Death of the Trade Show?
The Fashion Industry has long been set in its ways. It has a strict calendar, marked by fashion weeks and new collections, catwalk shows and latest trends. The “Big 4” fashion weeks (London, Paris, Milan and New York) kick off the year in February, showcasing the trends that will dominate the catwalks and, consequently, the high street rails over the coming seasons. Hot on their heels comes the round of international Trade Shows, bringing together brands and buyers in cities throughout the world, hotspots for business connections, forward purchasing and restocking.
But now, without warning, the world as we knew it has changed. The first signs of our foundation being rocked played out early in the year, with Asian suppliers unable to attend the major fashion events due to travel restrictions, and fashion houses experiencing delays with their orders. It was frustrating and strange, but still seemed so very far away from our everyday lives that most of us assumed things would get back to normal as soon as China got through the worst of this strange new threat. But the threat didn't go away – it has infiltrated every one of our lives, affecting businesses, families, our very culture. But even as lockdowns throughout the world are slowly lifted and countries are tentatively experimenting with relaxing restrictions, many of us continue to be unsure about returning to the way things were before.
How many of us can imagine boarding a crowded plane, lodging in a busy hotel and mingling with tens of thousands of people at a major trade show in the near future? These things that were second nature to us just a few months ago now involve too many unknowns not to give us pause. As much as we crave the return to normality and the human connection it brings with it, it's impossible to forget the ever-present threat of the virus. Without even realising it we are changing our mindset about the way we work, the way we relate to others, the way we live our lives. For decades now we have been told that the technological revolution would bring these changes – home working, video conferencing, distance selling - but none of us could have imagined that they would be imposed on us with such implacable speed.
Evolution is happening. Fashion brands are being forced to rethink their online presence, to digitalise their businesses in a question of weeks and months rather than years. China's Shanghai Fashion Week made the groundbreaking step to hold their Fashion Week virtually in collaboration with Alibaba's Tmall, and despite some technological issues and format missteps, the experiment has widely been hailed as a success. London's upcoming fashion week is set to continue the digital experiment in June and it's likely that others will follow suit, offering online interviews, webinars, video runways and digital showrooms. It may take some getting used to, but if this crisis has proved anything, it has proved our adaptability.
But with changes having to be implemented at such a breakneck pace, it's clearly going to be some time before digital can become the new normal in the fashion industry. Thankfully, there are some companies that were ahead of the curve and had joined the technological revolution even before the crisis took hold. Marketplaces like TradeGala are a prime example of how the fashion industry can take tried-and-tested e-commerce retail concepts and adapt them to the B2B industry. For the past 9 months TradeGala has been connecting fashion brands and buyers online, offering a digital showroom, if you will, to bring the best in wholesale fashion to our fingertips, with major brands and up-and-coming independents just a few clicks away.
Sometimes it feels like the distance that currently separates us is insurmountable. And yet, both as businesses and as individuals, we are adapting. One day perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, we will attend Trade Shows as we once did, sharing ideas, designs, and business opportunities. But the technological advances we are making now will go on to support and enhance the return to face-to-face fashion, facilitating connections on a broader scale, lowering costs and streamlining processes for a more modern, conscientious and adaptable fashion industry.
Written by Amber Domenech Patey