A focus on near- and re-shoring emerged at the recent Sourcing at Magic show in Las Vegas, where exhibitors from the Americas took center stage.
More than a dozen North American suppliers set up shop at the show’s North Hall. Montreal Fashion Cluster made its debut, representing more than 35 factories in Canada’s Quebec province, while 13 U.S. suppliers and several Central and South America also exhibited their offerings.
Twenty-one countries were represented at the group’s first trade event of 2022, according to Andreu David, vice president of events at Sourcing at Magic. The figure marks a dip from pre-pandemic numbers, “but it’s still a global show,” he said.
Since the last Sourcing show in August, exhibitor attendance has increased from 160 suppliers to around 240. The show has maintained its hybridized, virtual-physical approach, with 24 overseas exhibitors that could not attend in person showcasing their wares on unmanned racks, with information about pricing and minimum order quantities available through the Sourcing online portal. “We’re hoping that we can at least double the size of what it is today, and continue further in 2023,” David said.
David, who took the helm during the planning of last summer’s show, has placed a premium on increasing exhibitor diversity. While the event once heavily featured Chinese mills and manufacturers, David has taken into account geo-political issues, trade, logistics, new business models and changing consumer appetites as he curates the show’s layout and mission.
In years past, “hundreds, if not thousands” of exhibitors showcasing similar products lined the convention center walls, “almost like a run-on sentence,” he said.
“In a way, the pandemic has forced us to make a shift, and the importance of near-shoring and re-shoring has come to the forefront,” David added.
Fashion stakeholders have more than one reason to reconsider their matrix. Transportation delays and production issues have recently plagued retail, prompting many brands to reexamine their existing supply chains. Many attendees, meanwhile, noted the toll that Section 301 tariffs continue to take on their businesses.
Hey Social Good founder and CEO Cindy J. Lin, a veteran advisor to the U.S. Department of State who curated the show’s Sustainable Alternatives gallery, advised that these political paradigms are unlikely to shift in the near term. In fact, she said, complications with China sourcing are likely to deepen with the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act, which will impact both finished goods and cotton products coming to U.S. shores, as well as escalating hostility toward Taiwan which could further strain relations between the global superpowers. President Joe Biden has previously stated that America would come to Taiwan’s defense should China invade.
“This pandemic has really thrown us for a loop in how we’re solving all of these issues,” David said, and many show-goers appear to realize that “localization is the best solution.” Suppliers from California, Texas, and the Midwest tout speed-to-market benefits, especially following the months-long backups in the past half year.
American brands take into account proximity and duty-free status when investigating new relationships beyond U.S. borders, in the interest of cutting costs and carbon emissions related to transportation. “Nearshoring is an even bigger conversation than it was previously,” he said. “We didn’t get as many Mexican exhibitors here this time” because many of these suppliers are “packed, at full capacity” since last summer’s show, David added. By contrast, Colombian and Guatemalan suppliers came ready to negotiate contracts.
The pandemic sparked a deeper interest in sustainable, ethical sourcing, an evolution Lin and David believe is permanent. The Sustainable Materials gallery will remain an ongoing fixture at the Sourcing show, Lin said. The showcase spotlighted global manufacturers ranging from a North Carolina recycled polyester textile maker to a Colombian vegetable-tanned leather goods maker. “I think there’s this idea that simplifying [the supply chain] and getting things closer to home helps with your sustainable efforts,” David said. “And every brand needs to have a sustainable story today.”
The conversation stretches beyond material innovation to social impact as consumers become more savvy about their purchases. “Transparency is such a big topic for all brands,” David added. “Today, you need to know who your partners are, about their social welfare efforts, and how they’re treating their workers in their factories.” In response, exhibitors now showcase audits and certifications, making ESG a part of their pitches.
The movement toward more sustainable, local sourcing will ultimately benefit show attendees, David said. Previously, “I don’t believe before there was such a balance between who came to the show, and who exhibited the show,” he said, noting that about 50 percent of current attendees are entrepreneurs, startups, and DTCs looking for small-batch or on-demand sourcing, not the steep MOQs Asian suppliers usually set. “I have challenged my teams to focus on that—who is coming, and who our customers actually are.”
“My main focus is return on investment,” he added, noting that the show, exhibitors and buyers should all come away with added value. “When that ROI is high for all three of us, we have an amazing show.”