Spanish Market Takes a Hit

MADRID — Spain’s economic crisis — including a 14 percent unemployment rate, the highest in Europe — took a toll at Modacalzado, held March 17-19 at the fairgrounds here.

Vendors shrunk to 293 — down by 185 from last year’s March edition. “There weren’t many exhibitors, which weakened the product offering,” said Hiroko Maruyama, head of a buying office in Japan. “On the other hand, some junior’s brands showed potential, with good design at acceptable prices. Obviously, it’s a time when everybody is looking for quality and price.”

Sara Navarro, designer of the eponymous women’s label, said the Spanish consumer has changed considerably over the past several years.

“There [used to be] a huge market here for mid-priced product, but today’s customer is only interested in select fashion brands or volume items,” a concept popularized by Spain’s cheap-chic apparel chains Mango and Zara, she said.

Buyers at the show were looking for unique product to set themselves apart in the weak environment.

“There are too many boots around,” said David O’Dwyer, owner of O’Dwyers Shoes, which operates five stores in Ireland. “We’re looking for high-fashion shoes with excitement and multifunctional possibilities.”

“In a crisis, you have to offer the market something different,” said Navarro, pointing out her new perfumed sole for patent platform pumps and a series of plaids.

Chie Mihara, co-owner of the Elda, Spain-based namesake brand, agreed. “I need to make things very special so customers will say, ‘I must have that shoe,’” she said.

Veteran exhibitor Ramón Tenza said that innovative styles are a must. “[Consumers] are buying items that don’t have to be extraordinarily weird, but different and tasteful,” he said. “[Still], retailers are confused. They’re holding back, and a lot of stores are relying on last year’s styles — and it’s wrong.”

Some vendors were determined to stay upbeat. “We’re experiencing decreases in certain markets, but I can’t complain,” said Blas Agulló, managing director of Blay, an Elche, Spain-based women’s manufacturer. “If you’re important to your stores, you’ll be more so now. Retailers are cutting brands that haven’t performed.” To maintain sales, firms must work harder, Agulló said. “Fit and quality have to be perfect; we can’t afford excuses.”

Modacalzado and the Iberpiel leather-goods show, which run in tandem, drew 9,208 visitors, a drop of roughly 36 percent from March 2008. Foreigners totaled 1,604, down almost 42 percent.

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