Fashion trade shows are almost a rite of passage in the fashion industry, and they can be a great place to start if you are looking for suppliers. They can also be a great source of confusion and overwhelm if you go unprepared. Fashion entrepreneur Rebecca Hafenrichter shares her experience and tells us how to prepare and beat the trade show overwhelm.
I’ve attended Premiere Vision Paris a couple of times while developing my handbag collection. My experience from the first to the second time I visited was like comparing chalk with cheese. Let me tell you why, and share my tips for getting the most out of attending fashion trade shows.
The first time I attended PV, I was in the very early stages of my business. At that point, I didn’t have any contacts and didn’t even have a fully-formed idea of my designs yet, or even the type of leather or material I wanted to use – so this trip was very much about finding inspiration, seeing the scope of the industry, and gaining experience with sourcing.
Walking into the show for the first time, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the amount there was to see and having no idea where to start. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to approach any of the exhibitors, and I started off by just wandering around and browsing the booths to see if anything caught my eye. In the end, I came away with dozens of swatches, a list of contacts and lots of new ideas.
By my second PV attendance, I had a much stronger idea of what my product and brand were about and, thanks to my first trip, I wasn’t nervous about attending because I knew what to expect. The show was again a great source of inspiration and it was interesting to see new trends that were emerging, but this time my visit was much more focused. I had a list of suppliers I wanted to see – both current suppliers, and ones that I was interested in sourcing from in future. My experiences from the first trip also made me much more confident when it came to approaching exhibitors and reps.
I was particularly keen to meet my suppliers in person, because I think that meeting face-to-face is an important step in building my relationships with them. I’ve found that meeting with suppliers can be incredibly valuable, because it gives me a chance to get to know more about them and how their businesses work. In turn, it gives them a better understanding of my business, increases their level of trust, and improves my credibility. I’ve found that people are much more willing to invest in me if I’m more than an email address to them.
Both trips were well worth the investment and helped me to grow and move my business forward.
If you are planning to visit fashion trade shows at home or abroad for the first time and feel anxious, not knowing what to expect – keep reading. Below are my tips for making the most of your next trade show visit.
Before you go:
Make a list of must-see suppliers. Include your current suppliers, as well as any suppliers who have been recommended to you that you’d like to find out more about. Also, take a look at the Exhibitor Directory and note any suppliers that might be worth visiting.
- Create a “shopping list” of what you are looking for specifically. I manufacture handbags, so I needed to source leather, zips, lining, fittings etc. Putting together a list helps you to stay focused while you are walking around. It’s easy to forget things when you get there, so having a list helps you to keep track of everything you need to see or do.
- Prepare questions for suppliers. Some useful things to find out from new suppliers include their production and sampling minimums, prices/sampling surcharges and lead times. If you can, it’s good to have an idea beforehand of the minimums you’re looking for, the approximate costs you’ve budgeted for the various components i.e. what you expect/want to pay per square metre of fabric. Having this information at your fingertips (write it down – don’t rely solely on your memory!) will help you to know quickly when you meet a supplier whether they are a good fit, and will also make you much more credible and professional in their eyes.
- Let your current suppliers know you’ll be attending. I didn’t arrange any formal meetings, but I did let my suppliers know what day I would be popping down, so they knew to expect me.
- Be organised. Allocate time both for visiting the suppliers you have identified and for wandering the aisles for inspiration. Don’t underestimate how much time you’ll need – fashion trade shows like Premiere Vision are huge and there is a lot to see, so make sure you allow enough time for everything. The last thing you want is to leave wishing you’d had more time. Also, If you’re attending for the first time and you’re nervous, find out when the show is open to students and go then. Suppliers will be more understanding because they will be expecting people with less experience in the industry.
At the show:
- Allow yourself time when you first arrive to get your bearings. As mentioned, fashion trade shows are huge and can be very overwhelming. On your first visit, it’s worth taking some time to soak in the atmosphere. There are inspiration zones at PV, which are a good place to start if you’re nervous. There are cafés in the halls – take a break and people watch.
- Don’t be afraid to talk to exhibitors if you see something you like. It’s easier said than done sometimes, but this is where it helps to come prepared with an idea of what you’re looking for. You’ll feel more confident when approaching suppliers if you feel like you know what you’re talking about.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for samples. Some exhibitors are happy to give swatches at fashion trade shows, and others will offer to ship samples afterwards. If they ask for courier details this means you will pay the shipping, so be aware that this can quickly become expensive. Be selective. If you don’t have an account with a courier, see if they are willing to send them anyway.
- Expect to do a lot of walking, standing and heavyweight carrying. You’ll end up walking miles up and down the aisles and you’ll be on your feet most of the day, so wear comfortable shoes! And if weightlifting is not your sport, bring a rucksack or wheeled bag where you can keep the myriad of catalogues, swatches and samples you will inevitably pick up in the course of your visit.
Essentials for Fashion Trade Shows:
- A notebook and pen so that you can record all the information you’re given from different suppliers.
- An accordion folder to collect all your swatches and business cards (much better than just throwing them loose in a bag!).
- A camera or smartphone (that’s fully charged) to keep a visual record of the things you see. Remember to ask for permission before taking photos. At the end of the show, photos will help you marry up your notes with all the swatches, samples and cards you’ve collected.
- Business cards that include your mailing address are useful to have – if you want to have samples sent to you, you’ll end up scribbling your address on a lot of order forms. It’s much easier if all the necessary information is on a card, and also eliminates the risk that a supplier won’t be able to read your handwriting. Make sure you bring a good supply of your cards. It will be very annoying if you run out!
- Samples (of your product, fabrics and fittings, if you have them) are useful to bring for your own reference as well as to show suppliers, so that they can tell you if they have something similar.
- Your “shopping list”! Keep your list handy so that you stay focused, and make sure that you see everything you need to.
Attending fashion trade shows like PV is a valuable experience no matter what stage you are at in your business. If you have suppliers it’s always good to meet them face-to-face and if you haven’t then it’s a great opportunity to find some or even to just get a better idea of what you’re after. It’s always important to educate yourself and learn more about your industry, so if you haven’t visited any fashion trade shows yet, I’d highly recommend making the investment.
Have you been to a fashion trade show before? What are your tips for people planning to attend for the first time? Go to Fashion Insiders Facebook Group and share your experiences.