2020 was a challenging yet inventive year for the fashion industry, and especially for trade events, which pivoted toward digital innovations in order to help facilitate newer avenues for wholesale commerce despite ongoing obstacles. Now a year into the pandemic, wholesale connection platform PROJECT is refining the trade experience for menswear and select women’s communities through its digital marketplace, PROJECT DIGITAL.
Last fall, in response to market needs following Covid-19, PROJECT quickly expanded its event offerings with the introduction of a new digital event format. Now, PROJECT is taking the lessons and successes from its debut digital marketplace and using them to inform and enhance its brand and retailer experiences for its next digital trade event, running from Jan. 19-Feb. 15.
“We were able to convene the market, and we made it happen in a very chaotic environment, in a short amount of time,” says Jason Peskin, vice president of events and corporate development at Informa Markets Fashion, which organizes PROJECT DIGITAL. “Our inaugural event was a success, but we recognize there will be a longer trajectory towards full-scale adoption. The digital experience is new for a lot of people, so we are excited to continually enhance and expand on our offerings following the market feedback we received from last season’s early adopters. Updating, refining and staying in step with market needs—this is what we’re most excited about in the coming year and beyond.”
One of PROJECT’s main goals for the upcoming event is driving more strategic and tailored engagements. During the fall 2020 event, 20,000 qualified retailers from 97 countries registered, of which 20 percent of total registration represented new buyers and retailers. Compared to a physical event, for which buyers would be planning travel and blocking off time to visit, remote trade events have to compete with work tasks and the distractions of everyday life. Rather than focusing on amassing a quantity of interactions, PROJECT is instead aiming for quality meetings between brands and the top 500 or so stores with strong buying power and positioning.
To accomplish this, PROJECT is expanding its retailer relations services by rolling out a new Retail Concierge program. Further assisting the community by tapping into its vast network of talent, the event has hired looking-for-work fashion executives—including buyers, merchandisers and showroom representatives—as contractors to guide retailers through the event using their market knowledge. These consultants can create portfolios of brands or products that buyers should check out and set up meetings from there. They are also on hand to assist retailers in navigating the platform, or for simpler tasks such as retrieving lost login information.
“It’s really about providing a white glove, tailored service that will expertly guide and assist them in a wide variety of needs, from navigating the new event environment to networking with the right brands and finding the exact products they are looking for, therefore taking some of the pain points out of their process,” Peskin said.
PROJECT DIGITAL, which is powered by B2B e-commerce platform partner NuORDER, is centered on three pillars: Shop, Discover and Learn. In ‘Shop,’ the event is making B2B e-commerce even simpler by introducing in-platform credit card processing as well as offering enhanced search functionalities and showroom capabilities. These are just some of the newer features brands and buyers can expect in the second edition.
‘Discover’ encourages retailers to find new brands and products through marketplace-exclusive editorial content. For the upcoming event, these shoppable features are going to be even more product-driven, creatively showcasing PROJECT’s picks and identified seasonal trends that retailers can immediately capture.
‘Learn’ is also getting an update so that sessions have a regular cadence. Each Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET, PROJECT will host a Zoom talk with industry minds via its N:OW Forum educational platform. Kicking off the series will be a conversation between Jeremy Kirkland, the founder of fashion-focused podcast “Blamo!”, and Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s fashion director Bruce Pask exploring whether menswear is poised for a new Roaring ‘20s. The N:OW Forum schedule also includes a talk with Highsnobiety on streetwear, a chat with lifestyle platform Scandinavian Mind on mindful consumers, and an exploration of gender expression, sustainability and social impact with The Tenth Magazine.
Aside from the platform changes, PROJECT is also better aligning its marketplace event with the men’s fashion buying season by shifting its dates. Last fall, Informa Markets Fashion’s events ran on the same schedule from Sept. 1-Nov. 1, which meant PROJECT fell later than usual. This time, the MAGIC, COTERIE, MICAM Americas and PROJECT events will be staggered, with PROJECT launching in its typical timeframe of late January.
Some of the expected trends for menswear in the upcoming season indicate consumers’ desire to break from pandemic-era loungewear while retaining a sense of comfort.
“As we’ve seen time and time again, the pendulum always swings. We can expect some level of the men’s community smartening up and statement dressing to return in the near future,” said Peskin. “So as the stay-at-home restrictions ease this year—we don’t know when, but they will—people will be ready to get out and socialize. And that’s going to bring about people wanting to buy new items and statement pieces.”
This shift could mean an embrace of tailoring or swapping sweatpants for jeans. Peskin also anticipates interest in less expected hues for fall and winter, such as pastels. Since consumers haven’t been spending as much on clothing lately, they also might be wanting to splurge on investment pieces.
Some of the noteworthy brands participating in PROJECT DIGITAL include Diesel, Barbour, Levi’s Premium, G-Star Raw, Nautica, Carter Young, Victor Li, Teddy von Ranson and Timo Weiland.
PROJECT has long highlighted diverse-owned businesses, and that will be a continued focus for the January show. Among the labels to watch is Leimert Park Threads, which takes inspiration from the South Los Angeles neighborhoods where founder Ashley Sky Walker grew up.
Also in 2021, PROJECT will bring a hybrid event model to fruition. PROJECT is planning a return to physical events with its announcement of PROJECT Las Vegas from Aug. 9-11. Until then, Informa Markets Fashion is strategically approaching the introduction of additional in-person experiences, starting with MAGIC Pop-up Orlando. Being held from Feb. 9-11 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., this intimate, appointment-driven event will feature women’s trend and contemporary apparel, accessories and footwear, along with select menswear brands.
Peskin noted that while digital events have been necessary in the short-term and definitive global industry needs indicate longer-term staying power for virtual formats, the industry is keen to get back to live events. “People want to get together in person, whether it be in the streets of Florence at Pitti or at PROJECT New York or Las Vegas,” he said.
To learn more about PROJECT DIGITAL and to register, click here.