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At Coterie, Aligning Wholesale with Fashion’s Digital and More Sustainable Future

The contemporary and advanced contemporary womenswear event returns to New York with a renewed focus on its core pillars: sustainability, technology and immersive experiences. BoF meets Kelly Helfman, president of Informa Markets Fashion, to learn more.
Coterie September 2022 campaign imagery
Coterie September 2022 campaign imagery (marco vignati)
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Coterie New York, an Informa Markets Fashion contemporary women’s fashion event, returns this September for another season, to facilitate digital and in-person discovery between global brands, buyers and retailers.

Launched in the 1980s as an intimate, invite-only event with 25 brands at the Plaza Hotel, the concept was to connect industry members and offer a curated assortment of contemporary clothing. In the last 40 years, Coterie has established itself as a key player in the contemporary market’s growth, helping launch, relaunch and scale brands from Helmut Lang to Alice and Olivia, while upholding its original principles of curation and connection among the tens of thousands of guests it welcomes each edition.

Alongside its curated edit of premier women’s apparel, footwear and accessories, industry insights, networking opportunities and trend research — the Coterie event is now honing in on its key pillars: sustainability, technology and immersive experiences. This year brings a new look through updated branding and new creative approaches to onsite activations.

Responding to the new expectations and shifting sentiment and behaviour of end-consumers and “working backwards,” Coterie seeks to support brands through education and innovation — through partnerships with the likes of WGSN, offering real-time trend insights, and Hey Social Good, which provides verification on social practice to highlight efforts in environmental and social governance.

In addition to sharing educational resources around technological innovations in fashion, from the Metaverse and Web3 to 3D merchandising, Coterie is also evolving its strategy to account for the growing resale market and the increase in buyers at their events representing this space. After all, in 2020, resale accounted for 10 percent of all US retail sales, up from 5 percent in 2016. BoF Insights data estimates the US second-hand fashion market could reach $57 billion by 2025.

Kelly Helfman, president of Informa Markets Fashion.

Now, BoF sits down with Kelly Helfman, president of Informa Markets Fashion, to better understand how Coterie is evolving its approach to wholesale to enable digital and sustainable successes.

What is driving the evolution of Coterie?

We are making sure that consumer demand is reflected in the evolution of Coterie — it’s not just what brands or buyers are asking for, but what the end consumer wants, and addressing it backwards. That’s how we approach our strategy for Coterie.

The world has changed, the global fashion landscape has changed and the ecosystem has changed. So, moving forward, we are making sure that we are evolving Coterie to reflect all those different changes. We have had decades of powering the contemporary market, but it’s looking at the new evolving categories within fashion that we need to focus on, from using refills to supporting brands that champion inclusive sizing or minority-owned businesses.

How is Coterie evolving to meet the needs of brands and retailers today?

It’s about that discovery. We want to bring value through more immersive experiences, better focused on our pillars: technology and the digitalisation of the business; sustainability through experiences, education and resources; and then highlighting emerging brands.

It is about being selective and intentional in our curation, making sure we’re bringing the right buyers, the right brands, and connecting them in a meaningful way.

Digital is a big part of it and being able to evolve from a technology and digital standpoint. We give people resources through digital platforms and partnerships — for instance, we were able to provide our attendees with a digital platform where they could participate, even when they were unable to be physically present.

What underpins Coterie’s strategy for success?

It is about being selective and intentional in our curation, making sure we’re bringing the right buyers, the right brands, and connecting them in a meaningful way. We love our legacy anchor brands, but we also understand that buyers are looking to connect with new and emerging brands. We provide the area for discovery.

Over the years, Coterie has evolved to make sure we had a great representation of international brands, to this curated assortment of more advanced contemporary collections, whether it was apparel, accessories and footwear. We began in the eighties, representing just 25 brands in a hotel, and went on to launch a variety of premium brands. We are all about connecting and discovery.

How is Coterie implementing digital developments into its offering?

Fashion is tactile. You have to touch and feel it, and Coterie is such a huge opportunity to discover the new, so you have to make sure somebody is physically there. But digital, it really serves a purpose in that on-going discovery and on-going access to resources, whether it’s through our partnerships or our own content that we’re producing constantly to support the ever-changing business that we are in.

As a result, we are investing in our digital platforms both online and for our show apps, for increased discovery all-year round. We have to think about being digital first, and then physical events are the icing on the cake to bring the industry together. We then give people access to so many different resources to be able to support them moving forward.

People are also looking to us for educational resources, so it’s really important that we’re presenting those. We are paying attention to things like the Metaverse, Web3, 3D merchandising, and the technology that’s available to brands and retailers.

How is Coterie working towards a more sustainable future for fashion?

For us, sustainability is firstly about showcasing the sustainable brands in this advanced contemporary assortment. We are working with a company called Hey Social Good, which verifies a portion of the brands at Coterie and gives them an assessment as to where they are in the process of social good. This is something that our buyers are asking for — they want to know and make sure that they’re working with brands and carrying collections in their stores that are actually doing good.

People are also looking to us for educational resources, so it’s really important that we’re presenting those. We are paying attention to things like the Metaverse, Web3 and 3D merchandising.

Secondly, it’s about practising what we preach as a leader in the event space and as event organisers. We have to do our part to be more sustainable, so we’re trying to be more mindful as to how we are producing these events moving forward. We are looking to celebrate brands’ achievements in their journey to sustainability — it’s not about calling anyone out or shaming them but celebrating their progress, even if they are just starting out.

How do you support your community in their journeys to sustainable practices?

We have a large community and connections to different associations all over the world to help people diversify where they are producing, to look at different fashion technology providers and sustainable fabrics.

We also host an extensive sourcing show which gives our attendees access to thousands of different suppliers and manufactures. These businesses come from all over the world and we work closely with international associations and governments to be able to provide this to our attendees. We have the opportunity to connect the Coterie brands with these suppliers can support them by matching them with businesses that fit their brand.

We don’t treat it like a one size fits all show — it’s important that we look at the needs of the different Coterie collections, what they’re looking for, and appropriately match with them for any resources that we have.

What role is resale playing at an event like Coterie?

Resale is a big part of the evolution of Coterie. As this industry is changing, brands have to be thinking about resale as well as sustainability, about direct-to-consumer as well as wholesale.

A tonne of our buyers are not just your traditional multi-brand stores anymore, but also resale and rental buyers. We also have a lot of vintage brands on the show floor, which do incredibly well selling one-of-a-kind luxury designer handbags, for example, the Ritz-Carlton is one buyer that loves to purchase those bags.

We have also partnered with different organisations that could help them with upcycling, such as companies like Fabscrap. Different partners we work with take the scraps and then reproduce and recycle them.

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