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Trade Show Organizers Are Eager to Rebuild Momentum for Physical Events

The pandemic forced the close-knit and social denim community to enter a new era of digital trade shows in 2020. For some, however, the pluses of these contact-free, livestream events from the comfort of home outweigh the minuses.

With denim trade shows consuming a total of 51 calendar days, or two-and-a-half months of working days, according to Tricia Carey, Lenzing director global business development-denim, this “pandemic pause” may drive some cash-strapped companies to reevaluate their future travel budgets. And for others, the concept of international travel and large gatherings remains a health risk they are unwilling to take.

“But the question arises as to whether people, as social beings, can be satisfied exclusively with digital experiences, without real-life interaction,” Carey said.

During a Kingpins24 panel discussion Tuesday moderated by Carey, executives from denim trade shows debated the physicality of their events and the lessons they’ve learned from this unexpected crisis.

Like the industries and individuals that trade shows serve, the biggest frustration for most organizers is that they too are in a waiting game that is out of their control. Government officials control what type of gatherings can take place, and guidelines can change on the fly. Countries are also establishing their own international visitor guidelines and requirements for flight operations.

As a result, trade shows will likely have a more local flavor with domestic buyers and suppliers.

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“It’s possible to organize the show, but the visitors and the exhibitors have to come,” said Olaf Schmidt, vice president of textile and textile technologies for Messe Frankfurt, Texworld and Intertextile Shanghai.

In Germany, where trade shows will be allowed to take place at the start of September, organizers are making adjustments to locations and floor plans to ensure social-distancing protocols. But momentum to help normalize in-person meetings is needed.

Munich Fabric Start and Bluezone may provide the initial spark. The shows recently confirmed their Sept. 1-3 event, which will take place at the spacious Messe München-Riem.

Première Vision international director Guglielmo Olearo is hopeful, too, that Première Vision will take place in Paris Sept. 15-17. The event will have a dedicated denim section to supplement the Denim PV event in Milan that has been cancelled. “As a trade show organizer, we have to be positive and optimistic. We bring people together,” he said. “That is our essence.

Kingpins founder Andrew Olah, on the other hand, is unsure about the turnout at the next Kingpins show in New York City, which would take place in the fall.

Theoretically, Olah said a show can take place, but he places doubts on how many people will want to travel to what has been the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic that still remains largely shut down.

While the question of how many trade shows the denim industry needs is an ongoing question, the debate about location, dates and frequency doesn’t negate the fact that people will want to meet again. Trade show executives are sure of it.

“I think trade shows still [are] one of the most important business and marketing tools which is driven by the industry,” said Sebastian Klinder, Munich Fabric Start/Bluezone managing director. “I think it’s also a beloved one [by] everyone.”

While digital events serve as a strong complementary tool to connect the denim community, the notion of no physical trade shows is “impossible” for Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Denim Expert Ltd. and the founder of Bangladesh Denim Expo. As an event organizer, supplier and buyer, Uddin said he needs to touch and see the actual product.

COVID-19 might be a catalyst for digital platforms and events. The technology, Olah noted, will likely improve in the next several years, but he doesn’t view digital events like Kingpins24 as a replacement even as the next dates for his shows in Amsterdam and New York City remain in limbo.

“Physical trade shows are never going away,” Olah said. “We’re a tactile industry.”