The cancellation of industry events due to the coronavirus pandemic is causing players in the denim sector to reevaluate the year-long schedule of trade shows, seminars and conferences that it has adhered to for some time.
Digital events may be perceived as a step away from the experiential, immersive and community-driven concepts that have sprung from trade shows, but experts are finding a silver lining in this back-to-basics approach to gathering—particularly, financial and environmental benefits.
During Kingpins24, Simply Suzette founder Ani Wells, Triarchy Denim creative director and co-founder Adam Taubenfligel, and Alex Penades, Jeanologia brand director for North America, discussed the pros and cons of the newly scaled-down industry event calendar.
Fewer events equals cash back in the pocket for some during a time when it’s needed the most. Taubenfligel, who typically travels every month to either visit factories, suppliers or markets in various regions for sales, said he was struck by the amount of money he’s saving by eliminating travel for three months.
A budget essentially opened, Taubenfligel said, that if it existed during “normal times” could be used to invest into R&D and collection development and further the brand’s sustainability agenda.
“We have a very unique opportunity in denim because there are so many companies that are looking to innovate new technologies that would benefit all of us [but] none of them have funding,” he said. “If we look at how much we’re spending on events that could potentially be digital [and] had the extra resources, we invested them into the companies that are trying to make our lives easier. It creates an ecosystem where the denim brands are helping the companies that are trying to make our [lives] and planet better.”
Fewer events may also allow companies more time to develop game-changing concepts.
Part of Penades’ frustration with hopping from city to city, he said, is how it doesn’t feel like there’s enough time between seasons. Many people gripe about seeing the same thing at each event, he said.
While trade events and in-person meetings are important for Jeanologia—it’s when the company receives valuable feedback and spontaneous ideas and collaborations are born, Penades said—fewer events could potentially help build up momentum and excitement, resulting in greater ideas.
“When we meet, we should really want to meet each other,” he said. “We should have new things to share.”
A combination of meetings and “planning intelligently” with efficient digital technology is the way forward for Jeanologia as much as it is part of the company’s DNA.
And it’s time this hybrid mindset is applied across the jeans making process, Penades added.
“We’ve always been defending this idea that digital and high-tech does not substitute the denim artisan,” he said, noting that technology can empower designers to choose the best fabric and finishing for the design they desire to achieve.
In-person meetings will always be a part of Taubenfligel’s design process. “I can’t do my job if I can’t touch the fabric and see the drape,” he said.
However, the designer said the denim industry doesn’t have to play into the traditional seasonal norms that the rest of the fashion sector abides by.
“Denim is in a unique position because the fabric we work with doesn’t need to show newness as often as we’re seeing it, he said. “If I was able to look at new fabrics once a year, I guarantee that would be enough…Mills can still make what they’re making, but they can show us it once a year and we can plan two collections with that fabric.”
Looking beyond trade shows, physical events like sustainability summits seem counterintuitive to the message they aim to share.
“Sustainability seminars, panels and events have really become a business in itself,” Wells said.
Though the physical events are an opportunity to engage with like-minded people and ask experts question in real time, Wells said everyone is becoming aware that video conferencing and webinars—though they’re not the exact same experience to which the industry has grown accustomed—can get the job done.
“And especially when we’re talking about the topic of sustainability, we really should be driving those values in everything we’re doing with the event as well,” she added.
Digital events can also help democratize knowledge. Whereas most physical events charge a fee to at least cover the expense of the venue and production, webinars and online events like Kingpins24, Wells said, can help bridge the disconnect between consumers and the denim industry.
“Consumers really have no idea the processes that were involved in making a pair of jeans, let alone how many hands might have touched the jeans before buying them in a store,” she said.
However, Wells believes more access to information will result in greater awareness.
For instance, when consumers are aware of how the supply chain really functions, she said, then brands that might not be operating within the UN Sustainable Development Goals will have to start in order to keep up with consumer demand.
“The more awareness there is from the average person, the faster the shift we’ll see in consumption habits, and I think this is where we’ll start to see a real collaboration between the industry and the consumer,” Wells said.