Pack your bags—we’re heading to Palm Springs. Say goodbye to the trade show experience as you know it! Rather, meet FashionGo Week Palm Springs, a new concept that marries B2B fashion discovery with culture, design, and connection, all set against the lush and historically relevant backdrop of the SoCal desert. Tom Nastos, co-founder of BluEnsign, and Paul Lee, CEO of NHN Global, talk us through what to expect ahead of the tech-savvy, forward-thinking event, which takes place May 3–5.
What are your respective backgrounds?
Tom Nastos: As a trade show veteran, I’ve had the first-hand opportunity to develop, lead, and initiate new ventures—bridging the gap of today and tomorrow’s approach in the wholesale fashion marketplace.
Paul Lee: I began my career in investment banking, primarily in mergers and acquisitions. After 14 years on Wall Street, I pivoted to C-level executive roles and transitioned to NHN Global, a subsidiary of South Korea–based NHN Corporation, for three years before taking the role as CEO at NHN Global, where I provide leadership to several wholly owned technology businesses, including FashionGo Week Palm Springs.
How did you meet, and what idea sowed the seed for FashionGo Week Palm Springs?
Nastos: The old adage “It’s a small world” is true! We aligned on creating market access for customers to discover, connect, and transact. We see an opportunity to extend technology and digital-market access into other channels, like physical marketplaces and trade shows, to improve them, and make them efficient. We want to meet the customer—where and how they want to buy, then make it convenient to discover new brands and products, develop relationships with one another, transact, and more importantly, grow together.
Lee: With Tom’s expertise and grasp of in-person live events and our understanding of online marketplaces with the 20 years of experience FashionGo has built, we feel extremely fortunate to have each other.
How are you feeling ahead of the first-ever live FashionGo Week Palm Springs?
Nastos: Beyond thrilled and excited to share such an incredible experience with everyone; it’s truly a game changer in the best way possible. We have assembled an experienced and empowered team of innovative creators and connectors who are passionate in their support of the wholesale fashion and lifestyle communities. The future never looked brighter for the wholesale fashion community.
What’s the process been like organizing the event?
Lee: It was eye-opening to see different elements and teams come together and understand in detail what it entails to put together an offline and online event curated for our audience. We’re excited to finally announce and invite the community we serve to a whole new experience to support their business. FashionGo has always strived to expand access for both brands and retail buyers, and the opportunity to provide face-to-face interaction and a virtual event concurrently to provide flexibility in how the market interacts while making online/offline business flows and discovery seamless is something we’re excited to bring to the community.
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FashionGo has already hosted some virtual trade shows.
Lee: FashionGo hosted three digital trade shows during the pandemic. We learned that retailers and brands still needed access and ways to procure. Access to new arrivals is what drives the market.
Nastos: We also learned so much about live selling on a scale. Attendees of the virtual events had the ability to join and shop new seasonal arrivals from top vendors for free while also taking advantage of exclusive show deals and promotions. The virtual events exhibited best-in-class features, including livestream shopping, enabling attendees to watch, chat, and shop new season products in real time. The reception was positive and drove new ways for our buyers and vendors to transact. Through Palm Springs, we look to further provide our digital offerings with the benefits of in-person.
What does participation look like this year?
Lee: We have thousands of vendors and almost a million registered buyers on FashionGo. We have tremendous and strong engagement with our users. For FashionGo Week Palm Springs in May, I believe we’re targeting 250–300 brands to exhibit!
How will you ensure health and safety at the event?
Nastos: Health and safety is of utmost importance and concern. We will follow and implement all state and local COVID-19 guidelines, which currently includes masking indoors and proof of vaccination or negative tests. Furthermore, the venue we have chosen is GBAC STAR accredited. GBAC STAR is the only outbreak prevention, response, and recovery accreditation for all types of facilities, including retail, restaurants, stadiums, hotels, and much more.
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Will there be an online component this year, too?
Nastos: Absolutely, our FashionGo digital platform will be streaming live, creating an overall inclusive digital-immersive experience. You’ll be able to join us from anywhere on the globe.
Lee: Brands will have access to not only the buyers on-site but also those who are joining us nationwide. It aligns to our goal of presenting a regional event with a national audience to the community.
Tell us about Style Match+.
Lee: Style Match+ is a visual search tool on FashionGo that expands the ability to search for styles from anywhere on the web, such as search engines and social platforms, and find similar styles through FashionGo—not just apparel but accessories and footwear as well. Style Match+ on the Palm Springs on-site mode of the FashionGo app will make discovery and search relevant for the attendees. And they are no longer limited to just physical booth-to-booth browsing. This powerful search tool will enable buyers to expand their discovery potential during the show like never before and easily purchase in a secure and safe payment environment.
Any amenities and events we can look forward to?
Nastos: We’re curating events, panels, and experiences that allow retailers, brands, and everyone in general to connect holistically. We’re focused on curating memorable moments, which in essence are life-changing in the best way possible.
Why do you think physical trade shows are still crucial in the industry?
Nastos: When we looked at launching this business, we understood that the dynamics of in-person events and marketplaces were evolving. Digital marketplaces and the regional model were growing and accelerating because of COVID-19. Truthfully, the shift commenced prior to COVID-19. A regional calendar and consistent frequency were better serving the needs of the fashion community, rather than a national event every six months. Retailers have a hard time planning in such an extensive time frame. They wanted to order less, but buy more frequently. Buy on trend and increase their sell-through. We looked at where the market was not being served by this new regional format and saw an opportunity in the western region of the country. Our database confirmed it.
Speaking of sunny Palm Springs…what an exciting venue choice!
Nastos: It’s an iconic destination—dare I say, it’s a resort location. Folks want to go to a great destination. Palm Springs is already branded as an “oasis.” It has so much to offer our community, especially around health and wellness, outdoor activities, a diverse range of dining experiences, shopping, and nightlife at various price points to fit any budget. It’s a carte blanche destination! You get to curate your own personalized experience. Our hope is that our attendees have a hard time remembering they are not on vacation. Just don’t forget the SPF!
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What about the heritage drew you to the location?
Lee: In addition to being an ideal location for both business and pleasure, it is the location of the first-ever wholesale apparel in-person marketplace, Round Up, which was the predecessor of the Apparel Guild in California, which launched 80 years ago.
Nastos: Not to mention, the greater Coachella Valley has a long history of attracting celebrities and artists. Palm Springs is a living mid-century modern art museum and is fast becoming an attractive hub for the fashion community. They know they belong. It’s the perfect fit.
Any recommendations to leave us with?
Nastos: Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin. There’s something for everyone: sunshine, golf, hiking, posh restaurants. It’s going to be hard to leave!
Lee: Our team will also be sharing these recommendations from time to time with our registered attendees via our communication channels!