MILAN, Italy — Welcoming over 1,300 exhibitors and 43,000 visitors this season alone, Micam is the world’s oldest and largest trade show dedicated to footwear. The suspended walk way that runs above the latticed arches of Fiera Milano exhibition space, in which the fair is held, pays testament to the primacy of its positioning — punctuated as it is with billboards advertising the presence of French, Turkish, Brazilian, Spanish exhibitors, along with a whole host of other nations’ brands, present at the fair.
However, despite welcoming more exhibitors and buyers than ever before, the market in which Micam operates is changing. In recent years, the footwear market has experienced dramatic digital disruption and felt the impact of distinct shifts in consumer preferences with the rise of sneaker culture and streetwear trends.
Taking responsibility as a leader in its field, in the lead up to celebrating its 50th anniversary in September, Micam launched a range of initiatives intended to integrate actionable thought leadership into the fair, to help attendees and buyers better understand and capitalise on the opportunities that exist in today’s market. These initiatives include an exclusive partnership with trend forecasting agency WGSN, which hosts an itinerary of talks throughout proceedings, and the establishment of dedicated “squares”, highly staged and produced meeting areas with schedules of events and experiential features designed to promote co-learning and the opportunity for collaboration amongst attendees.
BoF sat down Micam president Annarita Pilotti and chief executive Tommaso Cancellara to hear more about Micam’s plans for the future, and why education and exploration is now part of the trade show’s remit.
How has Micam evolved over the years?
AP: Micam never stands still. We are constantly evolving. But what is consistent is our efforts to grasp the needs of the market and offer buyers more than just an appropriately global and comprehensive exhibition platform, open to any brand of sufficient quality, but also create an immersive experience that predicts their commercial needs and stimulates them creatively. We use a very complicated series of data to profile the Micam visitor and figure out what interests him or her to help us do this.
TC: Micam is a long running show. This is the 87th edition, and to be honest, before the 83rd edition, Micam was a traditional B2B trade show platform where manufacturers and buyers met each other. Now, the world has changed. Thanks to digital disruption and transformation, the buyers are a little bit lost, [which is] in their words. They are lost because it’s very complicated today to understand what strategy to follow, how to follow it, what time to dedicate to what channel, et cetera. Micam is now different from what it was before. It is not only a B2B place where people meet and buy and sell — it’s also a place where the buyers and producers can come together to find their way through the disruption.
How is Micam supporting collaboration between attendees and exhibitors?
TC: Micam has invested significantly in a new layout, in order for buyers to meet each other in what we call the squares. Each edition, we add a new square. This edition we added the PLUG-Mi Square, focused on sneaker culture. Aside from layout, we also invested significantly in content. An exclusive partnership with WGSN creates a series of seminars throughout the event, supplemented by an itinerary of more experiential and interactive experiences designed to promote interaction and help foster conversation. We believe that buyers and companies need to talk to each other more, and creating and entertaining moments helps those people to talk and to share something.
AP: We also always take an active interest in the trends emerging among the young today. Whether it’s to understand new style trends or to make room for the new generation of shoe makers who are investing in these new style trends. For this reason, we created PLUG-Mi in collaboration with Fandango Club and Fiera Milano, an incubator initiative which empowers, mentors and educates young designers.
Why are you investing in content?
TC: We are a leader in our industry and we believe it is our responsibility and privilege to do our bit in tackling the big questions facing footwear. So, on the one hand, we have had seminars on specific styles and markets. We are investing in helping our community understand what the general trends and specific trends are that will impact them. We also want to be vehicle of discovery. We had five major influencers from China, including Danso and Maojiaying, attend the fair this edition as part of our programming.
TC: But we also are investing in understanding what sustainability means for our industry. Digitalisation for a sustainable footwear industry is also the main topic of the World Footwear Congress that is going to be held in Naples in April this year. I am personally responsible for choosing the title and contributed to the choice of topic, [which] we want our industry to be focused on — to decide as an industry what sustainability means for us [and how] technology can support us in being more and more sustainable. So, the commitment is to be more focused on that.
TC: We don’t want sustainability to be a marketing line. We are not sustainable yet, but we want to understand how we can be. This edition, we asked the venue to commit themselves to sustainability in waste management, for example. We asked our suppliers, the ones that create the exhibitions, to use only recyclable material and to recycle the material afterwards through a certified recycled company. We are trying.
How have you sought to responded to shifting consumer preferences?
TC: Basically, the show “auto-balances” itself through scale and global reach. Being a very open platform, the market itself decides who is going to win and who is not going to win. Our strategy is to position the show so that it is accessible but selective: if you have a middle to middle or high to high fashion product, you are welcome at Micam.
But also, when you are a startup and you see that there is a growing interest in your product, somehow, someone will tell you about Micam. That’s how we receive tonnes of calls every month from all over the world, from New Zealand to central Africa to South America to Northern Europe, saying, “hey guys, we don’t actually know you but somebody told us we have to be there." Again, it auto-balances itself with labels less relevant to the zeitgeist, because if you are not relevant anymore for the market, you are not going to sell and so, automatically, you are not going to have investment to come back to a show like ours.
AP: What this creates is an extremely diverse range of exhibitors, though all exceed our standards of quality in manufacturing. However, given the scale of the offer, we use data to simplify life for buyers and exhibitors. We use high-tech tools and Fiera Milano’s increasingly “smart” exhibition facilities to transform every square metre of display space into an intelligent square metre. All this takes place through a new, increasingly personalised customer experience, meaning more services for visitors and more value for exhibitors.
What is the one factor that will make Micam and other fairs like it relevant for the foreseeable future?
TC: Human touch. Dialogue. Especially in the fashion world, you want to not only touch the product but see eye-to-eye with the producer [or] the buyer. The producer needs to know the buyers because they need to position themselves and know that they are in the right hand. Then, the buyer needs to see into the eyes [of] the producer because they need that specific product and a reliable [producer], they need the shipment on time — they have to know that person. Human touch, dialogue, is still the winning key element of trade shows in general.
AP: The relationship between creative designers, distributors and end customers is increasingly democratic: fashions are no longer only imposed from above, but emerge through the process of sharing styles and values. This requires highly receptive manufacturers who can evolve quickly, intercepting continually changing fashions and suggestions. Micam is the most effective and really [the] only platform [on which] you can achieve that at a global level.