What is the function of fashion trade shows and when do they take place?
Trade shows are important events in the fashion industry that kick off the new season for brands and retailers.
In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about fashion trade shows: What exactly are they? Who are the visitors and exhibitors? And why are they so important? We’ll also include some examples of some of the biggest trade shows in the global fashion industry.
- What is a fashion trade fair? (what do they do and who attends them)
- Famous fashion trade shows
- Timing of fashion trade shows
1. What is a fashion trade fair?
A fashion trade show, at its heart, is a fair where fashion professionals gather to do business. At the fair, suppliers showcase their collections for the coming season, and buyers get an important overview of upcoming collection and trends.
Exhibitors and visitors
Fashion brands are the fairs’ exhibitors. The stands on the exhibition floor feature representatives, such as the brands’ sales teams or commercial agents. They present their brands’ new collections for the coming season - often for the first time.
Trade fair visitors are therefore mainly retailers, fashion shop owners, and buyers from large department stores. But other fashion professionals such as trend watchers, and journalists also attend, as well as professionals from the wider retail industry.
So what are the benefits of attending trade shows?
Main reasons retailers attend:
- Purchasing. Traditionally, orders are written at trade shows. Nowadays, this is done increasingly less on the show floor, and more often by appointment during the new buying/selling season, for example in the fashion brand's showroom or or in the retailer's shop
- Discovering [new] fashion brands
- Discovering collections/trends
- Gaining inspiration
- Staying in the loop and hearing/seeing what is going on from other industry professionals. The relevance and usefulness of fashion trade shows are sometimes questioned, yet they remain one of the most important touch points in the fashion industry
Main reasons brands attend:
- Visibility of the fashion brand and collection. The fair should provide an opportunity to showcase the brand and products. Brands have their entire marketing story, consisting of the lookbook and other things ready before the fair
- Networking. Face-to-face meetings with potential and existing customers, partners, media, suppliers, and industry contacts
At the fair, fashion brands display their new collections for next season using their sample collections. They often present in the stand a selection of their best new fashion items, colors, and fabrics. They also provide pricing information when requested. The wholesale price, or the purchase price for retailers, and the recommended retail prices, the price consumers will pay in shops, have then already been determined (you can read more about the price structure of a garment in section 5 of this article).
Exhibiting at a trade fair offers an excellent opportunity for brands to test the response and get feedback on their designs and/or design direction from retailers, who are in direct contact with the end customer.
How long does a fashion trade fair last?
Usually, a trade fair lasts a few days.
Trade fair participation naturally comes at a price. Fashion brands need to rent a stand from the trade fair organizer. Exactly how much this costs is often not disclosed by the organizations. But the investment, sometimes depending on the stand size (or the number of square meters a fashion brand rents on the trade show floor), is usually thousands of euros at a reputable fashion trade show.
A trade fair visit is less expensive, costing a few tens of euros per person. Usually it is only fashion industry professionals who attend these events.
2. Well-known fashion trade fairs
Trade fairs Pure London and Moda, both operated by Hyve Group, are two of the largest fashion and accessories trade shows in the UK. They both take place twice a year: Pure London in the English capital, and Moda in Birmingham. Other leading European trade shows include Who's Next in France, Pitti Uomo in Italy, CIFF in Denmark, and Modefabriek in the Netherlands. All these trade fairs focus mainly on women’s and men's fashion in the middle and mid-high segments.
Some fashion brands - especially the renowned and larger ones with bigger budgets - travel from one trade fair to another during the fair season. A brand like Lois Jeans, for example, may be at Modefabriek in Amsterdam and later at Revolver in Copenhagen.
There are also very specialised trade fairs, focused on a particular segment or niche. There is the denim trade fair, Kingpins, for example, or fairs dedicated exclusively to lingerie and swimwear, such as LingeriePro in Belgium (Kortrijk). There are menswear trade fairs (the best known is perhaps Pitti Uomo in Florence) and children's fashion trade fairs (such as Sunday School in the Netherlands). Increasingly, we are also seeing trade fairs that focus exclusively on more sustainable fashion, such as Innatex in Germany. There are also yarn fairs for fabric manufacturers, and fabric fairs for clothing manufacturers.
Fabric trade shows
At fabric fairs, fabric manufacturers present their latest materials. Fabric manufacturer Workingmenblues (WMB) is a regular exhibitor at Première Vision in Paris, which is one of the best-known fabric fairs in Europe. WMB owner Aleks Kuijpers explains that it usually works as follows: “Brands come to the fair, ask for some prototypes [of the fabrics] they like and they take them to the drawing table.” If brands particularly like a fabric, they will order some and create a sample garment to show at a fashion trade fair.
Then the garment manufacturer starts buying large quantities of fabric from fabric manufacturers for their most sought-after garments based on the sales during the fair. “We issue the bulk of the fabric production order when the wholesale sales period of the fabrics is over,” Kuijpers says. So the process of fabric development, procurement/sales and production is similar to that of fashion collections (the garments) but the timing is a bit different.
3. Timing of fashion trade shows
When is the fashion trade fair season?
Fashion trade shows kick off the new season. Traditionally, there have been two seasons in the fashion industry: spring/summer and autumn/winter. Accordingly, fashion trade shows also tend to have two editions, a summer edition and a winter edition.
The trade fair season takes place in January/February (the winter edition) and July/August (the summer edition). After the fairs, the new selling season for fashion brands and the new buying season for retailers start.
Pure London is one of the largest fashion trade fairs in the UK. Exhibitors from 31 countries attended the most recent show in July, which was the first in-person, standalone edition since the beginning of the pandemic. The fair showcases collections months before they are available in shop windows.
The upcoming February 2023 edition of Pure London will present the new autumn/winter collections. The FW23 shopping timeframe for retailers to buy these collections mostly takes place in January, February, and March. After retailers place their orders with the fashion brands, the garments are put into production, before being delivered to retailers between July, August, and September. Retailers will sell these autumn/winter collections to consumers until the clearance sales in December and January.
The July 2023 edition of Pure London, on the other hand, will showcase the new spring/summer collections. Sales of the new SS24 collections to retailers will take place in June, July, and August 2023, and will be delivered in January, March, and April. Retailers will then sell the collections to consumers through July.
4. Alternatives to exhibiting at a trade fairNot all fashion brands exhibit at a fashion trade fair. Other alternative events often take place at the same time.
In showrooms, for example, 'open door days' are organised. A showroom, whether owned by a fashion brand or a trade agent, is a business space used for displaying clothes. During open doors days, retailers and buyers can drop by, by appointment or not. “With Ampere, we were at the fair [Revolver] last season. Next season we will be in the showroom of our representative agent in Paris,” the luxury menswear brand’s co-owner Aleks Kuijpers recently told FashionUnited.
Alternatively, some brands might opt to showcase their collections in smaller get-togethers, for example over a dinner.
There are several reasons why a brand might opt for an alternative to attending a trade fair. They might consider other alternatives more intimate, or simply to cut cots.
- Interview with Aleks Kuijpers, the owner of design and production company Workingmenblues and co-owner of menswear brand Ampère, at the Amsterdam headquarters in September 2022.
- TMO Fashion Business School education by the author
- 'Mode Adviseur' by Mirjam van den Bosch, Astrid Hanou and Hans van Otegem, published by Stichting Detex Opleidingen, 2003, second edition.
- The FashionUnited archive and content by journalist Don-Alvin Adegeest, among others. Click here for all tradefairseason stories.