After a temporary halt in 2020, footwear and fashion trade shows are back in business. And according to some industry leaders, these showcases, which unite buyers, brands and retailers, are here for the long haul.
“It’s never going to go away,” said Kelly Helfman, president of Informa Markets Fashion (IMF), organizer of the Project, Magic, Coterie and Sourcing at Magic events. “I think trade shows and live fashion events are going to be more popular than ever now, that people are just dying to get out.”
This week, close to 1,500 vendors gathered for the Magic, Project and Sourcing at Magic shows at the Las Vegas Convention Center, held Feb. 14-16. The three-day event went virtual after February 2020 amid COVID-19 health concerns but returned live in August 2021.
Helfman noted that since the return to in-person, the trade shows have continued to build momentum. For instance, she said the most recent event in Las Vegas saw increased registration numbers, more big-box department store buyers, more international attendees and more top-level executives.
The response, she explained, is a testament to the overwhelming industry need to get out, see new product and greet old friends. “People have Zoom fatigue,” Helfman said. “And although it kept the lights on during the pandemic, they absolutely need to come here to touch and feel and see the quality [of the product].”
Trade shows have long been a cornerstone of the retail and footwear industries. But as the business has evolved, so, too, have these events. In addition to B2B sales, the show now also focuses on giving retailers the tools to develop their omnichannel strategies, including direct-to-consumer and digital businesses.
“It’s not a typical trade show anymore. It’s more about the product. It’s more about the innovation, the fashion tech and talking about the experiences of the metaverse,” said Helfman. “We should, every year, be evolving based on how our industry is evolving.”
At the same time, a focus on in-person networking and product discovery will always be foundational to the shows, said brand participants and organizers.
“It’s about the culture,” Helfman said. “It’s not just about selling product. It’s about seeing your friends in the industry, connecting, doing deals and having a drink at the bar.”
“The amount of hugging that we saw [at the show], it was a really nice moment,” said Dave Moore, VP of wholesale at Johnston & Murphy, which exhibited at Project in Las Vegas. “In this industry, like in most industries, you look forward to seeing some of these wonderful people that you develop relationships with every three months or every six months, and trade shows are a good opportunity to do that.”
This sense of optimism clearly influenced the trends exhibited across the floor. According to Courtney Bradarich, VP of women’s for Project and Coterie, the merchandise on display this season was largely characterized by “optimism and playfulness,” with bold colors like hot pink, highlighter yellow and lime green. Standout footwear styles included Western boots and platform heels.