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Denim Mills Search for Silver Lining in Trade Show Cancellations

Each season, mills, suppliers and brands from around the world use trade shows as a means of networking to meet potential new clients, cultivate existing partnerships and make sales. But COVID-19 is causing all industries to re-strategize the way they meet these goals.

In denim, Kingpins Amsterdam, Bangladesh Denim Expo and Denimandjeans Japan are among the events to recently pull the plug as a result of the coronavirus, setting off a ripple effect felt throughout the entire denim supply chain—the burden of which landed prominently on denim mills that rely on these meeting points to share new collections.

And while trade shows have recently struggled to find an effective formula in a modern age, they remain a strong pillar in the business of fashion. In fact, Aztex’s Patricia Medina explains that tumultuous times like these are when industry events are needed most.

“Due to the fact that the sourcing strategies have to be revised, industry events help to find alternative sourcing partners that will be more adequate for the new circumstances,” said Medina, who serves as the executive director of the Mexico-based garment manufacturer.

The lack of face time is prompting mills to turn to digital alternatives like interactive presentations and regional showrooms to generate sales. But Medina says they’re only solving one part of the problem.

“We have had regional showrooms in the past, but they’re only valuable for sales,” she said. “Salespeople can’t be experts in all areas, and the sales offices can even become a bottleneck when there are a lot of projects happening simultaneously.”

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To tackle other challenges associated with fewer in-person meetings, she recommends focusing on partnerships and effective communication to get the job done.

“The new strategy calls for partnerships with parallel communication, with patternmakers communicating directly with technical designers, and production planners communicating with production planners in the factory, logistics personnel communicating with other logistics personnel and so on,” she said.

Others are seeing trade show cancellations as a time of opportunity. Aydan Tüzün, executive director of global sales and marketing at Naveena Group, explained that the recent challenges are bittersweet.

“Every crisis fortunately and unfortunately creates opportunities with it,” she said. “The shows are very important, but they are just part of the bigger picture.”

Her team is relying on a global presence to pick up the slack. With offices in producer countries such as Turkey and Bangladesh, the company is able to provide necessary support throughout the supply chain and keep communication strong despite not having a common meeting point.

Still, she said, they’re “definitely feeling the lack.”

The recent events are a teachable moment for businesses that rely heavily on trade shows. Matthew Fuhr, president of Pakistan-based Siddiqsons Group, explained that it’s spurring his team to consider just how much value shows will bring in the near future.

“I think in the short term, this will impact everyone’s business,” he said. “During this crisis, people are going to look at what they need versus what they want—and apparel is in most cases a ‘want.’ We will need to determine how to react to the product calendar and determine if shows are important to the process.”