Sourcing materials at fashion trade shows is vital. Though the reasons why one should attend industry trade fairs have changed over the last few years, their importance especially when it comes to sourcing raw materials and trims, has not diminished.

It has never been a better time to be creative than in today’s day and age. In the past fashion designers worked alone or in small teams – quietly and secluded. They mostly relied on the same materials and sources for inspiration. Perhaps it is why the whole world moved slower and there were long periods between new trends emerging.

Alas, those days are truly gone. Today the world is a much faster-paced place. Inspiration is all around us. We don’t even have to leave the room to know what happens around the world and be inspired.

But the downside is that we are losing personal contact with people. And in fashion and many other businesses that counts for a lot.

Sourcing materials at trade shows is best done in person

Many manufacturers and suppliers have not caught up with technological advances the way the creative community has. Factory owners still prefer the “face-to-face” interactions, take notes and write orders with pen and paper and on occasion, we still hear the word “fax” mentioned.

One way to combine the need for new inspiration and business development is to visit trade fairs.

While people used to rely on them solely for generating business, the role of the trade fairs has somewhat changed in the last few years. It is a much more of a marketing and business development go-to place now.

Being seen and showing what you do, meeting your buyers, suppliers and potential new clients are what fashion brands and businesses thrive on.

So if you are wondering if you should bother going to trade fairs still, here are 5 reasons why we think that YES, you should!

1. Staying abreast newness

One of the best things about going to trade fairs is finding out what new materials and products are coming onto the market.

One way of finding this out is by visiting the show’s trend area. That is where up and coming designers, factories and trade suppliers showcase new or innovative work.

Usually themed by colour, material or technique, this is where many designers draw inspiration from.

Another way is attending talks organised by the show organisers. Here too you can find out what new trends are emerging, what newness is “hot” and of the moment and be able to follow up (if of interest) and meet the suppliers then and there.

However, walking a show is not for the faint-hearted. If you are not organised and don’t have a plan, much can be missed and it can be very overwhelming.

So spending some time in this “trend area”, taking note of interesting new ideas, and following up later by visiting in person, is well worth the time.

2. Face Time

While most big fashion companies and many entrepreneurs seem to have their businesses based in large cities and fashion capitals around the world, fashion suppliers are anything but gathered in a few places.

Rather the opposite.

They are scattered not only around the world but often have factories or premises in not so central, at times even remote parts of their countries.

Unlike many businesses, in fashion, we often work with new suppliers every season. Getting to know them is not so easy and getting to visit them is even rarer. So going to a trade show is the perfect opportunity to put a face to the voice.

“Face time” as the Italian call it, is very important. Business is often made based on personal relationships forged when people meet face to face.

Visiting and sourcing materials at fashion trade shows is not only good for discovering new things but for also resolving problems. Showing examples of what went wrong and discussing it in person, and being able then and there to look at alternatives, is an opportunity not to be missed.

3. Networking

Sourcing materials at fashion trade shows is not just about tangible results. It is also about the people within the industry. Visiting trade fairs is a great way to also meet colleagues and contacts – both past and current.

Having a brief chat in between the aisles, grabbing a coffee or quick lunch is a great way to network while also doing important work.

These contacts are an essential tool in running your business. They often lead to other contacts and new opportunities. In fact, I know of a few industry professionals who only go to trade fairs in order to meet with other people.

Trade fairs are also good for making new acquaintances. Many shows organise events at the start or end of the day, giving opportunities for people to mingle and relax at the end of the day. What better way to connect to new people than to talk about your common passion and challenges? No one better will understand what you may be going through or struggling with or excited by and celebrating than these people surrounding you right there and then.

4. Gaining Knowledge and Training

Many trade fairs run lectures and panel discussions with industry experts throughout the shows. On the whole, these tend to be useful.

Like many designers, creatives and entrepreneurs are too busy designing and running their businesses, education and training are often overlooked. Therefore, being able in a quick half-hour to get some tips on areas that matter but are often forgotten about is invaluable.

Not to mention that going to these events provides a much-needed respite from endless walking and visual overload.

Lastly, visiting fairs and sourcing materials at fashion trade shows also provides yet another opportunity to meet new industry contacts.

5. Industry inside information

One of my personal favourite pastimes when attending trade fairs is to talk to the various suppliers and learn what is REALLY going on in the industry. You’d be surprised what you can learn at these events.

Keeping your ear close to the ground is essential in being able to anticipate certain changes and adjust accordingly before they hit you and your business.

Sometimes events in the industry make no sense. Making sense out of them by talking to the suppliers is the best way to understand the inner working and dependencies within the industry.

For example, a few years back there was a sudden big price increase of a certain raw material many luxury brands depended on. Speaking to suppliers at the Paris fair, I found out that due to a huge pre-buy of the material in questions, by a few large luxury brands, there was a shortage on the market of it. As most brands work a season or so ahead, they were able to adjust their retail prices accordingly to reflect the increase and prevent a sudden loss of margin while looking for alternative sources for raw materials.

Had it not been for visiting the show and hearing what’s going on, the business would have suffered.

But make no mistake. Visiting these shows is no piece of cake and can be very overwhelming. You need to be organised and plan ahead. You need to allow time and then some extra on top, for there is always something unexpected that eats into your time.

If you are new to the industry and contemplating visiting a fair – what are you waiting for? Do it – it is easily the best crash course you can get in the industry.

If you are planning your first trade show visit, then don’t miss reading this article. It explains what to expect and how to prepare.

And whether it is your first or 100th visit to any trade fair – enjoy your time there!