Trade shows can be a great way to grow your fashion business and contacts. Last month I went to Munich Fabric Start, one of Europe’s largest sourcing fairs for the fashion industry. For me, the event has three standout benefits; the fabrics on offer, the amount of sustainable options and the seminar programme. In this post I’m going to cover my round up of these three topics.
Trade shows can feel overwhelming for new designers, due to the sheer scale and amount of companies on offer. I believe Munich had over 1000 suppliers and more than 20000 visitors, so the scale is huge. But, personally I do believe that trade shows are really important for new brands, especially those who are new the fashion industry too and have a limited knowledge of fabrics. One of the key things I teach students in my online course is to go out there and actually feel fabrics. Fabric production is a science and it’s hard to understand what the outcome of different elements is, without having seen many fabrics. Trade shows are a great opportunity to view thousands of fabric options and get an understanding for your personal preferences and also so you know what’s out there.
It can be really inspiring too. Chances are, if you’ve not been working in the industry long, your fabric knowledge will be very limited. By going to see fabrics, you can be inspired by the many combinations on offer. I still find fabric shopping inspiring, even though I’ve been in the industry for over a decade. There’s constantly new innovations as the worlds of biology and fashion continue to mix - fabrics can now be made from varied sources such as pineapples, algae, orange peel and mushrooms, to name just a few.
Personally, I had a lot of success at the show, looking for new fabrics for clients. Some of the fabrics on my ‘hit list’ included sustainable t-shirt and sweater fabrics, recycled activewear options, innovative swimwear finishes and handfinished organic cotton shirting fabrics. All of which I was able to find at low minimums, but it did take a lot of hard work and research prior to the show. If you go to a trade show, any trade show, always do the prep first. If you go without a plan and a list of people that you want to visit, you’ll waste a lot of time. You can easily get overwhelmed and end up wandering around aimlessly (I know this, as that’s the experience I had at my first trade show - I was like a deer in headlights!). There’s also the danger that you’ll stumble across something you love, only to find that the minimums are really high. Some vendors had minimums of 20000m, hence why it’s really important to research beforehand. The vendors I visited generally had minimums of 1m - 100m, with some going up to 300m for my larger clients.
Due to the huge range of suppliers, I’d hazard a guess that you can find pretty much anything you need at the show, however, to ensure it’s worth your time going, you can check the online exhibitor list via the Munich Fabric Start website. This is also the starting point for my research, before going to the show and how I create my plan prior to arrival. It can be quite labour intensive, but totally worth it in my opinion.
If you’re looking for accessories, such as labels, zips, buttons, etc, this can be a good option too as there was a lot of vendors for this type of product. I wouldn’t suggest it anymore for factory finding, as they have really reduced their showing of producers. I only found 2 possible options, both who had mid sized minimums that don’t work for most of my customers.
You might know that I’m passionate about sustainability and one of the great things about this event was the selection of sustainable fabrics available. The new ‘Resource’ section (pictured above) had a range of different products on display from a range of retailers, who you could then visit within the main show areas. There were various different categories, including recycled, organic, regenerated, new innovations and also a section for trims and labels. Through this section I found out about a number of new vendors with low minimums, who I then went to visit.
The selection was pretty sizeable and featured around 700 fabrics and 100 trims, according to the website. I personally found 8-9 new (to me) suppliers who had options that I feel will be good for some customers. I was really happy with that and along with the new vendors, I was also able to meet up with existing contacts and see their new ranges.
It’s really great being able to meet up with the fabric suppliers in person, particularly within the sustainability area as so many of them are passionate about what they do and are excited to show you what they’ve been working on. This is a great way to improve your knowledge and learn more about fabrics and the properties that might be helpful for you. This information not only helps you to choose suitable fabrics, but it also gives you clear features and benefits that you can pass on to your clients. This in turn helps your customers to see the value in your products.
Most of the seminars are free, which is amazing, especially as the entry is also free (but you’ll need to register in advance). In fact, I only went to the free ones, as there were so many I wanted to go to, I didn’t have time for the paid ones. The seminars I went to included information on manufacturing and managing production, sustainability in both fabrics and business, fashion technology and new fabrics that are becoming available and trend presentations, both on consumer trends (more on that in an upcoming post!) and fashion trends.
If you’re new to the industry, some of these are quite advanced and may go over your head a little, as they talk about high level systems and infrastructure management - needs that small businesses don’t have. But, there’s a lot of value in many of the events, particularly the Fashion Nerd discussion on fashion tech and the trend prediction talks. Fashion tech is a really exciting area of the industry and one that’s set to grow massively. Many startups don’t even know about this area and are missing out - by attending such panel discussions, you can have a great idea of what’s going on in the industry and how it might be beneficial for you.
Trend prediction information is super expensive; I spent a small fortune on trend books while I was there - the books cost more than my hotel bill, (which says a lot as spending 3 nights in one of Europe’s most expensive cities doesn’t come cheap!). Trend books are often priced too high to be accessible to startups, so going to one of the free trend seminars can be super helpful. Do keep in mind that there’s free and paid trend seminars - I went to the free ones which were great, but you don’t get any handouts. If you see people with trend forecasting packages, they were from the paid presentation.
I hope this post has given you some insight into why a trade show visit might be good for you. But, if you can’t make it to a show and still want the benefits, I’d love to work with you on this. Whether it’s fabric sourcing, trend information, areas for growth next year or something else, you’re welcome to get in touch for information on how we can work together. You can send me a message by clicking here.
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