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Trading Up: How Competing Denim Trade Shows are Wooing Attendees

Communication apps like Skype and WhatsApp have made it easier than ever for the denim industry to do business without ever having to cross borders. But smartphones cannot replicate the sensory overload that is experienced by attending a denim trade show.

Fabric remains king, but shows are now digging deeper into the supply chain with new focuses on technology, sustainability, trends and collaboration. From interactive activities to panel discussions, trade shows are becoming a place to be schooled in the need-to-knows for the season ahead.

Sometimes, the city a show is held in can offer as much inspiration as the show itself. From a bustling Manhattan nabe to Miami’s up-and-coming art scene, a city’s flavor and style can offer a peek into consumers’ mindset and tap into a designer’s own creativity.

“Location adds so much to a show and it starts on a macro level: What does the city offer? What can attendees and exhibitors experience while they’re in town for our show,” said Erin Barajas, Kingpins director of communication and special projects. “Travel budgets for buyers are tight and brands need to be able to pack as much value into each trip as possible. So, from that perspective, we select cities that make sense as denim cities and as design and inspiration destinations.”

There’s no doubt that the industry is being pressed for time and money, but a passport to any one of these denim cities—New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Miami or Munich—can offer a well-rounded and global perspective of the denim industry.

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The Globetrotter: Kingpins

With an invitation-only guest list, a warm family vibe, seminars and a newly-minted trend presentation, Andrew Olah’s dynasty of Kingpins shows offer the industry a curated selection of the denim industry’s top-notch vendors. This fall, Kingpins will host shows in Amsterdam (Oct. 26-27), New York (Nov. 2-3) and will launch its first show in Miami in 2017 (Jan. 11-12).

The Miami show will feature mills from Italy, Turkey, China and Latin America, and buyers are expected to come from the U.S. and Latin America.
“We are adding Miami because so many buyers from South America are coming to our Kingpins Amsterdam. We think we need to try to support the Latin American market by having an event once per year near them,” said Barajas.

Due to the January timing of the show, it may also lure U.S. customers aching for a break from winter weather. “We like to be a little unexpected and running away to a warm beach in the middle of winter sounds like the kind of thing we’d do,” Barajas quipped.


Kingpins hasn’t been shy about experimenting with locations. In addition to shows in its two pillar cities, Amsterdam and New York, it recently completed the Kingpins China Tour, which Barajas described as a “road trip” throughout mainland China with a handful of select exhibitors. The tour included mini one-day Kingpins shows in three cities over five days. The show has also introduced WHY by Kingpins, an Amsterdam-based trims and branding show held in conjunction with the main Kingpins event.

A denim road trip in China and a new show located in a winter vacay hotspot may sound off-the-cuff, but every step Kingpins takes is carefully considered. For example, Barajas said the Kingpins China Tour is a stepping stone toward a bigger plan.

“The idea is that we want to eventually have a Kingpins China show, but to set ourselves up for success and to really be able to offer something relevant and effective to the Chinese market we must learn about the Chinese denim industry for ourselves. To do that we have to get in there and immerse ourselves and we have to slowly introduce the market to Kingpins and let them know what we’re about,” Barajas explained.

Other times, instinct takes over. With WHY by Kingpins, Barajas said Olah saw a void in the market and said, “let’s see if this works.” And just like that, Kingpins added a new show that is offering attendees additional resources and information. “We do our best to go and visit each of the participants of our new WHY show to ensure the quality of the new suppliers joining our groups,” she said. WHY is coming back bigger in October.

It is that quick, nimble and creative approach to show production that keeps Kingpins at the top of buyers’ minds. “We’ve been an analog, DIY show since day one. When we first started, we did everything ourselves. We folded the invitations by hand, we introduced our guests personally to our exhibitors. It was all about connection and hospitality—and it has been one of the hallmarks that sets us apart from other shows,” Barajas said.

Despite the attention on location and its roster of high caliber mills—Candiani, Berto and Artistic Denim to name a few—the show puts an emphasis on trends this show season. The show partnered with Denim Dudes author Amy Leverton to produce Kingpins Trends, a two-prong denim trend presentation that focuses on fabric, fit and finish. A corresponding installation co-produced by Wink, an Amsterdam-based “experience architects,” will present garments created by exhibitors based on the trends in Leverton’s forecast.

“More than ever before, designers will receive information that helps
them connect the dots between the upcoming trends and the resources available to them on the Kingpins show floor. And our exhibitors, which rank among the best in the world, will be able to showcase their product, creativity and relevance in a space that is beautiful, neutral and inspirational,” Barajas said.

The Trendsetter: Denim Premiere Vision

Denim Première Vision is revisiting its Parisian roots. The Nov. 2-3 event (held during the same time as Kingpins New York) will mark the show’s return to Paris after spending five editions in Barcelona.

The move is part of a bigger plan to reset the show. Denim Première Vision has encouraged exhibitors to tone down their booths with limited personalized structures and decorations in order to refocus attention on product.


“The image that we want to illustrate [is] how the industry can move to the final consumer and understand their needs,” said Chantal Malingrey, Première Vision director.

The show’s producers are also creating more reasons to spend more time at the show. Malingrey said a small flea market will give attendees the opportunity to shop denim pieces from a hand-picked assortment. Malingrey mentioned that the team is also considering adding a small library with books that are both useful and inspiring for denim professionals and connoisseurs.

But while the look and location may be new, Denim Première Vision aims to maintain its place as a hub for knowledge from denim community experts.

“At Denim Première Vision we have the chance to gather the crème de la crème of the industry. And when you see all of those people, they are very happy to see each other,” said Malingrey. “They are all very professional in this easy-going atmosphere. This aspect is unique and it’s always a big pleasure to meet them twice a year, at least.”

The Innovator: Munich Fabric Start

For 20 years, Munich Fabric Start has had a pulse on the wants and needs of customers in Northern Europe and Germany. As a result, exhibitors offer tailored assortments for the show’s clientele.

Held at the Munich Order Center (MOC), Munich Fabric Start serves as a European staple for guests seeking a myriad of fabrics, trims and new technologies. Its timing is separate from the rest of the denim shows—the next show takes place Jan. 31-Feb. 1 2017—however, it has excelled at creating intrigue with its focus on innovation.

Munich Fabric Start takes a hands-on approach to how it updates the industry on the latest news and technology. At Keyhouse, Munich Fabric Start’s pavilion centered on developments in sustainable technology, guests have access to workshops, seminars and speakers from all points in the supply chain. “We have put the latest fabric and technologies from various suppliers in a spotlight to present the latest developments and functionalities of the industry at Keyhouse,” said Panos Sofianos, Munich Fabric Start’s Bluezone and new business exhibition manager.

The last edition, held from Aug. 31-Sept. 1, featured forward-thinking companies like denim subscription company Mud Jeans, self-cleaning denim innovator Odo, as well as new collaborations between Lenzing, Tonello, Archroma and more.

As technology becomes a greater influence in fashion, Sofianos said the need for social and interactive experiences at trade shows will become greater. The show is relying on B2B media and influential bloggers in the denim community to help open the communication lines.


Sofianos also said the show encourages these outlets to spotlight innovations and continue the conversation online. “Social media is gaining more and more importance for our industry although suppliers seem not yet to be aware of the power of these channels in B2B. Nevertheless, more and more suppliers join and start to interact,” he added.

Bluezone, a more traditional denim trade fair setup, stands independently from the rest of the show and boasts approximately 100 international suppliers, bringing together a global network of denimheads. Past exhibitors include Berto, Candiani, Calik and Cone Denim.

A curated trend presentation spanning from fabric to trims stands at the heart of Bluezone. Every season, the show’s creative directors and a team of trend experts come together to stage seasonal trend stories. In the trend and sample areas, the most innovative fabrics and trims as well as colors for the season are highlighted. “This enables attendees the experience of a world of colors and innovative products,” Sofianos said.

The Wild Card: BPD Expo 4.0

The founder of BPD Expo, Bill Curtin, pegs the almost two-year-old show as the anti-trade show of the trade show world. From a small New York City art gallery in the Meatpacking District to taking over one of Manhattan’s largest vacant retail spaces (on Fifth Avenue, nonetheless) last June, BPD Expo has more than doubled in size since launching in 2015.

The show featured 33 exhibitors last year, and will narrow it down to 30 for the Dec. 7-8 event set to take place in SoHo.

“We’re going to curate it to be a little bit smaller. We reached [the] point to figure out the perfect level of vendors… and sourcing people,” Curtin said. “We’re going to scale back a little bit, keep the show to under 30 vendors, so we can stand by what we started, keeping the show manageable, entertaining.”


Something unique to the BPD Expo, is the assortment of denim-related classes. From indigo dye techniques to shibori, the ability to learn more about the industry and techniques are seemingly unending. Attendees have the option and ability to receive the help of experts on the spot.

Curtin discussed the success of last year’s show, and the number of attendants drawn in by the flea market, as well as jeans being customized and designed. “People can do hand sanding there themselves. One of the things we say to the vendors is don’t just bring in your headers of fabric, bring in the top three things you want to promote. Bring in rolls of fabric, we make your leg tubes right there,” Curtin said.

Staying with that pioneering spirit, BPD Expo 4.0 will keep attendees on their toes and introduce some new aspects to the show. BPD plans to roll out a new networking space, allowing the denim community the opportunity to meet and catch up with denim experts on hand to help attendees look for new business and career opportunities.