Project Description

When pivot seems to be the buzzword fashion can only follow suit and adapt in its methods of operation, welcome virtual tradeshows. 

Virtual tradeshows, showrooms and online Business to Business (B2B) platforms are quickly becoming commonplace – could these be the future for retailers, buyers and brands?

B2B platforms have been around for a number of years, but have been slow to take off in Europe. However, in response to the pandemic, virtual tradeshows have been pushed into the limelight with a number of new platforms emerging such as Fashion United as well as the more established Playologie, WWS, The Brand Showroom TV and Joor, to name a few.

Physical tradeshow before pandemic

This unanticipated shift from physical to virtual comes with benefits not considered before, meaning it could be a concept that we see carried on even after restrictions are lifted. With access from anywhere in the world, the sheer amount of people contributing is far more expansive, travel restrictions are eliminated, and new buyers can be attracted. Some of the shows are also expected to be season-long events rather than just a number of days, increasing exposure further and shedding the restrictions of tight timeframes.

Not only is this a far more cost-effective alternative for brands wishing to take part of such events, but organisations such as the UKFT are working on a number of schemes to assist financially. This includes working towards making the Tradeshow Access Programme (TAP) grants available for these digital platforms, to make attendance more affordable.

The financial aspect of virtual tradeshows is far more accessible for smaller brands, with the costs involved in physically attending a show considerably reduced, access to grants and no ties to long contracts. This could be an unexpected silver lining for start-up brands coming out of lockdown.

The digital platforms are constantly evolving and are testing different formats and functionality. Playologie are currently hosting events; ‘I Love Playtime,’ with a strong focus on childrenswear, ‘View’ which tackles unisex clothing and ‘Playologie’. Boasting of a data base exceeding 40,000 buyers globally and representing 350 brands, events aim to connect brands with appropriate consumers and buyers, ultimately generating orders. This B2B marketplace is also working to support the industry’s longevity by offering access to free accounts until the end of the year.

Screenshot of brands showcased on online Tradeshow

Virtual access to showrooms is also being offered by appointment over platforms such as Modem Online and Brand Lab Fashion. Again, travel limitations dissipate, and it seems to be easier than ever to connect across the world, working, perhaps, more efficiently than ever. Showrooms are available 24/7 and many include 360° product imagery and catwalk videos.

It was recently confirmed that London Fashion Week would be going ahead in September, presenting with a combination of digital and physical events. Therefore, it is unsurprising that tradeshows are beginning to navigate the new climate in a similar fashion.

Online wholesale platform Joor are hosting their very first online tradeshow ‘Premium X Seek’ which launched on the 14th of July. Set to run until October, the event will showcase men and women’s casual wear, accessories jewellery and footwear. The event provides for a condensed experience for users, referred to as a ‘one stop shop’, it is working towards digitalising business interactions and building brand networks. The platform is also hosting ‘Cabana Miami Swim’ following the cancellation of the physical event, it will run until August.

Joor's Cabana show on laptop screen

Another key contender for virtual Tradeshows is Pitti Connect. The digital doors opened on the 16th of July giving for access to ‘Pitti Uomo,’ showcasing a plethora of menswear, accessories and footwear brands to potential buyers. They are also combining this with their childrenswear event, ‘Pitti Bimbo,’ as well as their 5 other running tradeshows in the food and fragrance industries.

So, is a virtual showroom or B2B wholesale platforms the best option for a fashion brand? As ever it is subjective and depends on a brand and their market positioning, & what they hope to achieve. Whilst some of the platforms are currently offering free access which give a brand an opportunity to test the space, we don’t know how long this will be available for and there can be high costs involved with setting up on some of the more established platforms.

Recent digital showings by brands have struggled to generate the same critical acclaim and impressions with consumers online, in comparison to previous physical shows. Whilst there are obvious benefits to the digitalisation of tradeshows, & no doubt the pandemic has given the industry the push it needed to innovate and consider new concepts, there will always be a place for physical events & the question is now whether long term this new way will be well adopted by brands and buyers alike and result in orders.

By Frances Smith