Informa Markets Fashion, along with tech platform NuORDER, undertook a mammoth project this year: translating their successful physical trade show events and executing them as an entirely virtual experience. But six weeks in to the eight-week event, promising preliminary data shows that the wholesale fashion industry is on the road back to becoming as robust as ever. The digital marketplace, which brings together five hero brands including Coterie, has been an incredible success. Nancy Walsh, president of Informa Markets Fashion, explained the process that went on behind-the-scenes this year, and delved into what the future of fashion events will likely look like.
You began your role in January, and this year certainly hasn’t been the one any of us expected! But how has this challenging experience also been a rewarding one?
It’s been a whirlwind. I started, we had Coterie and Magic, and then everything came to screeching halt. But this time has enabled us to pivot into a digital offering. It caused to really accelerate. We always had plans to do it, but prior to COVID, there was always only so many hours in the day. This time, it was the only way we could go to market.
And market is so important to the fashion industry.
Yes, in fashion, you really need events and to come together at market. People want to see what’s new, they want to look at it. So it was important that we pivot quickly. We came out with some new product offerings, and we’ve built successful digital events. There’s three more weeks left too. The other thing that has come out of this, is the recognition and fostering of new talent and new skills. People are working on things they never did before. On the marketing and sales side, people want to learn, they’re completing courses, and strategizing, and concentrating on new things.
When the pandemic hit, what became your first focus and how did you execute?
We had already started to have conversations with Nuorder, and others. So we were already talking, but then we were talking every single day! Our responsibility right away was to customers, retailers, and brands. We wanted to get as much information to them as possible, so we thought, ‘How are we going to do that?’ We mobilized an information hub and we started dual thinking. We created digital sessions and webinars, on things like getting financial aid assistance, PR, marketing tips on what to do, and up to minute information on how small businesses could go about getting the government loans. We shared this information on our website and broadcasted it on social media.
People must have been really grateful for the guidance, it was all so unclear back then.
We had to make sure we were getting the webinars out to people in a number of ways. We had thousands of people interacting with them, it was record breaking for us: we’ve never had that. Everyone wanted information, particularly around assistance and what they should be doing. We were connecting with the CFDA and anyone in the know to get that information out and the customers really appreciated it. Meanwhile behind the scenes, we were working on the digital trade event.
What was the process like trying to cater to the new needs of retailers, how did you strategize the new game plan in such a short amount of time?
In the beginning of 2020, we were already in talks with tech platforms but this expedited the process. We wanted to find out what was of the utmost importance to retailers. Our commercial teams did a great job gathering this information. What was most crucial, we found out, is that they wanted a ‘discovery’ platform, the ability to filter easily, and connect easily. Then after the connection, for the retailer to have the resources to be able to buy.
How did you measure the success of the digital marketplace and its five events?
We have lots of metrics for success, but the most important one is: did we meet the brands’ and retailers’ expectations? We ended up with 1,100 brands and 1,350 digital showrooms. We registered 15,000 retailers at the opening and we’re close to 20,000 now across 78 countries. In the first 30 days, we had 55,000 connections. What that means is that we have a healthy uptick and people are interested in connecting globally. There’s an eagerness to connect after the setbacks.
How long are people spending on the site?
Retailers are spending 33 minutes a day on average. They’re deeply engaged, looking at the variety of content, the educational parts, and interacting with brands. We’re also sending our brands dashboards, so they can see who’s looking and for how long.
What was the major benefit of taking Coterie and the other shows virtual this year? Were you able to reach more people than ever?
The removal of geographic limitations, travel, and cost of travel has allowed us to break down the barriers that existed for live events. People are now able to conduct business, find new brands, and still make connections, but while working from their car or living room. Still being able to connect—that’s key in any business, especially fashion.
How has the data that you’ve gathered suggested that the industry is on the road to recovery?
High adaption is a very good indicator. The connection activity is also a good sign, and the eagerness for digital adaption. There are a lot of people in our industry that aren’t necessarily tech-savvy, but people got on and did it. We’ve been helping for sure, but they went and did it and got their product up there. The data shows that there’s a desire there. At the end of the day, people are always going to get dressed. There’ll always be fads and trends. We’re not going to be living in this forever, and when it eventually changes, people will want what’s new.
What has been your biggest takeaway of the recent digital trade event?
The industry really wants to connect. We will come out on the other end of this. I think, as an organizer, we can still meet our need in the market place to convene and connect.
Do you estimate that next year’s event will be a mix of digital and physical?
We will continue with digital, now that we know we can. We’re looking at the government’s health and safety guidelines every day. It will be about smaller, curated, and intimate events: maybe with 50-100 brands—and corresponding retailers—instead of thousands of brands. We might do invitation only, by appointment, or matchmaking. But there’s no way we will do a large convention.
In what other ways has this year changed the future of Informa?
We’re operating and communicating better and more efficiently. We’ve transformed into a digital data company overnight.
Other products will emerge from us having more data. We’re even looking at taking the digital trade event from its current eight weeks to be available 365 a year.