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Project Returns to New York with Smaller Format and Gender-Fluid Brands

Men’s trade show Project made its New York return this week after being placed on paused for the last two years due to COVID-19.

For its Big Apple return, the trade event, owned by Informa Markets Fashion, moved from its home at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Midtown West to the smaller, Iron23 venue in Chelsea. It also added a range of gender-fluid fashion to its mix and opened a consumer pop-up shop that ran alongside the B2B event.

“We are no longer a menswear show,” Edwina Kulego, VP of men’s and international business development at Informa Fashion Markets, told FN in a sit-down interview at the event. “I want Project to reflect the times. This show started as the most influential trade event in the industry. It was creative and out of the box with crazy themes, great energy and a great community feel. This new format is how we are going to return to those roots.”

Kulego added that Project New York reflects how “fashion is a conduit to community and expression” within the men’s and gender-fluid categories, and that every designer chosen to showcase their collections at the event either has played a significant role in shaping the industry as it exists today or is introducing new approaches to weaving community, culture and fashion.

In total, 70 brands showed up for the reimagined show across apparel, footwear and accessories. For shoes specifically, Paraboot, Saucony, Krojay, The Rad Black Kids, Pantofola d’Oro, Krost and more showed their latest collections.

For some of the brands FN spoke to, inflation and shipping delays are still top of mind. Almost every footwear label said they were missing samples that were either stuck in customs or not even produced yet.

For Paraboot, North American sales agent Cameron Shirvani told FN that most of his spring ’23 samples were still in Europe. He was only able to show core carryover styles in person and relied on catalogs to sell the extended offering to buyers.

The Rad Black Kids, Project New York
Shoes at The Rad Black Kids booth at Project New York.
CREDIT: Stephen Garner / FN

At The Rad Black Kids, founder and designer Thulani Ngazimbi was showing designs that originally were supposed to be on shelves now. He now anticipates these will drop later this fall as soon as production is complete in Portugal. “Luckily, the retailers I work with have been understanding on the production issues we have been facing,” Ngazimbi told FN. “We are starting to overproduce a bit more, which our factory has agreed to release on an ‘as needed’ basis.”

Pricing came up briefly when speaking with Saucony Originals director of sales Elissa Weinberg. She noted the brand has raised prices this season but attributed the cost difference to improvement in quality and production.

Overall, Pantofola d’Oro CEO Kim Williams was feeling optimistic this season. “We have been receiving great feedback and orders for our collection,” Williams said. The soccer-inspired brand, founded in Italy in 1886, now offers a full range of sports and lifestyle sneakers and has teamed up with rising designers like KidSuper. “This new energy in the brand is helping us grow in the U.S., which is very exciting.”

Pantofola d’Oro, Project New York
Shoes at the Pantofola d’Oro booth at Project New York.
CREDIT: Stephen Garner / FN

After more than two years of virtual and hybrid trade shows, retail buyers appear eager to return to in-person trade shows. Kelly Helfman, president of Informa Markets Fashion, told FN that Saks, Neiman Marcus, Shopbop Men’s and Nordstrom walked the Project New York show on the first day of the event, with more expected.

Asked whether if she’s heard concerns from retailers about the cost of traveling to industry events like Project, Helfman admitted that the topic has come up, but so far hasn’t stopped most from traveling. “Having just left Miami and our Destination event during Swim Week, we had a large retailer turnout,” Helfman said. “We are doing everything we can to keep the cost of attending our events as low as possible. We have taken on some additional costs this season to make sure we keep it affordable, but unfortunately we can’t control the rising airline and hotel costs.”

As for what’s next for Project, Helfman told FN the show will bring the same energy they’ve created in New York to Vegas in August. “You’re going to see even more categories in Vegas, from sportswear to tailored and contemporary,” Helfman said. “Our denim area is coming back in a big way as well. Hudson, Levi’s, Joe’s Jeans and 7 for All Mankind are all coming back next month.”

And for on the future of the New York event, both Kulego and Helfman said they want to keep the show intimate in the Big Apple. “We can confirm that we will be returning to Iron23 in January for the fall/winter 2023 season,” said Helfman.

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