In the midst of some very mixed opinions about the validity and safety of in-person trade shows, MR catches up with Bruce Schedler, director of the Chicago Collective, to talk about what was, is, and will be.
Q: You’ve received both praise and pressure for canceling two major menswear shows this past year – August for spring ‘21 fashion and February for fall ‘21. How are you feeling personally about this past year?
A: It’s been very tough! I talk to so many people and hear so many challenges retailers and brands continue to confront: both personal and business issues. It seems that during a pandemic, life’s tragedies accelerate whereas joy and celebrations decelerate. And the isolation makes everything so much harder! I also know how many brands have depended on our show as their major selling vehicle so I feel terrible that we weren’t there for them this past year. On the other hand, I’m proud that The Mart puts safety above all else.
Q: So, are your plans confirmed. Will there be a summer show in Chicago for spring ‘22 menswear?
A: Yes, we’re confirmed for the second week in August: the 8th, 9th, and 10th. We thought our timing was great because it’s late enough in the season so that most Americans will be vaccinated and travel will have opened up. Unfortunately, shows in Charlotte and Las Vegas are also on those dates.
Q: I assume safety will be your priority: what changes are you making from your traditional show set-up?
A: Safety is always a priority. We’re not yet committed to anything definite as far as the floor layout is concerned, but there might be changes in aisle width to enable better distancing and we will of course also follow all pandemic safety guidelines. It’s a big step toward normalcy and people on both sides of the table are just so excited to be seeing each other, in-person rather than on Zoom!
Q: Are you worried about the growing interest in small regional shows? There are those who feel that smaller is both safer and friendlier.
A: We’re probably most known for our camaraderie and friendliness! Of course, there will be some polarization regionally but there still has to be a major market. What’s more, we’re not trying to be all things to everyone. Over the past few years, we’ve become the show for better menswear and that continues to be our focus. We’ve nurtured a much greater participation from Italian makers, great brands like Boglioli, Eleventy, and Ravazzolo as well as smaller companies with fabulous product and limited distribution. Our strategy is to continue to upgrade and better specialty stores from across North America are clearly responding.
Q: How will you accommodate this anticipated growth when you’ve been sold out your past few shows? Will you add space on another floor?
A: If we have to expand aisle space for instance, then we might have to downsize booths for many exhibitors. But, as I said, the Mart has been extremely supportive and we are also looking at other options to expand the show in the building. We’ve always said we’re not looking to be a huge show, we want to be a great show. Fortunately, the demand appears still there.
Q: I understand that several of the shows this month had trouble enforcing mandatory mask policies.
A: We won’t tolerate anyone not wearing masks. The Mart has been unbelievable: safety is everything and they’re taking tremendous care to do it right. We will of course adhere to state and city protocol. But remember that The Mart has other shows with much bigger attendance than the Chicago Collective: a couple of them host tens of thousands of visitors! So we will easily apply those protocols to the Collective.
Q: What about your big opening night outdoor party, always the highlight of the Chicago Collective?
A: Once again, we don’t know yet. The park in front of the Mart has been completely redone and expanded with more seating and more greenery, but we can’t confirm the event until we get a bit closer. We intend to have it on Sunday night but we have to be flexible and have a plan ‘B.’
That said, I’m optimistic that the industry will come together in a wonderful way, whatever changes need to be made to ensure safety. We have a core group of the finest retailers in North America who are looking forward to returning this summer and we continue to have incredible support from our exhibitors. They’re all eager to get in front of their top retailers, renew friendships and show beautiful product. That’s what it’s about, and that’s what will happen successfully and safely if we all work together.