September is the month of fashion trade shows. Thirty-two to be exact, according to listings on France’s trade publication Modem. This week would have seen Coterie in New York, CPM in Moscow, followed by Première Vision in Paris and many others. The majority have been cancelled or repositioned into digital formats.
Public gatherings have been banned in many countries since the pandemic went global in March, and business-to-business events have had a similar fate, with fashion weeks canceled in June and July. The exhibition season has equally been upended with global travel restrictions and online iterations are replacing in real life events.
Première Vision, the leading textile fair in Paris, was cancelled at the last minute when France banned public gatherings of more than 5,000 people until the end of October. Paris fashion week is due to commence end of September, but with a surge of Covid-19 cases the schedule for PFW presentations and events remains in flux.
One of the few fairs to go ahead with a physical exhibition space is the footwear and accessories event MICAM in Milan. Held at the colossal Fiera Milano venue, the organisers will implement body temperature checks at all access points and make the wearing of face masks obligatory. Space management of the corridors will see footpaths widened to ensure personal distancing and the fair’s air re-circulation will be switched off so no airborne particles may be spread. Sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the exhibition and each brand must further ensure no products are handled prior to sanitizing.
These health and safety measures are defining what trade shows are required to do to stay open and be safe for attendance. It will be interesting to note if brand occupancy will drop as a result.
Many fashion houses have long seen trade shows as a marketing exercise, an opportunity to catch up with clients and partners, but not necessarily take orders. With large-scale events banned for the foreseeable future, show organisers are dependent on high brand occupancy to turn a profit. How that profit can be secured via digital events will require not just a pivot of business models, but change how the entire industry does business.
Première Vision said it believes in the importance of live meetings and the creative energy resulting from them, and that its digital show is meant to momentarily fill the gap.
Trade show have lost their relevance
But Covid-19 is not the only reason trade shows are facing a decline this season. Research from BoF and McKinsey’s State of Fashion 2020 report said 55 percent of retailers and brands saw trade shows as having little to no relevance to securing orders.
Exhibiting and selling on the trade show floor requires great investment. By definition it should provide an opportunity to showcase a brand’s products and foster meetings in-person with customers, partners, media, suppliers and contacts from the industry.
With the rise of direct to consumer models and pivoting digital platforms, trade shows are no longer the only channel to source new brands and buy collections. Furthermore, smaller, tightly-curated and more local fashion shows may be more compelling to both brands and buyers, in comparison to the vast ocean of brands in gigantic exhibition halls, which are often uninspiring.
A trade show edit may perhaps be just what the industry needs.
Image via MICAM