If this year hasn’t given you whiplash, then you haven’t been paying attention. From politics to Coronavirus, our world seems more in a state of flux than in recent memory. And, with COVID-19 as the cause of the cancellation of most physical events all around the world, it was inevitable that this summer’s menswear buying season would not look “business as usual.”
It all started in April when Pitti Uomo announced that it would move its dates from its typical June timeslot to September, causing a ruckus amongst buyers about moving too late into the year to make their deliveries work. Other buyers proclaimed that this was a good thing, perhaps a shift in the fashion calendar wasn’t so bad? And, with Pitti’s move, many other shows followed its lead with pushing their dates further into the year, but many industry insiders were skeptical the shows could still happen.
And, it seemed these skeptics were right. In May through July, all of the country’s major trade shows including Project, Chicago Collective, Liberty Fairs, and MAGIC Las Vegas announced they would not operate a physical show. Pitti also subsequently announced it would slate its next physical show for January 2021. Note: as of this story’s deadline, only the Dallas Men’s Show, the West Coast Trend Show, the Charlotte Show, and by-appointment shows in Boston and The Haberdasher’s Guild, have agreed to hold physical shows.
So, what are brands and buyers supposed to do now that they can’t see one another? Go digital! Pitti Uomo, Liberty Fairs, MAGIC, and Project have all jumped through hoops to make a digital trade show possible in the limited time they’ve had to develop them. Most have teamed up with existing online marketplaces like Joor (Liberty Fairs) and NuOrder (MAGIC and Project) to make these shows a possibility. Pitti has expanded its existing e-Pitti and Pitti Connect platforms to enable its digital show, and the Italian Trade Commission has developed its own platform to market its participating brands in the U.S. this season. But other shows, like Chicago Collective and the Park Lane show, have canceled all-together.
Now, let’s get down to logistics. Most of these digital shows are relying heavily on content and storytelling to help brands communicate with buyers on what’s new and exciting in their collections this season. Other common features like digital catalogs, line sheets, 360-degree imagery, and shoppable hotspots to connect and conduct commerce, help to aid in this task. But many buyers are unconvinced they can make informed purchases without touching and feeling product – as well as having to learn how to use new software in order to complete their buy. While these shows can’t fix the former, they are addressing the latter by hosting webinars on how to use their new platforms, as well as providing live chat support in some cases.
Informa’s shows (MAGIC and Project, among others), launched on September 1st in partnership with NuOrder, and will run through November 1st. With a full eight-week run time, retail buyers will be able to leisurely explore a full library of shoppable editorials and engaging educational content, from tastemaker-curated roundups, and retail discovery sessions to timely industry insights.
According to Lizette Chin, president of men’s fashion for Informa Markets, the company has seen thousands of registrations so far, and is expecting thousands more by the time of the marketplace’s launch. “Our attendees will experience familiar curated communities such as the Tents, Made in Italy, and the N:OW section along with continuous exclusive editorial content to drive buyers to the Project brands,” Chin tells MR. “While we all miss the physical event and plan to have Project Digital as a complement to the Project show moving forward, this digital platform offers buyers from around the world access to our coveted list of brands in real-time.”
As for Liberty Fairs, it launched on August 17th at 9 am in partnership with Joor. Brands have set up a profile like they typically would in a booth at the show. Retailers will be able to connect with brands on the platform and access all the brands’ information. Zoom video calls to show product live can be scheduled on the platform, as well as access to linesheets and lookbooks.
So why should buyers attend these shows instead of just going directly to each brand? In a recent Zoom panel discussion hosted by Fashion Group International, Edwina Kulego, Liberty Fairs’ newly-appointed vice president says it’s all about curation and community. “We are creating a space where retailers can shop brands all in one space at any time of the day instead of searching for 100 different brands independently and having to use their platforms. It’s the same reason buyers and brands attend our shows in the first place: we are here to bring people together in an easy and meaningful way.”
Moving into 2021, both Informa and Liberty say they’d like to combine the learnings and technology from this season into further physical shows – perhaps creating a new normal for shopping collections.
“Physical shows are not going away, if anything, the recent quarantines have made us appreciate in-person interaction,” Kulego told MR in July. “Now we are tasked with embracing a digital approach with physical experience in a new way as we move forward into 2021. We will be reimaging what the physical shows look like, partnering with forward-thinking brands, and developing ways to combine the physical and digital worlds.”