Covid-19 has brought many outmoded corners of the fashion industry into sharp relief, not least amongst them the modern-day trade show. With travel out of the question for some time, trade shows relying on physical attendance alone have found their shortcomings writ large. So what’s going to happen to trade shows?

Once an innovative way to buttress the brand-retailer relationship, even pre-pandemic, the digitalisation of B2B and B2C processes across the fashion industry was beginning to make the physical trade show format seem laborious.

And whilst it has managed to survive a precarious quid pro quo – if prestigious retailers attend, then brands will see the value in exhibiting, and vice versa – the tide has turned. In January, 55% of multi-brand retailers reported little or no interest in trade shows according to The State of Fashion 2020 report published by BOF and McKinsey & Company.

Add to that a global health crisis, sweeping travel restrictions, and a broad adoption of digital-first solutions, the future of the trade show seems bleak.



The Innovation Imperative: Embracing Digital

Whilst several trade shows have fortified their digital offerings – Premiere Vision recently announced a digital arm to complement their physical show, including online forums, digital events, e-commerce stores, and an online appointment system – an overreliance on traditional formats has meant that most organizers are just picking low hanging fruit.

With the digital trade show an altogether daunting reality for them, digital solutions are being seen as an adequate alternative for now, or a tool for preparation and discovery in the run up to physical shows.

The fashion industry is in the midst of an innovation imperative, and if trade shows cling to the status quo, they will be supplanted by the fast-growing digital platforms that fulfil a real need for brands, brand agents, and retailers alike.

Platforms like Ordre and Joor have already digitised wholesale buying, providing virtual showrooms to brands and a discovery marketplace for retailers. Here, printed line sheets are a thing of the past. Entire collections can be filmed on models or as detailed close ups, lookbooks are digital and interactive, and ordering is a seamless online process. Brands like Marni, Marc Jacobs, Loewe and Stella McCartney are already veterans.



And whilst on first glance these platforms appear to make the traditional role of the brand agent redundant, agents can in fact be pivotal in helping them succeed. If the agent acts as the physical element in a virtual entity – sending samples, taking orders, briefing customers – it will better bridge the digital gap between brands and retailers.

Emerging brands who are frequently excluded from the trade show roster because of prohibitively high exhibition costs, have long been finding innovate ways to attract buyers. When the pandemic hit and travel restrictions enforced, these young designers were not the ones scrabbling for solutions.

Congolese fashion brand Hanifa, for instance, held an Instagram Live showcase of their latest ready-to-wear collection using 3D rendered garments. The virtual technology, already in use as part of the brand’s sampling process, was pivoted as a virtual catwalk concept. The live stream gained a global audience of more than 10,000 attendees.



The Trend Gap

With increased pressure on brands to produce several collections per year, designers looking to an annual or bi-annual specialist trade show to provide ideas and innovations across fabric, technology or trends for instance is woefully slow in a digital age.

We dissuade clients from using trade shows as a source of trend information because of a prevalent and as of yet unaddressed consumer disconnect. Trade shows centre around what exhibitors want to showcase rather than what consumers want to buy, and that chasm can be disastrous for designers who rely on shows as a source of inspiration for their collections.

We developed our Online Trend Platform to address the research and sourcing imperative amongst brands and designers, requiring up-to-the-minute information on validated future trends, consumer insights and early innovations across materials, colours, patterns and key items from around the globe. The Trend Platform saves our clients time, money and resources otherwise spent comp shopping or traveling to trade shows – where the interests of organisers and exhibitors come first.


If you would like to discover more across brand strategy, consumer insights, product or communication, please join us for a Complimentary Future Trend Insights Session