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Modern Trade Shows Offer More Beyond the Floor: What’s New at the Materials Show

To stay relevant in today’s saturated sourcing trade show market, expos and trade shows are increasingly upping the ante on what’s offered outside of the show floor. From roundtables and panel presentations to private conference spaces, networking nights, runway shows and educational events, even the most niche trade shows are increasingly becoming small ecosystems of everything that keeps the industry running.

“It’s all about adding value,” said Hisham Muhareb, owner of The Materials Show, which presents bi-annual shows in Portland, Ore., and Boston, as well as an annual show in London. “The brands come to walk the show floor, to be wowed by the latest and best our new vendors and trusted regulars have to offer. But a great show also offers real value-add for both the attendees and vendors, with opportunities to educate, create new relationships and to hold space for discussions on obstacles the industry is facing. Enrichment programming gives the brands even greater incentive to attend in full force.”

What does this kind of value-add look like in practice? For one thing, it takes materials and components out of swatches and hypotheticals and into the real world. Muhareb wants to inspire attendees and suppliers by creating a fashion show that connects the materials and components in everyday athletic wear and outdoor products with working designers and developers. The idea stemmed from his experience at Nike, working with product developers and designers to source materials and components for their designs, before the bill of materials is sent to factories instructing them on what specifications to use when manufacturing.

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As a result, this February the NW Materials show in Portland will host a live interactive runway on its opening night. Models will walk the catwalk and mingle with the crowd while wearing contemporary line items that incorporate textiles, materials and components available to order on the show floor. Vendors and brands can connect at meet-and-greets overseeing the runway to discuss the apparel and company capabilities as attendees view the products live and in motion.

To stay relevant in today's saturated trade show market, the 2020 Materials Shows in Portland and Boston are offering new programming.

Britta Cabanos, a frequent show attendee and owner of the apparel-focused website Inside Fashion Design, is an experienced apparel designer—and former Nike employee—who will join the Materials Show to manage and coordinate this unique runway event.

“We’re generating unprecedented opportunities for vendors to show how their materials translate into real products,” Cabanos said. “We’re enabling customers to interact with their product in new ways as they admire and touch actual garments. Seeing what brands create with which components and materials is inspiring!”

The face of the show floor is changing as well in response to the merging needs of footwear and apparel designers. Last year, the NW Materials Show launched a partnership with Première Vision, a leading French company that organizes textile and fashion fairs. The collaboration between the NW Materials Show and PV resulted in Première Vision Sport—a curated selection of fashion apparel offerings, including sportswear materials and prints, as a complement to the footwear-focused Materials Show.

“There is so much cross-influence between footwear and apparel, and combining the shows was a natural fit,” Muhareb said. “In the outdoor, performance and athleisure markets, new designs are increasingly being considered from head-to-toe and components and materials are constantly crossing over in designs.” Materials Show attendees, who are largely footwear product developers, designers and materials managers, encouraged their counterparts in apparel to attend to see the new offerings from PV Sport. Attendees shop the entire show floor, finding inspiration and innovative uses for materials from both the footwear and apparel worlds.

Footwear and apparel designers alike are constantly looking ahead at the consumer and design trends on the horizon, which is why both the NE and NW shows will feature a presentation from trend consulting agency Peclers Paris. Première Vision Sport is also bringing back their unique presentation about Color and Trends for FW 2021.

Rounding out the educational opportunities, the Boston-based NE Materials Show kicks off with an FDRA Sustainability Roundtable, a members-only roundtable meeting that invites product development, materials and sourcing teams to join in critical discussions around industry standards for sustainability, best practices and industrywide collaboration opportunities to save money and increase impact. The NW show in Portland opens with The Future is Faster, a speed-to-market workshop where attendees will learn how leading footwear and apparel brands are investing in supply chain speed and the concrete steps suppliers can take to keep up with the pace of demand and satisfy their customers. At both shows, WTiN will present an overview of graphene technology for smart sportswear applications.

“Like any good show, the Materials Shows are constantly growing and evolving to meet the needs of the brands and our exhibitors,” Muhareb said. “We’re welcoming new vendors and featuring more suppliers than ever, particularly as part of our curated Première Vision Sports selection and in a new apparel-focused section at our East Coast show-slated for 2020. We’ve also moved our popular NE show to Hynes Convention Center in Boston, which is just a short distance from many brands’ corporate headquarters. We listen to the brands, and you see their needs reflected in our shows.”

The NE Materials Show will take place Feb. 5-6, 2020, in Boston, followed by the NW Materials Show, Feb. 12-13, 2020, in Portland, Ore. Find out more at