SHANGHAI — It was a meeting of two different worlds.
Footwear players attending The Micam in Shanghai said the first edition of the trade show, a smaller version of the Milan fair, was a learning experience.
“It’s easy to think that China is just another country, but it’s another world,” said Fabio Aromatici, GM of Micam and ANCI, the Italian footwear manufacturers association. “You have to start from scratch and be very humble, listen a lot and maybe even restructure your company.”
Still, the show organizer was upbeat about the potential for brands exhibiting at the show. “China is so interesting and so electrifying right now, so many companies will accept the risk,” he said.
To help exhibiting brands take advantage of the Chinese consumer’s increased desire for high-quality European-made products here, the show organized training prior to the event. The message, Aromatici said, was that “no story means no sale.”
“We explained that having a great product is good, but it isn’t good enough,” he said. “We need to bring depth and authenticity.”
The demand for niche European brands has traditionally been small in China, with the majority of customers in the country focused on mass-market product or big-name international labels. But some Chinese retailers said that is changing.
“The exhibitors here are not those big designer brands, they are small brands, but they have stories and taste, so that’s what I’m looking for,” said Anderson Huang, a Hangzhou-based retailer specializing in men’s accessories. “I believe that in the future, Chinese customers will love and buy these kinds of brands.”
Theresa Lu, who owns a boutique in Shanghai, said she came to the show expecting to see more fashionable styles and higher-end labels.
“In Milan, there are a lot of international brands and individual designers, but here the brands are more mid-range,” Lu said, adding that her buying strategy was to find “something unique.”
Serap Polat, owner of the Jag Club brand, which produces handmade shoes in Istanbul, said she was hoping to gain more insight into China’s retail landscape.
“We don’t know a lot about the behavior of Chinese retailers, but we will learn a lot over the course of this fair,” she said.
One trend Polat observed was that retailers attending the show were on the hunt for luxurious products, and that price was a secondary concern to quality.
Sonia Hardman, a representative from Milan-based Golden Union Shoes Co., also took notice of retail buying patterns.
“They come in big groups with offers for you to join the big malls [with your own stores], so it’s a different kind of fair,” she said.
Other vendors, including Santos Ibañez, owner of the Flavio Cavaller label, were hoping to find distributors at the show.
“There is big potential for us in the Chinese market, but it’s very complicated to put the shoes inside the market here. You need to find the right person, otherwise it’s very difficult,” he said.
Italian brands constituted two-thirds of the 251 exhibitors at The Micam Shanghai, which was held April 9-11, in conjunction with Shanghai Fashion Week. Other countries represented were Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, France, England and, for the first time, China, which had eight brands exhibiting their collections.