience of the Offprice Show.
At Brand Assembly, we are really proud of our physical events and the in-person connections that materialize from them. We have often talked about what virtual means to us and how anything virtual has to be a complement to our physical shows, not a replacement.
With that in mind, we quickly launched a Slack workspace just for our community to keep everyone connected. We held town halls via Zoom for brands, retailers and showrooms. We put together an online directory of PPE products made by independent designers. And now we’re getting ready to announce a new and exciting virtual product and virtual event for our June 15–17 show that will bring the spirit and energy of our physical trade shows to life in a new digital format. So stay tuned!
Vice President of Partnerships
Agenda Show (AZTQ Corporation)
We believe that face-to-face events are here to stay. In today’s difficult and uncertain times, we have considered several and deployed a few solutions that provide a short-term alternative to face-to-face interaction. Once stay-at-home orders are completely lifted, we expect these virtual tools to complement face-to-face events by potentially broadening the audience for the event or repurposing content from a live event for training and other purposes.
We do not foresee that virtual tools will replace face-to-face events. For many of us, virtual tools have been our only option to reach our customers and partners, and that necessity has collectively helped drive more innovations, a broader solution set and new capabilities in virtual tools.
Senior Vice President
Womenswear In Nevada (WWIN)
Clarion Events, Inc.
Though the last several months have been challenging and we are disappointed that we are unable to be together in August, we are committed to providing our customers with tools to connect and rebuild their businesses. We’ve seen the WWIN community adapt to these changing conditions over the last several months, and it’s vital that as trade-show organizers we do the same to continue to support our brands and retailers.
Our team has been working tirelessly on ways we can help brands showcase products, help retailers source those products, and help buyers and brands meet and experience the WWIN-show elements they have come to know and love.
We are thrilled to introduce WWINdow Shopping, an interactive and easy-to-use platform connecting buyers and suppliers to conduct business similar to meeting in person. Launching July 13 and running through October, WWINdow Shopping is a one-stop shop for retailers and brands to connect 24/7 from the comfort and safety of their own homes. While WWINdow Shopping does not replace the experience of connecting face to face at our live events, we believe this is a robust alternative, offering numerous ways to connect, showcase products, learn, network and achieve business goals.
Looking ahead, we do see our virtual tools continuing to support our face-to-face events. Matchmaking and appointment setting through our MATCH! Program and CONNECT Platform have served as important and customer-valued aspects of our traditional events for the last several editions. WWINdow Shopping is an extension of these programs and will be the platform to help introduce, develop and strengthen relationships made either face to face or online throughout the year.
Sourcing at MAGIC
Informa Markets has completely transitioned to a virtual-meeting model using Microsoft Teams. Sharing our screens to reference presentations, platforms and floor plans internally has been key as we discuss the next steps for MAGIC, Project and Coterie.
Teams has also empowered us to connect more authentically with our audience. Now that we meet on video, we see our customers more than ever, and our brands, bosses, buyers and colleagues get a glimpse into our real lives. They see my kids in the background, my face with less makeup, my home. It’s been nice to interact with people more personally as opposed to just seeing everyone’s “work” selves.
As we reinvent our fashion events for 2020 and beyond, we are increasing digital tools for our customers as well. While the way we communicate has changed both personally and professionally, virtual technology has allowed us to find new and imaginative ways to create better, authentic relationships—and that’s something we’re all grateful for.
Chairman and CEO
International Market Centers
In January 2020, we announced our formation of a wholly owned, stand-alone B2B e-commerce division, IMC Digital Innovations (IMC_di), with the goal to enhance and extend our physical markets and open new business opportunities for customers. This fall, IMC_di will launch a seamlessly integrated omni-channel B2B e-commerce platform for the apparel, gift and home-furnishings industries served by IMC’s physical markets.
In addition to the development of a new B2B platform, we currently offer two other digital product streams to manufacturers and representative groups. Our sales-and-marketing software modules include sales scanning apps, product management and email tools; CRM systems and e-commerce websites; and market tools, such as badge scanning, data capture and sales tools, which are designed to enhance the at-market experience as well as post-market followup.
The COVID-19 crisis has created some unique opportunities to support our brands and buyers with interim digital solutions. For example, when the crisis caused the cancellation of our Spring apparel markets, we offered IMC customers free use of ShopZio, a fully transactional e-commerce platform acquired as part of our IMC_di launch.
A need now exists for enhanced online resources to provide both content and community for our industry. In line with this, we quickly launched a new remote resource page featuring webinars produced by IMC and other industry thought leaders, news digests and other key information. We will continue to maintain this market portal while physical markets are disrupted.
Our recent survey of IMC’s apparel buyers shows that digital platforms will not replace physical markets but are a key element for market preparation, product discovery and, increasingly during times of social distancing, for order processing. As our industry begins to reopen after the COVID-19 disruption, virtual tools will become even more important for at-market preparation, facilitating both social distancing and efficient product discovery at physical markets.
We’re very excited about the coming launch of a new Atlanta Apparel website—exclusively dedicated to wholesale fashion—with look books, product galleries, market information and a highly improved brand-and-product search. Ultimately, when IMC_di launches our new B2B platform this fall, the Atlanta Apparel website also will enable e-commerce sales, offering buyers the opportunity to seamlessly connect between markets.
This COVID-19 crisis will come to an end. As retailers reopen for business and begin to restock, our virtual market tools will have established a pipeline to jump-start much-needed economic recovery for the apparel industry, but we know that they will never replace the physical market experience. As we have seen the growth of B2B e-commerce and digital product-sourcing tools during this crisis, we anticipate that they will continue to be an important part of the fashion buying process from now on. We are planning to resume our physical markets with appropriate safety precautions—and with new digital channels—soon. We are all so looking forward to seeing the apparel industry in Atlanta when we can gather again.
Event Director Functional Fabric Fair powered by Performance Days
Functional Fabric Fair is devoting resources to further develop additional channels beyond the physical show floor to connect the industry and support attendees, exhibitors, associations and partners year-round. In lieu of the July event, which has been postponed to January 2021, we will host informative webinars—aligned with this year’s focus topic, “Inspired by Nature: From Fibers to Green Treatments”—presented in partnership with Munich’s Performance Days, the Hohenstein Institute, AATCC and a host of global experts. Additionally, Functional Fabric Fair will launch a digital platform to assist sourcing professionals who are eager to begin connecting businesses and collaborating with suppliers.
It has always been our goal to provide the utmost value to our customers, whether it is in face-to-face communication or through a platform that allows us to collaborate throughout the year. Situations like this can spark innovation and new solutions, and this economic pause has given us the opportunity to fast track our digital-platforms development to complement our in-person events. Virtual enhancements are not a replacement for our physical events but an exciting opportunity to add value in how our industry connects and conducts business. We remain optimistic that in-person events will return. We are still scheduled for Nov. 18–19, 2020, in Portland, Ore., and our team is working diligently to plan and prepare based on the latest health and safety standards.
Dallas Market Center
We’re in a different stage than many states and regions, so in several ways we are helping lead manufacturers, reps and retailers back to business—with care and caution. Texas retail has reopened, and, to support the industry, we reopened our doors on May 4 and welcomed several hundred buyers during the first week to visit showrooms by appointment. But prior to the governor’s order, we were already making plans and putting in place strict safeguards to support a healthy, secure and socially distant marketplace.
We realize that we must balance good health and good business for this plan to work effectively and that includes enhancing our digital and virtual tools, which have become critical during the pandemic. As you might expect, social media became our primary channel of communication, but we recalibrated the content away from products and trade events toward business tools, advice, inspiration and even in-stock merchandise available from exhibitors.
As we neared reopening, we encouraged buyers to use social media and our app to contact showrooms and make appointments. And as we plan ahead for a summer schedule of trade events that begin in June, we are going to roll out new programs that combine the in-person experience with the virtual so that retailers unable to come to Dallas may see the trends and merchandise on display and retailers attending the show may share their discoveries with customers back home more easily in real time.
We have learned a tremendous amount in a short amount of time. I heard a business analyst this week use the phrase “accelerating the inevitable” to describe the challenges facing many retailers, but I have encouraged our team to embrace this phrase’s positive meaning. We have accelerated new connections via digital tools that may reach us at a distance but can result in authentic close relationships and better business.
Liberty Fashion & Lifestyle Fairs
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we already knew the power that the digital world had on all industries. Now more than ever we are utilizing our digital tools to emphasize productivity and connectivity internally and externally.
In a time where uncertainty is present, we are connecting with our community through surveys, webinars, fireside chats and social-media lives. Our mission is to always support our communities throughout this time as well as develop tools that even after the social-distancing bans have been lifted to be able to effectively run their businesses successfully. As an event company, we still believe in the importance of in-person events but will be offering a digital space as well to balance out both needs. Times like this will only make our industry stronger and work better together.
Senior Vice President and Show Director
Our shows are driven by community and relationships. Now, to keep our industry connected through these times, we’re actively taking what we do at the in-person events and providing it in a digital platform.
We have shifted education sessions online, we’ve taken the in-show magazine and transformed it to a weekly digital publication, and we’ll have more rolling out soon in order to provide the industry a place to do business and maintain those relationships. We are working to support our industry through the changes and challenges facing everyone’s business, and we will continue to adapt as we look forward to the community coming together again at the winter show in January.
Apparel Sourcing Show
Guatemala Apparel & Textile Association
We have been overwhelmed with support from our audience, who we believe are enjoying our change in direction due to its authentic, inspiring and relatable nature. We plan to continue these efforts as a way to better connect and grow alongside our tenants, brands, retailers and followers.
As fast communication and response take a place unimaginable in this world nowadays, interaction was not common in this industry through social media or certain platforms already existing or starting [to develop]. We have seen an immense increase in developing platforms to put in contact each end of the supply chain and integrating the supply chain even more.
The importance of the use of technology is to have quicker answers and have all the information at your hands. Customers expect to find information with a few clicks as everything is now ready to read or connect to. The need for the use of certain tools is indeed necessary to continue to promote the industry either in trade shows, placing orders, buying online, but we must focus the right platform for the right market and the right offer—that way we are able to get the results we want and not just jump into an all-market platform. More-specific and personalized tools are the right way to start approaching the new trends of consumption and marketing in this upcoming release after COVID-19.
Sales and Marketing Director
The first thing we did in March was pick up our phones to make sure our clients and partners were healthy and safe. Naturally, the need for unity and increased communication within the lingerie community came up in our conversations, which led to the launch of Curve’s webinar series.
Most of Curve’s attendees are specialty stores coming from all over North America. The last thing we wanted was for them to feel forgotten and alone in their stores with no support or guidance on what to do next. The first topic addressed in the weekly series was “Managing Your Business When Your Front Door Is Closed” to give some pointers on how to manage this period. After being met with overwhelming positive feedback, we have continued to host these digital seminars to provide a platform to explore the most important topics to our industry at all levels, from manufacturing and design to retail and e-commerce. We would like to sincerely thank all of the hosts and experts that we have worked with on these for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with the Curve community.
These webinars have been a very successful way to keep the community connected beyond the Curve show floor, and this is definitely an avenue we will continue to build on. Curve is becoming “phygital” and moving more into a hybrid of a physical and digital business platform for the industry. As we continue to plan our physical events for fall 2020, we are also in the process of hosting a virtual event to allow brands and attendees that cannot join us in person to still play an active part in Curve’s business. More information will follow as we fine-tune these exciting new plans.
Director of Events
California Market Center
Our team took a phased approach to analyze and understand what was transpiring in our industry from all angles.
First, we connected with our tenants, brands and retailers. We did this not only to understand what was happening specifically within their individual communities but also to help us strategize how we could help.
Second, we connected with our trade-show and fashion-district peers. Our team has long followed the guidelines of collaboration over competition, so it’s very important to us that we all stay aligned and share our learnings.
From this, our team strategically pivoted into the digital landscape and increased our frequencies across social media, our blog and newsletter efforts.
Previously, our focus on these channels was heavily centered on communicating updates and changes. It was our platform to inform.
With the industry in a heavy state, we decided as a team to shift our focus onto inspiration, comfort and collaboration. We have since moved on to provide uplifting content and storytelling on these channels to help inspire and motivate through this challenging time.
A few examples include interviewing longtime partner Peclers Paris, who summarized a Sustainability Trend Forecast for the fashion industry, providing our recommendations for Creative Online Learnings and Virtual Fun, promoting local restaurants and grocers in the fashion district that are open to encourage the support of small businesses and even curating a #WFH Podcasts and Playlists guide. Our goal has been to create light in a time of darkness.
We are also continuously offering promotional support to our retailers by featuring them in blog interviews, spotlighting those who have pivoted to an online shopping platform, and highlighting their products and specials in curated shopping and style guides, like our most recent one for creative Mother’s Day gift ideas.
Additionally, we are showcasing our tenants through blog post interviews and, most recently, offering our showrooms the opportunity for Instagram take-overs that will allow them to directly share their brand offerings.
Fashion Market Northern California
FMNC is lucky to have a highly active and motivated social-media committee. We, as a team, are jumping head-on into improving our presence on the Internet in all ways. We recently updated our website to an easy-to-navigate site that provides all the information necessary for our buyers as well as exhibitors.
When the shelter-at-home order was required, we quickly pulled together ideas to keep in touch with our peers. First, we started a biweekly “Tipsy Tuesday Constant Contact” with tips and instructions on how to tackle a task on Facebook, Instagram or both. Prior to COVID-19, many buyers didn’t have the need or time to utilize the Internet to garner more business, so offering tips on how to make a group on Facebook or educate them about geo-tags is one way we are helping our buyers navigate this new territory.
Our weekly emails have been very well received with many thanking us for the simple instructions. Since it has been so popular, we have decided to bring it to our show, live, when able. We will ask store owners who have a successful social-media presence to share their best tips on taking photographs, how to engage shoppers with a limited number of characters, and hashtags that work.
Up next, we will ask buyers questions about FMNC that they will answer via video. These clips will be posted on our site as another way to stay committed to our community by engaging buyers and exhibitors.
The world will be a different place moving forward, but we know that our buyers and exhibitors are looking forward to interacting face to face as soon as it is safe and possible.
Vice President of Exports
Without a doubt, technology will continue to be a key ally for all our promotional activities. One clear example was our Macro Business Matchmaking Forum, an event that had to be shifted to a virtual format, and it was a success. For two weeks, ProColombia’s 80th Macro Business Matchmaking Forum brought together approximately 1,300 business representatives via digital platforms.
This virtual forum provided great lessons and, as long as our purpose at ProColombia is to work for our country, we will always find a way to get closer to our national suppliers with the international demand, no matter how uncertain the conditions are.
Another virtual tool that we are using in the midst of the pandemic is, of course, the webinars supported by Microsoft Teams platform, an easy way to connect and deliver our messages to the apparel industry that helped us to improve our teamwork between areas in a comprehensive and interdisciplinary way. Also, I would like to highlight our virtual showroom, which was tested on our Macro Business Matchmaking Forum with more than 4,800 visits.
Last but not least, additional virtual tools that we are using in a very active way nowadays are the social-media platforms. For example, we have participated in a few Instagram live sessions where we connected with key players in the industry and interacted in real time to discuss a whole variety of topics from new trends, sustainability practices and how U.S. buyers can benefit from the free-trade agreement between the United States and Colombia among many other fascinating topics.
Once stay-at-home orders are completely lifted around the world, we definitely will continue to get support from technology and virtual tools to maximize our work promoting our exports.