Trade-Show Q&A: As on-site event restrictions are being lifted, how are you approaching trade-show production, and will you utilize virtual options to extend your reach?
Following a tumultuous 2020, when most on-site events were suspended and the trade-show industry was defined by virtual offerings, Zoom meetings and health regulations to suppress the spread of COVID-19, the second half of 2021 is seeing a long-anticipated return to fashion-industry productions hosted on location. While many in the industry are looking forward to returning to the show floor in person, a number of opportunities for expanding show reach through virtual tools were discovered during this time.
Through virtual events, producers were able to expand their reach and connect with new audiences who would otherwise be unable to attend shows. This expansion brought together members of the industry within a more tightly knit group than ever before, laying a strong foundation for maintaining and cultivating these close connections now that shows are returning to on-site programming. As fashion trade-event organizers prepare for a return to business, California Apparel News asked producers: As on-site event restrictions are being lifted, how are you approaching trade-show production, and will you utilize virtual options to extend your reach?
Show Director, Fashion and Apparel
Messe Frankfurt, Inc.
Like most, we are excited to be able to return to in-person events. This July, we are unveiling our newest platform, the Sourcing Showroom. Faced with ongoing travel restrictions for our international exhibitor base, we developed a method to ensure that the textile-sourcing community could continue to network with suppliers across the globe and remain abreast of the latest innovations. We have chosen to not only continue with our virtual options but also incorporate the technology into the Sourcing Showroom. The summer edition will be held without physical exhibitors, but buyers will have access to thousands of trends, materials and accessories. In-person, they can experience the touch and feel of fabrics and apparel and, with a simple QR scan, connect with exhibitors through the virtual platform without leaving the event. Throughout these times, we have remained focused on elevating our shows to meet the changing needs of the industry and are confident that this edition will be no different.
Practicing COVID-19 protocols for the last year has taught us that the safety of our buyers, exhibitors and staff is of the utmost importance, so, in order to safely reopen live events, each show must be approached methodically. Our No. 1 priority is to bring buyers and sellers together. Offprice Orlando was proof that our industry can meet safely to do business. By combining forces with Informa Markets Fashion and the Clarion Group, the February event provided the fashion industry with the first comprehensive wholesale marketplace in over a year, successfully showing that live events can occur with even the most stringent COVID-19 protocols in place.
During the lockdown, virtual platforms benefited our industry as a way to connect, and we know online sourcing will always be used to supplement the increasingly year-round buying cycle. Last year, giving visibility to our exhibitors and being a resource for retailers to source products were our top goals, and Offprice Online certainly helped fill the gap left by the lack of in-person events. While the United States starts to open, indicators show that excitement is building among our community of exhibitors and attendees, who are eager to get back to business. Guided by Trust Offprice, a framework for health and sanitation at events, based on the operational guidelines from trade-show-industry bodies and current government and CDC guidelines, Offprice will continue to offer both brands and buyers the opportunity to safely meet face-to-face.
Going forward, we plan to utilize digital components as an extension of our live events. Our purpose at Offprice is to be a year-round resource for both buyers and sellers to grow their businesses by forging new relationships and discovering unique sourcing opportunities.
Co-founder and CEO
Can we just say how excited we are that there is finally a clear path for Brand Assembly to host a trade show Oct. 11–13 in Los Angeles?
With an extended lead time to plan, we’re definitely taking a walk-before-we-run approach—we want to use this time to think through what we had been doing in the past, what worked and what could use improvement. Logistically, we’re limiting the number of booths to ensure that both brands and buyers feel comfortable moving around the show in a still-COVID-19-sensitive world, and we’re reimagining our café and amenity areas with safety and sanitization in mind. We’re also taking this opportunity to rethink and update our registration system for efficiency and attendance management.
As a company, we’re deeply evaluating the values of the Brand Assembly community, and we’re making sure that those values are at the forefront of our show. Needless to say, the world has changed a lot in the past 14 months, and we believe it’s important to recognize, be part of and guide that change as it continues. As we come back to shows, Brand Assembly’s goal isn’t to try to reinvent the wheel. What we want is to give our brand and buyer community a show that’s familiar, comfortable and a great place to do business, with intentional adjustments and updates to make all of that even more the case than it was before.
Preface is very excited to be showing in person for the first time since COVID—we think the fashion community is eager to find inspiration in the unique ways Preface has become known for. We’ve been using the past few months to collaborate with fellow creatives and connect their stories to present trends through a new lens.
During COVID, we shifted to sending out boxes that included everything you would experience at a physical show—swatches, trends, workshops, vintage and an educational-speaker series. While we are moving back to an in-person event, we will continue to offer our experience kits for people to pick up at the show and for those who cannot attend. Fabric collections from participating mills who cannot travel will be included in the boxes. In addition, the speaker-series recordings will be available on our website.
Please join us as we celebrate this opportunity to inspire each other again July 28–29 at our DTLA venue.
Visitor Promotions Director
The Comexposium Group USA will be offering an in-person lingerie and intimate-apparel trade event, Curve NY, Aug. 1–2, after a yearlong hiatus due to COVID-19. The show has moved from its former location at the Javits Center to Spring Studios, an event space used for fashion shows and the Tribeca Film Festival.
We surveyed our retailers before planning this show and chose the location specifically based on their needs for a light-filled space with indoor-outdoor areas that would feel safe. We made certain we could accommodate more than 100 international brands in a space with clear health-and-safety initiatives. Spring Studios has formed a partnership with CLEAR that will require all attendees to either show a negative COVID-19 test or be fully vaccinated before being admitted. We will be following all New York City and CDC-recommended safety guidelines, and as an extra precaution we will have Plexiglas between each exhibitor space. We expect to be operating at full capacity by showtime.
For our West Coast clients, we are optimistically hoping we can host an event. We have reserved a Manhattan Beach, Calif., location for Aug. 23–24, pending California restrictions being lifted. Our first Los Angeles event premiered in February 2020 to great success, so we know the marketplace wants us to be there!
We will continue to offer Curve Connect, our digital platform, through Dec. 31 for retailers and brands to network and enjoy our weekly webinar series with topics on social media, profitability, trends and sustainability. Last year, we grew our international audience by 18 percent, so digital will continue to be an important complement to our in-person events.
Vice President of Partnerships
At the Agenda Show, we are committed to fully abiding by the health-and-safety requirements of the venue and local authorities. At the same time, we are not looking to impose additional restrictions such as testing or vaccine passports unless mandated by the venue or local authorities. There are ongoing discussions regarding mandatory use of masks, and we will make that decision based on the guidelines and venue requirements at the time. Our focus right now is on delivering an experience consistent with our brand values and with the objective of facilitating commerce for our brands and retailers.
Regarding virtual options, we believe that they can be part of and complement in-person experiences. While virtual technology may have been oversold as a replacement to in-person events and relationship building during the COVID-19 shutdown, we certainly believe in the value of virtual events in broadening the event audience. In 2021, given that international travel will be limited, we are leveraging virtual technology and augmented reality to give access to our international attendees and exhibitors. In 2022 and beyond, we will continue to invest in virtual components as a means to engage with our community as a natural extension of our in-person shows.
Informa Markets Fashion
Following the success of our early 2021 live event, MAGIC Pop-Up Orlando, this proof-of-concept provided us with an excellent planning and execution roadmap as we look toward the second half of 2021 lineup of our planned events. Additionally, with this event’s success, it also provided our customers with a sense of relief, comfort and excitement that with the proper measures in place we can safely return to live events as the U.S. continues to reopen—a beacon of hope that the industry really was looking for and needed. All of our events—MAGIC, Coterie, Project and Sourcing at MAGIC—will continue to be guided by Informa AllSecure along with local, state and health recommendations, and we will continue to monitor the positive progress of reopenings throughout the country. While each event will require its own specific set of safety measures, the industry can expect that all of our events will be held with the highest standards in safety, hygiene and cleanliness and will continue to deliver the right combination of connection and commerce opportunities for the markets we serve.
One of the biggest positives that came out of 2020 was the larger-scale adoption in how we conduct business and the mindset shift that resulted—we all became more comfortable in the digital space. While an extremely critical need in 2020 and in early 2021, we cannot deny that fashion is a very tactile and social industry. Therefore, we believe that a hybrid combination of both live and digital-event opportunities is the future, offering greater variety in connection and commerce opportunities for the global fashion industry to engage, discover and extend on-site experiences. As such, we will continue to strategically bring enhanced digital opportunities running in tandem with our live events in 2021 and beyond.
President and Chief Visionary Officer
OC Apparel Show
Timing is everything. This is what I knew on Nov. 30 when I planned my May 15 show in Irvine, [Calif.].
With many, or most, retailers getting burned last year, wholesalers got stuck with merchandise with no hope in sight. I knew that the vaccine would be more accessible, which would increase public confidence and also create pent-up demand to get out of our houses. The average American has gained weight—in some cases, a lot of weight—which in turn creates demand for new wardrobes when we can get out of our houses. Our wardrobes will not fit right, and we need a new, updated look by rebuilding our wardrobes—and they will not be like before in abundance.
We will not have a normal work life. Working from home is the new normal. We are going to start having meetings that will require us to eventually wear pants while we work again.
Talking to hundreds of reps and vendors as well as hundreds of retailers, I have found that almost all agree that this summer is going to be crazy with local travel. I had several resorts pre-register for my show in May to buy at-once goods. They need to refill their stores for the new travelers who are clamoring to come in and spend a lot of money!
So, you ask, what am I doing? With COVID-19 protocols of masks and social distancing, my shows are going to be held in Embassy Suites until everyone feels safe to be in an open room. It’s unreasonable to expect several people to feel comfortable in an enclosed room with people who may or may not be infected.
Ben Eisenberg Properties/The New Mart
With the exception of two months in 2020, The New Mart has been open for business throughout the pandemic as our services were deemed essential to keep the retail/wholesale apparel industry supplied with product. In spite of buyer travel restrictions, we were pleasantly surprised at the number of buyers who attended our recent March market and are getting strong indications from our tenants that much-higher buyer attendance is anticipated for the upcoming June market. Many buyers were caught off guard with the swift uptick in demand these past few months as restrictions are lifting and they are now scrambling for inventory.
Throughout the pandemic, our wholesale showrooms have increasingly relied on Zoom meetings to supplement the in-person buyer engagement, and we anticipate that, for some buyers, this will become part of their total buying process. However, we continue to hear that buyers still prefer the face-to-face showroom engagement to see, touch and feel the product they are committing to bring to retail. During this and future market weeks we will retain our welcome-to-all-buyers policy with no appointments required.
We’re establishing a number of new initiatives to make it easier for buyers to attend L.A. Market weeks with a newly opened New Mart Buyers Lounge featuring individual workstations for buyers to use in between appointments with catered food and beverages. We are also partnering with a number of downtown L.A. hotels to provide discounted room rates and a door-to-door shuttle service to bring our customers to The New Mart and back to their respective hotels.
Liberty Fashion & Lifestyle Fairs
Safety is the cornerstone of the production and layouts at all of our upcoming Liberty Fairs events. We will be implementing a number of safety protocols, including daily temperature checks and health screenings for all attendees, exhibitors and staff; staggered check-in for exhibitors in order to avoid large gatherings; and wider aisles and floor markings to allow for social distancing. We will also increase the cleaning of all surfaces and sanitation stations throughout the floor, providing hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, gloves and extra masks. We will be following the CDC guidelines as well as monitoring governmental and local regulations and requiring our staff, exhibitors and attendees to wear proper face coverings.
The desire to return to business is evident and inevitable. As we return to business on-site, we are absolutely prioritizing bringing the fashion industry together in the safest way possible.
Moving forward, Liberty Fairs will offer a mix of online and offline options to cater to the needs of the fashion industry. We will continue our partnership with the wholesale digital platform Joor to provide a marketplace for brands and buyers to connect and conduct commerce virtually. We understand that many of our international and domestic clients who are unable to attend our in-person events need an efficient and user-friendly platform to conduct business; we are proud to offer a solution with our partners at Joor.
Designers and Agents
We are pleased to say that D&A is on track for a return to the in-person format of Designers and Agents next season. Our team will be working closely with our production company to create the vibrant atmosphere that D&A is known for while taking into consideration all protocols necessary for the comfort and well-being of both our exhibitors and attendees. Fortunately, our show venues allow us tremendous flexibility, and we are looking forward to getting back to business as usual. We have had a robust response from our brands, who, like all of us, are eager for the face-to-face dynamic and the sense of community that results from it.
International Market Centers
Atlanta Apparel is approaching one year of hosting in-person buying events during the pandemic. The ownership of our AmericasMart Atlanta campus, a hybrid permanent showroom and temporary trade-show format, and our comprehensive Together Safely protocol guidelines have allowed us to create in-person buying environments where we have safely served more than 90,000 attendees over 13 markets since June 2020.
The shift to virtual events during the pandemic has opened a new content stream for Atlanta Apparel, resulting in a catalog of more than 50 videos of fashion shows, business-education seminars, trend previews and retailer highlights, which have garnered more than 100,000 views before, during and after markets.
As restrictions are lifted, we will continue to review our Together Safely protocols to ensure that we are providing the productive buying experience that retailers need while continuing our yearlong record of conducting markets safely. Some elements of our pandemic shifts may remain. The overwhelmingly positive response to our virtual programming indicates that buyers want content before and after markets as well as on-site so they can balance learning with time at-market sourcing new product. The virtual format of fashion shows, for example, lets viewers see styles multiple times at their leisure.
The optimism of buyers and sellers throughout this time has strengthened our confidence in fashion retail and inspired expansion of our market offerings through the launch of a Las Vegas Apparel market, Aug. 8–10, at the new, IMC-owned Expo at World Market Center Las Vegas. The recent growth of the young-contemporary market coupled with the opening of this new trade-show hall make now the right time to launch Las Vegas Apparel, which will feature a curated selection of more than 100 young-contemporary lines plus shoes and accessories.
President and CEO
Dallas Market Center
Retailers are seeking a single, safe in-person marketplace with great brands and new categories, but they are also seeking digital tools and marketplaces. Looking forward, we think the next six months will be the strongest retail market in decades, and our marketplace is well positioned to continue our momentum.
We’ve had extremely well-attended events for more than 10 months: Our market traffic is running well ahead of 2019, we are welcoming buyers from across the country, the number of new buyers is record-shattering, and our buyer applications are up 50 percent over 2019.
Our surveys show that what matters most to buyers is safety, efficiency and inspiration. For safety, we will continue our strict measures on face coverings and social distancing. On the efficiency side, retailers want to find everything in one place more easily, which plays perfectly into our position as a true lifestyle marketplace. In the efficient realm of digital and virtual, we are continuing our MarketTime partnership plus bringing in new partners such as Tundra because we believe that there are multiple options for our customers and that we all need to explore what’s available from independent companies.
We’ve also expanded space for temps and held more in-person markets and open houses instead of fewer events. Finally, for inspiration, we are integrating more contemporary brands and continuing partnerships with groups like Brand Assembly for directional apparel and accessories as well as additional product categories. We have also dramatically expanded our Men’s Show to three times its traditional size, which includes tailored and contemporary menswear in addition to Western and gift. We are extremely optimistic about the months to come given all of the factors that are lining up in favor of brands that take on managed risk and trade shows that listen to their customers.
Owner and President
CALA Shows Inc.
CALA Shows is on the move as Zoom presentations can only go so far. CALA fashion trade shows, in our 16th year, is proud to announce with our fashion-brand partners that, during a pandemic year, our small, curated regional trade events were a great success. CALA gave better brands and specialty-retail buyers the perfect venue to safely connect with some of the best brands in the industry in person.
Since August 2020, CALA has continued to add a number of new events throughout the Western United States allowing brand owners the opportunity to go directly to the retailers’ home turf. Our new shows in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Salt Lake City; and Seattle will continue to grow. All CALA show events were completely sold out—in some cases within the week of the show dates’ announcement.
CALA has also teamed up with Ken Haruta, owner of the West Coast Trend Show, to form the CALA Trend Men’s Show to be held at the Newport Beach Marriott Resort and Spa across from the Fashion Island shopping center, Aug. 15–17.. CALA’s mission is quite simple—to give every retail buyer access to the best brands in their region at an affordable price.
Apparel Textile Sourcing Trade Shows
While on-site restrictions are indeed being lifted, there is still a long road ahead. On-site restrictions have little to do with the core of sourcing, which involves international travel. Trade shows that rely on a) international attendees and b) international exhibitors are still caught in the myriad of uncertainties that the pandemic continues to actively plague us with. The Apparel Textile Sourcing Trade Shows take place in Canada, the U.S.A. and Europe. That said, speaking in respect to our portfolio, I do not anticipate we’ll have an indicator of full throttle until the end of the year. We are still producing the ATSV virtual series and have a major emphasis on our now very popular trade summit series, which has already attracted over 2,000 attendees registered for our May 2021 edition. We do not plan to invest anymore in additional development for our virtual technology as sourcing online is nothing new—the virtual summits have just been a spin zone created to keep brands facing forward and relevant, drawing little revenue. People want to travel, connect in person and attend physical events, period.
California Market Center
The California Market Center is excited to return to live events as restrictions lift in the state. The CMC’s self-produced shows—Label Array, LA Majors and LA Textile—will return to a live format this fall. As we plan the highly anticipated return of these in-person shows, our vision has evolved along with the changing industry during this worldwide pause, so we are taking the opportunity to relaunch with new elements to enhance and expand each event even further. Like other organizations have witnessed, our virtual programming has reached a wider audience. For example, our last virtual LA Textile show included attendees from 13 countries and over 40 states.
To best serve our audience, both Label Array and LA Textile will be hybrid events that include virtual components in addition to the in-person shows. As for the live events, the CMC will be continuing with appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of all visitors as our audience eases back into travel and events. We look forward to creating marketplaces that drive engagement among retailers, designers and brands while providing options for virtual connections that strengthen the L.A. fashion and creative industries.
Executive Vice President of General Merchandise, Sourcing and Industrial
ASD Market Week
Our trade shows will continue to follow the recommendations and guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as well as those issued by state and local officials. This year, ASD safely and successfully staged two regional in-person events at which our team proudly implemented practices that met our health standards and kept our community safe.
In the last year, ASD Market Week pivoted from its traditional live-event model to provide our network of buyers and sellers with virtual solutions to their pressing challenges. In conjunction with ASD’s sister show, the International Gift Exposition in the Smokies, we launched the ASD + IGES Online Market, a virtual marketplace that provides our sellers with the opportunity to showcase products, video demonstrations and pricing promotions to an audience of over 23,000 retail buyers, importers and distributors without them ever leaving their homes.
In addition to the online marketplace, ASD worked tirelessly to produce content that offers tangible insights including our PPP guide, “How to Reopen Your Retail Store,” and “SBA Loans: Which One Should I Choose?” ASD Market Week will continue to provide relevant content to our buyers and sellers through content-rich blogs and a series of interactive webinars covering retail finance, private label and reverse logistics.
Last but not least, ASD’s parent company, Emerald, recently acquired PlumRiver, the company behind Elastic Suite, a digital B2B platform used by some of the biggest names in the action-sports and outdoor industries, including Patagonia, Vans, Puma and New Balance. PlumRiver will aid in Emerald’s ability to offer ASD Market Week’s customers in-person and virtual opportunities to meet their business needs.
Swimwear Association of Florida
Although restrictions are being lifted, SwimShow will still take all necessary precautions to secure the health and safety of our attendees. We cherish and appreciate all of our buyers and vendors and want to make sure that we meet their needs to feel comfortable in our controlled environment while attending SwimShow.
We had planned for a virtual trade show to spearhead the July SwimShow, but we have found that neither our brands nor our buyers want to move forward with another digital trade show. We pivoted where necessary, and our July 2020 and January 2021 virtual trade shows were very well received; however, now that we can produce an in-person trade show, again taking into account all health and safety measures, we are moving solely in that direction to bring together the swim-industry community once again at SwimShow, July 10–13!
Fashion Market Northern California
FMNC was lucky to find a few alternatives when COVID-19 shut down indoor trade shows. In October 2020 we produced a well-received outdoor show utilizing tent-canopies—making for a wonderful French-market feel. Moving into 2021, we were thankful to be able to have our shows in February and April at the newly remodeled Embassy Suites in South San Francisco. All felt safe with each exhibitor showing in their own suite with the help of open balconies, which provided fresh air. The overall showroom feel led to another successful show. With social distancing and the wearing of face masks, the ability to gather brought joy to both buyers and exhibitors after such a long time.
Virtual options have been embraced by many of our members and exhibitors as they utilized Zoom meetings and the internet this past year to continue to sell and provide product to their customers.
Our next show is June 27–29 and will again be held at the Embassy Suites in South San Francisco—hope to see you as we remain FMNC strong!
Womenswear In Nevada
A return to live events in Las Vegas truly feels like a return home for WWIN—after all, it’s in our name—Womenswear In Nevada! We are looking forward to bringing the WWIN community back together for a safe and productive experience. We’ve all learned in this last year just how vital being face to face is for this industry. It’s that value that has really driven our approach for the upcoming event.
For starters, we will be at a new location, centrally and conveniently located in the heart of the Las Vegas strip at Caesars Palace. This new home for our August event has allowed us to reimagine a few important aspects of the show experience to maximize time for both buyers and sellers while continuing customer favorites including complimentary breakfast, lunch and afternoon refreshments for buyers.
So, what’s new? To optimize the on-site shopping experience, we are introducing a carefully curated show floor, grouping exhibitors into neighborhoods based on product category and price point, plus an area dedicated to accessories—this is the No. 1 most-requested product category from buyers. Next, one of the most successful aspects of our digital platform, WWINdow Shopping, was our editorially curated product and brand highlights. We’re continuing this experience, allowing customers to preview products they’ll experience at the show and online through our website and mobile app before they travel so they can plan and maximize their time in Las Vegas. WWINdow Shopping will come to life through guided trend tours throughout the show floor where buyers will experience those products we showcased virtually, in person—touch and feel product while hearing directly from the brand representatives—creating a great opportunity to introduce new products and build new connections.
Senior Vice President
Surf Expo’s top priority continues to be reuniting our industry safely. We successfully staged our January 2021 event with health and safety protocols in place, and we will continue to follow the recommendations and guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as well as those issued by state and local officials.
Since 1976, Surf Expo has connected brands and retailers from across the globe to conduct business, inspire, learn, share and celebrate twice each year. We have heard loud and clear from our retailer and brand community since the pandemic and even before that face-to-face, in-person shows are critical for them. That said, they also need technology to connect, source and place orders year-round. To serve that need, we have introduced the Surf Expo Digital Market, which will revolutionize how brands and retailers collaborate, transact and merchandise. The Surf Expo Digital Market is an extension of the in-person events, providing a centralized, world-class B2B platform to extend that relationship and help efficiently source products and place orders 365 days a year.
- What lessons have you learned through producing virtual trade events?
- With trade shows returning to in-person, what additional amenities are you offering to exhibitors and attendees, and what developments over the last two years are you maintaining?
- Trade-Show Q&A: What shifts or advancements in trade-show production are you most looking forward to over the coming year?
- Are digital trade-show tools and virtual events here to stay?