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Innovating How Fashion’s Wholesale Industry Connects

Informa Markets Fashion, the wholesale connection platform behind Magic, Coterie and Project, is launching its physical events calendar in July — part of an ambitious plan to innovate the market to reflect post-pandemic needs. Commercial president Kelly Helfman and showcasing brands Zadig & Voltaire and Oak & Acorn share their insights and experiences.
A buyer digital shopping at an Informa trade show event.
A buyer digital shopping at an Informa trade show event. Informa.
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On July 10, Informa Markets Fashion, one of the United States’ most established wholesale platforms and industry connector behind key events in the fashion wholesale calendar — including Magic, Coterie and Project — will fully relaunch its physical events calendar following 2020′s transformative disruption with its Destination Miami by Coterie event, part of women’s swim week.

“The industry has gone through a major evolution,” Informa Markets Fashion’s commercial president Kelly Helfman told BoF. “Responding to this, we’ve put a big emphasis on understanding what the industry needs now and moving forward.”

Informa Markets Fashion will continue to deliver an online presence in tandem with physical events, having introduced digital trade events in late 2020 and early 2021. However, events are now one facet of a comprehensive strategy to create opportunities for the fashion wholesale industry to connect, innovate and drive business performance.

To respond to the needs of its community, Informa Markets Fashion is evolving its operations to become a centralised platform for strategic guidance, access to commercial opportunities and international networks. Today, in addition to digital tools and commercial platforms, Informa Markets Fashion provides educational resources in the form of webinars, industry playbooks and shopping guides as well as white papers on subject matters like trend forecasting and industry insights on where to produce overseas and sustainable solutions. Its aim: to “support the entire fashion ecosystem year-round.”

Now, BoF sits down with Kelly Helfman, the commercial president of Informa Markets Fashion and two of the brands attending its events — Zadig & Voltaire and Oak & Acorn — to hear how Informa Markets Fashion is planning to catalyse recovery by enabling the wholesale industry to connect and innovate.

Informa Markets Fashion commercial president, Kelly Helfman.

Kelly Helfman, Commercial President of Informa Markets Fashion

Connecting the global fashion community through online experiences, industry insights and worldwide fashion trade events including Magic, Coterie, Project and Sourcing at Magic, Informa Markets Fashion seeks to support the entire fashion ecosystem year-round.

How has Informa’s physical live event strategy evolved post-pandemic?

The industry has gone through a major evolution. Responding to this, we’ve put a big emphasis on understanding what the industry needs now and moving forward. Driven by a market-led and a customer-focused approach, we are purposefully evolving our business strategies to become an invaluable tool and resource that serves the fashion industry in larger ways than ever before.

From that, we’ve come up with a number of different focus areas, such as the launch of new events and in newer key cities and regional markets, such as Orlando, Miami and New York. Retailers can discover a diversified selection of brands and experience a greater convenience of shopping our events in different regions, while brands can open up accounts in new territories. It also offers economic opportunities for host cities, supporting local economies and businesses.

What role does digital play within this strategy?

Digital is a huge part of our strategy post-pandemic. We aim to offer a seamless and efficient experience, no matter where in the world you are located or when the most optimal time is for you to engage with your customers. In addition to bringing to fruition a hybrid model for fashion wholesale, we’re streaming our educational seminars and sessions online.

This August at our Sourcing at Magic event, we are piloting a new opportunity for international companies to participate, where companies can send us product samples to display onsite. Buyers at the live event can then interact with the products as well as connect with the exhibitor while at our event through our digital platform we have, running in tandem to our Sourcing event in Las Vegas.

How does Informa support its community of brands?

It’s about offering higher quality opportunities and richer storytelling moments for our brands. We have diversified our calendar line-up moving forward with various events in key cities, in addition to the co-location of events, which draws a larger audience and encourages retailers to cross-shop events. This results in more opportunities for brands to connect with the exact retailers they are looking for.

We are bringing forward digital platform opportunities running in tandem with our live events to better support how brands and buyers want to showcase and shop products, extending the onsite experience online. This hybrid model not only affords connection opportunities before, during and after our live events conclude, but it also assists in bridging connections with our international community, which may not be in attendance at the live event.

All of our events are then supported by robust marketing promotions, original content and advanced educational sessions, and various networking events. These ancillary components of our business model provide brands with further opportunities to tap into the fashion zeitgeist and organically interact with our extensive network for both established brands and start-ups.

How are you engaging retailers in their return to trade events?

We are offering a variety of opportunities for our retail community, which build off of our core products and services. With a more personalised approach, we’re focused on offering more high touch services, such as our enhanced retail concierge programme. This dedicated programme offers one-on-one consultation to help maximise their onsite shopping experience, from appointment setting to background legwork to present retailers with the exact brands and products they are looking for.

For our frequently attending buyers, we’re unveiling a revised loyalty programme, packed with pre-event and onsite perks and discounts such as express check-in, Retailer Lounge areas and customised matchmaking opportunities. This new programme will launch with our Las Vegas events this August. Creating a more streamlined shopping experience for our retail buyers, we have also refreshed our merchandising strategy across all of our hero brand events — Magic, Project and Coterie — with apparel showcased alongside footwear and accessories.

Oak & Acorn founder Miko Underwood.

Miko Underwood, Founder and Creative Director of Oak & Acorn — attending Project

Oak & Acorn launched in 2019 with Harlem’s Fashion Row, kicking off New York Fashion Week. The sustainable denim brand is reclaiming the narrative of denim’s origins in the US on the plantations in the American South, and Indigo’s cultural history as a hidden commodity of the slave trade. Oak & Acorn is sold online and through outlets including Nordstrom and Shopbop.

How has your approach to wholesale evolved?

We’ve been thrust into this digital future, so for us to maintain our business, we have to have e-commerce. I also believe it’s our due diligence to tell our story, to help the customer understand who we are and what we are about, which we do through e-comm. But retail partners give us more market share, distribution, and show our story to a wider audience.

It’s about being able to work both sides of our retail base — online and offline — and wholesale is an extension of our business. There’s a lot of value a retailer can provide today and it’s smart for brands to ask them: what is your social media strategy? How are your sales associates understanding our brand? Do you have an opportunity for me to come in to give them product knowledge? All of that is pivotal in that retail experience because the better the experience, the more likely they’ll come back to the retailer and brand.

Why are physical trade events still important?

The saleability of your product is often enabled through [buyers] being able to physically feel and see the products up close. We use sustainable fabrics like hemp and linen, which are known to be rough, so buyers need to understand that’s not the case. The touch and feel aspect is everything.

You also want to create an experience for the buyer to walk into. For example, you can style out mannequins to show the versatility of a product. It’s a way to tell your story through a holistic experience. Being a sustainable brand, it’s about showing the different elements of sustainability through our fabrics, process and traceability, and our social impact. There is an education aspect that is important for our customers to understand.

Then, hearing from brands who have longer legacies is important. It gives an idea to what other people are doing and how are they managing. Especially for someone like me with a smaller brand and who has to wear a lot of hats.

What are the priorities for your team at Project this year?

I think the priorities for us will be to offer an experience, to have that tangibility of connecting with our brand, and create great relationships. There’s nothing like connecting with people one-on-one. You can never supersede that.

It’s also about finding the right retail partners. It’s important to be strategic in how we approach a partnership because the story of our brand is so important, as is the way we show up as the first sustainable denim brand in Harlem. We want to ensure whoever represents our brand gets what the brand is about.

SVP Wholesale for Zadig & Voltaire US, Tara Small.

Tara Kaplan Small, Senior Vice President of Wholesale at Zadig & Voltaire — attending Coterie

Parisian heritage brand Zadig & Voltaire was founded in 1997 by Thierry Gillier and expanded into the US market in 2005. The brand’s men’s, women’s, kids, accessories and footwear lines are sold through their own stores, 13 regional e-commerce sites and stockists such as Farfetch, Selfridges and Nordstrom.

How has your approach to wholesale evolved?

Just like everybody else, we pivoted quickly and successfully into a digital world. We created digital line sheets and lookbooks — assets we actually never had before because we were always in regular, physical markets. So, we were able to create our own digital workbooks in the US and service the account that way — via Zoom.

I also now have agents that help represent us for different territories for specialty stores across the US. They have regional showrooms, which ended up being a lot more important than they were before Covid — an element of Coterie that we value.

Why are physical trade events still important?

There really is nothing like a Coterie event in New York. There’s an excitement and energy, with so many people walking through. The number of stores that you can service in that short period of time is important to us.

In our mind, six months ago, it wasn’t a thought that we could be doing Coterie. But now, with a higher comfort level in New York, I want to be the first one to welcome my accounts back. I don’t know if we’re going to do a ton of business, but we want to be there. We have long-standing relationships with these stores, and I want to see how they’re doing.

What role do physical trade events play in your long-term strategy?

The customer values being in person: touching, seeing, feeling. With some of the more special products at a higher price point, you need to touch the product to understand its value. There’s an emotional aspect that you miss from the digital experience. We’ll continue to utilise digital in our stores that need it — but they want to be in an appointment in a real, physical way.

Coterie is a marketing tool, as well. That’s how we secure new accounts. It’s a nice way for us to highlight that we are a lifestyle brand. We’re able to create separate showrooms or booth installations that highlight those other categories and people really see the strength of the brand. We’re able to show a lot of people what we do in one place.

What are the priorities at Coterie this year?

We treat our Coterie New York booth as if it’s a retail store. You’re servicing your buyers the same way as you’re servicing a customer. The customer comes into the store and she wants to have a great customer experience — she loves to touch and feel the product. It’s the same thing as what we do for our buyers.

At a Coterie event, we know the drill — it’s about having the best presentation and a strong-looking booth. It’s about keeping that booth best-in-class and put together for that next account coming in. But first and foremost, it’s about keeping those relationships with our retail partners — many of which were formed at Coterie.

We want to be there for our accounts. We were worried about them with all the store closures and we did what we could to support them, whether it was providing digital assets to enhance their online business or helping with their Instagram. Everybody had to figure out a new way to do business.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Informa Markets Fashion as part of a BoF partnership. To learn more about Informa Markets Fashion’s upcoming events, click here.

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