Fashion trade shows in the age of economic uncertainty

Whether you are a buyer or an editor, if you’ve attended a fashion trade show this season you’ll have noticed the change in mood. The economic downturn has affected the vibe at the key bigger trade shows. But those predicting that trade shows are down and out should look a little closer to see what’s actually happening on the trade show floor. Yes, time restraints and costs are making it harder for buyers to indulge in their global tour of the key trade shows, and so they are skimming off one or two each season, but in response to this, trade shows are working harder to attract their audience, and they still remain the number one venue for buyers to discover new brands (Instagram is great but it doesn’t offer you the chance to feel a fabric, or sample a sample up close).

Screen Shot 2016-10-04 at 5.58.55 PM

“Throughout the shows there was talk of economic uncertainty, however the mood was buoyed by a sense of optimism and determination to innovate. Many exhibitors did brisk business and buyers expressed excitement at discovering new brands,” said Ella Hudson, Senior Editor, Accessories & Footwear.


So what are trade shows doing to combat the uncertainty? Well, they are staying optimistic.

“Any time there is a downturn in the market, new leaders thrive. You have to stay competitive, you have to stay innovative. Let’s get to work! – said Chris Corrado, show director of Capsule trade show.

Mood_tra30316_IMG_9082l_hr (1)

What does this mean in practice? This season Capsule teamed up with Axis, the millennial-focused trade show that created a huge buzz last season for its curated offering. By teaming up, the shows merged fashion and activewear, offering a focused and comprehensive selection of those brands that comprise the new face of athleisure.


Coterie did something similar, while it continues to be the epicentre of fashion trade shows for both brands and retailers, this season it launched an exciting subsection, TMRW, which is finely curated to bring together brand-new, directional designers, highlighting fresh talent and exceptional quality.


We’re also seeing a new breed of trade shows, such as Desert & Denim and BPD Expo that are creating innovative experiences, that go beyond the standard event hall spaces, for those who attend (Desert and Denim is held in the desert in California). “Brands breath life into collections without the need for marketing collateral and contrived booths. At these shows it’s all about being a part of the event as a whole, getting those buying on board with brand vision, both now and when collections hit stores,” says Katharine Smith, WGSN Senior Events Editor.

That said, we are also seeing the rise of smaller, more curated showrooms and trade show hybrids, such as KID in Paris, which are proving successful and being seen as an alternative to traditional bigger trade shows, but it’s important to acknowledge that this smaller, curated, intimate format doesn’t work for every retail industry. And actually the benefit of traditional huge exhibition and event spaces, is that they are able to hold both new brands and well-established ones, with stands visited by a steady stream of retail agents, buyers, designers and manufacturers. These traditional trade shows are also working hard to respond to changing buyer needs, deliveries are skewed towards immediates now, and only a handful of exhibitors now show a full season out.

You also have trade shows like Bread and Butter which took a leaf from the fashion catwalks, and re-imagined itself as a consumer event (rather than the B2B event it had been). After the traditional format saw dwindling footfall, this season with new owners Zalando, we saw a significant change to the event’s former conception, opening the door to an entirely new audience, and provoking a new way to think about the trade show format altogether.

So change is afoot and trade show owners are thinking of exciting ways to increase footfall, stay relevant and even innovate in this space.




For more in-depth retail insight into future trends, visual merchandising and how millennials shop today, join WGSN.


Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.