Scoop x Pure: strong attendance as trade shows return
Trade shows are back… and how. Any visitor to the temporarily combined Scoop x Pure last week will have perhaps been surprised by how busy the event was. The Delta variant and relatively high case rates may be making some people nervous, but the fashion sector seems to want to return to normality as soon as possible.
As for what was shown there, it was perhaps a case of ‘Trend, Interrupted’. Many labels picked up from where they’d left off pre-pandemic with many exhibitors embracing the boho dress and associated looks. They largely left the full-on loungewear of the past year-and-half behind, although the influence of the extreme casualisation we saw for lockdown dressing remained a factor.
What was most interesting about the show was, as mentioned, just how busy it was. We’re not talking stampede here, of course. But a steady flow of visitors, and exhibitors who were clearly writing orders.
The event brought together many of the usual Scoop exhibitors with a curated selection of those who regularly show at Pure London (the mix was about 70:30 in favour of Scoop, we were told) at the Old Truman Brewery on an unexpectedly hot and sunny three days.
Diane Sykes, who handles multiple brands through her eponymous agency, said that the show -- even in its combined form — may have been “smaller than usual, but that seemed to condense the buyers and, for me personally, it was busy. The calibre of retailer was at the usual Scoop level, but less of them”.
Of course, not all of the drop in numbers was linked to the fact that buyers were nervous about venturing out. As Sykes added: “It was late in the season and budgets had been spent by many”. This suggests that trade shows might not get back completely to normal until their timings return to ‘normal’.
It was interesting too that Sykes said she noticed a change in the visitors to the show.
“I was struck by the number of people coming onto the stand who were opening websites, together with pop-up shops”, she explained. “It was encouraging to see the new businesses still interested in investing in the industry — albeit in a digital clicks and not bricks-and-mortar way”.
The way the industry is changing could also be seen in what some of the exhibitors were showing. Scotland-based Karen Mabon, for instance, had pivoted to more relaxed categories during lockdowns and found that there’s still plenty of interest in casual looks, even post-pandemic.
Initially, Mabon said the pandemic was “terrifying” with cancelled orders overnight from both home and abroad.
“After that we tried to focus on what people actually would want. That meant things that made them happy in their homes like pyjamas. It actually turned out to be a really good time for us with everyone stuck at home. It was a chance for us to introduce our brand to people and online was really good. But it was nerve-wracking”.
It was also an opportunity to grow the collection beyond its previous accessory and swimwear focus and those PJs - in a range of vivid prints — are now the label’s strongest category.
“As a surface for print, we can have much more fun,” Mabon said, adding that she creates her own prints and has enjoyed playing around with ideas such as an Agatha Christie print link-up.
Of course, going full-on casual as Mabon did isn’t an option for many labels in the premium womenswear space, which is why it was so encouraging to see more formally-focused labels attracting plenty of show interest.
DRESSING UP BOUNCES BACK
Kalpa Shah, managing director of Jane Lewis Fashion, highlighted that the only-recently-renamed label, Jane (it was formerly called Goat), is known for its occasion dresses.
Clearly, such items have been far from must-haves for many consumers over the past 18 months as weddings, business meetings and other occasions have been put on hold.
But the more formal sector — and the company — are clearly bouncing back. Shah told us that the “show was very positive. We participated with very little idea or expectation of how it would work out, but we were delighted to connect with some great independent stores from around the UK, [although] understandably, we did not see our Irish clients.
“The show was busy. The mood was upbeat — buyers and brands seemed genuinely happy to be there. It felt like we had all survived a very precarious 18 months but were emerging back — to the world we love — together”.
She said retailers are “expecting a surge in ‘dress up’ clothes for next season” and the label wrote orders with both new and existing boutiques.
Ian Campbell-Smith from sales agency Palladio, which handles around 30 different brands (including menswear), was also upbeat.
“It’s been very challenging, but the worst of it seems to be over”, he told us. “Certainly in the independent sector it's feeling a lot more positive”.
The news in the past 18 months may have been mostly doom and gloom, but businesses were still functioning as retailers found new (digital) ways to reach their customers.
“I've been doing lots of virtual appointments, which was a challenge in itself. It's harder for people to buy because, basically, they couldn't really see what they were buying”, which is why he thinks a return to physical shows is crucial. And it’s comes at a good time for independents.
“Business certainly didn't come to a standstill and since the last lockdown ended, I think it's very much played into the hands of the independent sector and away from the main high street brands”, Campbell-Smith said.
“People are feeling that they want to support independent businesses. That’s had a great effect on trade and this is the first season I've known in 30 years that people haven't actually complained. In general people are saying they've had a good season and I take that to mean they've had a very good season. It's all looking quite positive”.
In fact, his biggest challenge hasn’t been the pandemic, but Brexit and “we spent a lot of management time trying to work our way through all the hurdles. It's been an incredible challenge for us and we are still facing those challenges on a day-to-day basis”.
Other businesses have had fewer Brexit issues, simply because they hadn’t previously been operating for decades in the single market. Angela Blundell, a long-term fashion exec (and former Wolford MD), launched her brand-new business post-Brexit and actually found the pandemic a perfect time to “create something new and interesting”.
Her Concrete London label stood out from many of the ranges on show because it was most definitely not tracking the boho trend. The fully sustainable brand is manufactured in the UK and is a “slow fashion” offer. Using high-quality washable 100% wool, as well as innovative materials such as the wool-like one made from recycled bottles, it’s all about simplicity, versatility and paring-back, but with subtle detail that offers an extra selling point.
Meanwhile, Caroline Ekstrom of Oldstrum Agency was seeing plenty of interest at the event. A few days later she said she’d had “a fantastic show”. She’s actually been quite busy for the last year in general. She admitted that “it was a bit scary in the beginning when the lockdown happened”, but said “things picked up quite quickly”.
Last July, the business opened back up again “and we were mad busy in the showroom as we have a strong boutique business”, she explained. That said, “things were uncertain and buying was a bit different, but there was lots of optimism”.
Buying conditions were tough again with the new lockdown earlier this year but “we were on Zoom a lot”. And for SS22, the business is “seeing massive growth”, something she hoped would be helped by the event.
“We really wanted to support the show, it’s important for us to be here”, she said. “I’m overwhelmed that it's so busy already early on the opening day. I've seen lots of people and there's a real buzz around”.
But one element that was clearly missing was intentional buyers. Unlike many UK-based businesses, Ekstrom has been able to make contact with international buyers this year as she recently showed at Revolver in Copenhagen. Although that was “very domestic”, with largely Scandi-focused buyers, she did still see some German and Dutch retailers.
But the international element just isn’t happening for UK events this time. It seems that while normality is on its way back, there’s still some way to go. And it’s to be hoped that rising case rates can be contained and the trade shows early next year can put us even more strongly on the road to normality.
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