SDA Affiliate Professor of Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management
Fashion fairs are always hot. Not just because inside, under those spotlights, the temperature goes up. Most of the folks participating in these fancy events are inside-business operators, going there basically just for “real work”, like many celebrities. But there is still an interesting percentage of people who participate in these events because it is appealing to be photographed at the entrance of these events to end up in some kind of street fashion blog.
These fairs, that you might not have ever heard about, especially if you have no clues about what “cerulean” is, are crucial moments to spread new trends and progresses into the fashion world. Nonetheless, the industry is experimenting a progressive centralization of brand image as a space to communicate its marketing message, above of what is inside that space: clothes. A brand is not just a pair of shoes but it is the whole experience that comes with the presentation of these shoes. And fashion fairs are changing along with this pivotal shift.
A promotional tool for buyers and consumers
Even though especially designed for operators from all different segments of the textile pipeline (about 40% of orders are taken within these fairs), fashion fairs are a great tool for business to business communication and interaction. They are also becoming a promotional tool; these are great occasions for brands, especially the new ones, to promote themselves among buyers but also to final consumers. All these wired events are more visible now thanks to a more effective press coverage and the opening of the bigger ones to the public, like Bread&Butter in Berlin. The mixture of current news, old but gold of yesterday and future trends, makes everybody want to have a glance. But don’t think it is all about wining and partying and being cool. The increasing specialization of fashion fairs is aimed at a more prepared and skilled audience. If you are not very interested in nano-tech gas-treated multifunctional polymers you might not enjoy a convention at the TechTextil fair in Frankfurt so much.
What the world of fashion has seen through these years is an increase in the number of exhibitions and specialized fashion trade fairs, as we can see from the graphs below. The total number has increased up to a point that it is impossible to follow all of them at the same time. Therefore it is necessary for the insiders to carefully choose where to participate, regarding what is more interesting for each particular sector.
The fluctuating number of visitors of these fairs indicates how the factors influencing all the changes in their schedules are more complex and profound than what we had expected.
Fairs moving online
Reasons? More careful buyers, open doors not only to press and buyers, a fundamental change in the distribution value chain, growing vertical integration and in the fast development of e-commerce that has shifted the focus of producers to the final consumer, less motivation to present innovative collections through the wholesale channel, disputes about locations, dates, competences and organizations, the inter-seasonal approach that extends the calendar of fairs, establishing new ones also for pre-collections.
And so models get thinner, calendars get fatter. The actual winter season presentation starts in January and ends in April, an unquestionably wider time range with respect to years ago.
Many firm associations have decided to anticipate their scheduled dates prearranged by fashion industry trade groups to avoid the fragmentation of single companies initiatives abroad and to enhance joint operations. However the collaboration between association partners is always weak. If those associations are actually going to survive the upcoming season, it will be safe to say it was a reasonable strategy.
The fact that nowadays everything is online doesn’t affect the total number of visitors, on the contrary, it totes more guests, becoming a part of the same events. As physical presences decrease, online participants increase at a fast pace.
The last edition of e-Pitti showed a great increase in visitors, proving how visitors and brands give more value to technologies every year. More than 1300 brands over 1500 participants subscribed also the digital edition, with an increase of admittance of buyers and press of 79% with respect to the last year. Every year we see a growing number of brands and fair associations showing their collections and their catalogues online, trying to develop new ways to interact with their audience. Even though the fashion industry is all about thinking forward, technological innovation in developing fashion events has been quite late with respect to other industries.
A broad, and increasingly specialized offering
Today the offering is huge; apart from fiber and textile fairs, there are more and more focused events for different product categories, and more and more fashion weeks. During these weeks, shows and selling campaigns take place, providing business to the city in which they are hosted.
But the growing number of events is diluting their meaning and impact. There are many other “fashion weeks” happening outside in the streets during regular ones. They are created by fashion bloggers and photographers who shoot and publish almost everything related to the shows, although sometimes completely unrelated with the clothes being presented. This makes it hard to develop a clear idea of ongoing trends and to predict the future evolutions of the industry.
Textile fairs also have to deal with increasing overlapping effects. After the Première Vision in Paris was moved to an earlier date, Milano Unica and Munich Fabric Start, both mainly dedicated to the textile sector, had to be rescheduled. Many important events will therefore be hosted in succession without even a day off between. And this is apparently the only solution; it can be reasonable in terms of time expenditure but it does not seem to be a relaxing week for attendants. And since it is a fashion event, this is still not a good excuse to wear comfortable shoes!
*The article has been written with Alberto Garbugio, Administration and Finance Office, LVMH Italy