Skip to main content

Discover How Top Apparel Trade Shows Are Going Digital in 2020

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across apparel and retail in general also have done a number on the massive engine that props them up throughout the year: trade shows.

With trade shows being forced to cancel or postpone their events for the first half of the year (at minimum), the industry has had to adapt on the fly to continue building communities and maintain value for exhibitors seeking to gain new audiences. Amid the current landscape, the formerly face-to-face driven conference operators are now leveraging all-digital events, supplementary webinars, exhibitor dashboards, supplier profiles and more to experiment with how business is transacted in the future.

Here’s a look at what some of the biggest textile, apparel and retail trade show operators have in store for 2020, and what that means for exhibitors looking to make the most out of their events.

Texworld USA

Upcoming online events:

Messe Frankfurt is taking its Texworld USA summer show, which is traditionally held in NYC, virtual from Tuesday, July 21 to Thursday, July 23.

Presentations addressing climate change, sustainability post-COVID-19, adapting to new business models and other dynamic topics designed to engage and inform will be available during the three-day live event, with the content accessible for 45 days thereafter.

How exhibitors can participate/leverage the event:

The Virtual Edition will feature live streaming of the educational programming, including its Textile Talks and the Lenzing Seminar Series, from a variety of thought leaders focusing on placing information and insight into the hands of industry professionals. Additionally, the Trend Showcase hosted by The Doneger Group, which highlights the newest trends in fabrics, print, pattern and color, will be presented digitally.

Related Stories

Exhibitors can contact and connect with previous and potential clients through video calls or instant messaging, which can be enabled once they schedule a meeting with a buyer, or once their offerings meets buyers’ qualifications and specifications. Additionally, they showcase their latest products on a customizable profile page that enables them to embed promotional videos, add links to product brochures, set up meetings during the event, review and control meeting calendars as needed and manage company staff.

An online showroom will highlight material innovations, enabling exhibitors to chat with other retailer and brand attendees about specific requirements, factory options and more.

Additional online show resources:

Texworld also is offering exhibitors a host of promotional tools and new sponsorship opportunities to increase their exposure. For example, the Texworld online platform uses an artificial intelligence-powered networking engine that delivers smart “matchmaking” recommendations to buyers so exhibitors have the opportunity to connect with visitors who are searching for their materials and capabilities―helping to garner new leads from buyers that may not have previously been familiar with them.

The platform is designed as a self-learning system that will continually deliver more intelligent
recommendations the more users engage with the platform.

Tips for leveraging these events and resources:

Kim Porter, head of marketing at Texworld USA, indicated that the trade show is hosting a number of webinars to assist exhibitors in navigating the online platform, instructing them on how to showcase their fabrics and market themselves pre- and post-event.

“We have customized our platform to ensure that exhibitors are able to showcase their fabrics, trims and accessories in the best possible way,” said Porter. “In addition to the three-day live event, exhibitors can continue to connect 24/7 for 45 days after.”

Additional advice to exhibitors:

“Stay in touch with your current customers,” Porter says. “Don’t go silent. History has taught us that the companies that continue to connect and invest in their business will be the ones that remain and grow.”

Sourcing at Magic

Upcoming online events:

Informa Markets Fashion, host of the Sourcing at Magic trade show that typically takes place in August, revealed it is hosting a three-month digital event accompanied by a focused Made-in-America in-person gathering in Las Vegas tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

The company partnered with e-commerce platform NuOrder to launch the event, which it billed as the industry’s “largest digital trade show,” which will be open from Sept. 15-Dec. 15, and will offer tools to connect Sourcing at Magic’s international community of sourcing professionals, suppliers, manufacturers and service providers, for whom lead generation and networking remain a priority.

“As much as we wish we could execute our normal sourcing event with over 30 countries, we are excited for this opportunity to highlight our incredible U.S. fashion manufacturing community,” said Kelly Helfman, president of Magic. “The digital event, which will be open for commerce before, during, and after the physical show, will be the perfect complement to the smaller, physical event.”

How exhibitors can participate/leverage the event:

Informa Markets President Nancy Walsh told Sourcing Journal the group sees the online platform as a new dimension of B2B marketing, “because this isn’t about just replicating a physical event online.”

Exhibitors using the platform will be able to leverage custom digital catalogs, line sheets, in-platform ordering and 360-degree virtual showrooms to help them tell brand stories and present new collections. Retail buyers would ideally connect with them through the platform and discover new products through efficient search tools that filter by category, price point and other criteria.

Leveraging the NuOrder technology, the new Informa event features a marketplace with customizable company profiles, Informa said, and participants will have access to integrated video conferencing, direct messaging and data analysis.

“NuOrder’s Virtual Showroom technology let’s brands dive deeper into their storytelling and interact with buyers and retailers beyond the confines of the physical experience,” Heath Wells, co-founder and CEO of NuOrder. “Using the platform and our robust selling tools, retailers are able to pre-shop trade shows by browsing product in advance and connect with relevant brands to order online.”

Additional online show resources:

Exhibitors can take advantage of the complimentary matchmaking program where the Sourcing at Magic team connects them with suppliers and manufacturers based on their sourcing needs.

“If you filter it the right way, in some respects it’s like programmatic advertising,” said Informa Markets president Rick McConnell. “A face-to-face lead is probably the best lead you have, so it’s not perfect, but if the matchmaking software is right, then you really are able to give qualified leads based on the criteria they’re looking for. You’re making that match, and then enabling them to connect at a later time.”

Tips for leveraging these events and resources:

Andre Sanchez, brand experience and activations at Informa Markets, noted the importance of the digital event as a part of the value proposition within Sourcing at Magic, in that it gives exhibitors a chance to leverage the “hybridization” of trade shows and enables them to learn about topics that might not be directly in their wheelhouse, whether it’s branding like a professional or avoiding compliance and legal pitfalls.

Additional advice to exhibitors:

“If you’re an attendee or an exhibitor, we don’t really see you as coming to this one event,” said Sanchez. “We see all of them with the mindset that we’re all collaborators. Attending a Magic show should be a milestone in your journey to building your brand and growing your business.”


Functional Fabric Fair Germany

Online events:

Reed Exhibitions’ Performance Days hosted a Digital Fair designed to replace the physical Functional Fabric Fair trade show that was scheduled for April 22-23 in Munich, Germany. The trade show held a series of eight “Expert Talk” webinars throughout the two days as the company pivoted toward digital offerings, highlighting trends such as sustainable development, greenwashing, performance colors and climate protection.

Further online content is planned in the lead-up to the next Functional Fabric Fair show, which is tentatively scheduled for December 9-10 in Munich, starting with videos of show “favorites” and the publication of Sportfashion by SAZ, a digital magazine that covers the latest trends, informs about industry news and gives in-depth analysis of market trends coinciding with the Fair.

How exhibitors can participate/leverage the event:

April’s Digital Fair content is still accessible today, allowing exhibitors to stay in touch with each other, the event team and potential buyers.

The Digital Fair includes a Supplier World, in which 300 exhibitors have their own profile that not only showcases their information but also enables them to share contact information so brands and retailers can get in direct contact with them. Supplier World, which showcases more than 5,000 fabrics, was developed in response to suppliers’ desire to remain in contact with buyers between shows. The curated exhibitors can showcase their most important fabrics, as well as brand new videos of their latest products and expanded information. Visitors can get to know the suppliers digitally and even order fabric samples online.

Exhibitors also have access to a Performance Forum that presents the top 240 fabrics and accessories hosted throughout the event by category. The categories include a range from baselayer to outer midlayer and three-layer, in addition to safety and durability fabrics. All products shown in the forum are sustainable—including raw materials, processing and treatments. The products on exhibit were carefully selected by the Performance Forum Jury, which met via video conference link. Fabric samples can be tested and samples ordered all with one click.

Additional online show resources:

Performance Days created a webinar specifically for getting up to speed on the Digital Fair, introducing users to the key features within the fair such as the Expert Talks and Supplier World, as well as other features such as Color Trends and Focus Topics.

Within Color Trends, exhibitors can gain access to color charts for seasons ahead. For example, the color chart for winter 2021/22 trends can already be ordered free of charge on the website, while new color trends for summer 2022 will soon be available online. Exhibitors interested in certain Focus Topics could learn virtually about the topic from experts who shared information during a program presented on the second day of the fair. 2020 Focus Topics features natural fibers and natural functions like new yarn technologies and treatments.

Tips for leveraging these events and resources:

The Performance Days team created a video designed to educate the exhibitors on how to make the most out of their online profile, and identify key points they may have missed that would catch the attention of potential buyers. Without a physical presence, Lena Weimer, senior marketing manager at Performance Days. said it’s important for exhibitors to upload as much content as possible to tell their company’s story and explain what they can deliver to show attendees.

“At the beginning, out of 300 exhibitors, only around 70 uploaded a video with their profile,” Weimer said. “But after we highlighted this to them in our own video, more added the video. It’s important that you always keep developing. On our end, within four weeks, we introduced this Digital Fair, but it’s absolutely not done yet. We believe that it’s very important to continue this digital content and presence.”

Additional advice to exhibitors:

“It’s most important to stay optimistic and be creative during these times, and rethink what you’ve done before,” Weimer said. “Maybe until now, it was fine, but there’s new steps to tell the world who you are and what makes you unique. Most important, is the topic of collaboration, whether they do it with customers to find solutions which work for both of them.”


Functional Fabric Fair USA

Upcoming online events:

The U.S. version of the Functional Fabric Fair is seeking to create a community for exhibitors and customers alike, and is launching a digital showroom educational platform this summer to connect these suppliers and other sourcing professionals ahead of its tentatively scheduled physical event in Portland, Ore. on Nov. 18-19 and New York, N.Y. on Jan. 25-26, according to event manager Steve McCullough.

The company also will host webinars aligned with this year’s focus topic, “Inspired by Nature: From Fibers to Green Treatments”—presented in partnership with Munich’s Performance Days, the Hohenstein Institute, AATCC and a host of global experts. The launch of the webinars has not been scheduled yet.

How exhibitors can participate/leverage the event:

A vital part of getting the online offering right for the event is helping exhibitors get swatches―which McCullough describes as currency for suppliers―out in front of the attendees in the clearest way possible.

“The way that we will display swatches and their offerings, we’re sparing no expense to get the latest technologies to even do it in a high-density, three-dimensional way,” McCullough said.

The exhibitors should expect to benefit from “limitless content” once the educational platform launches, and will be able to post any kind of content such as news releases, to amplify their product updates. Additionally, the trade show will host an exhibitor recommendations program led by its team of textile experts who will help recommend the right suppliers based on the individual sourcing needs of each designer/apparel executive.

“We really pride ourselves on matchmaking,” said Chadae Chang Bowler, director of marketing and industry development at Functional Fabric Fair. “That’s a big focus for us, and that’s what the trend is across the events industry. It’s really about connecting people. We work really close with our exhibitor database and our attendee database to solve those issues for them. Yes, we encourage people to do research on their own, but it’s not a free-for-all. We guide them down with some suggestions, or a good starting place based on what you’ve told us you wanted.

Additional online show resources:

Like its Germany-based counterpart, key features within the Functional Fabric Fair such as the Expert Talks, the Performance Forum and Focus Topics will be included in the U.S. event as well, so that exhibitors can showcase the latest textile and accessory innovations and trends.

“We collaborate with Performance Days daily,” McCullough said. “Content that we would not necessarily have here in the U.S., would absolutely be current with what’s going on in Europe.”

The Functional Fabric Fair team also started an Advisory Board comprised of attendees, exhibitors, associates and media to give them insight and feedback on how the online event can expand on the traditional trade show offering.

Tips for leveraging these events and resources:

As the trade show continues to implement and evolve its dashboard, Bowler encourages exhibitors to be as transparent as ever regarding the status and overall needs of their company, so they can aggregate this information and get it out to as many attendees as possible.

“It’s almost as if we’re creating these playbooks for them so they can discover how to maximize their usage of Functional Fabric Fair,” Bowler said. “I think we’re more in the business of making sure that we give them a platform and amplify what they’re already doing.”

Additional advice to exhibitors:

“It really is about doing their homework and research,” Bowler said. “At the end of the day, they have to be willing to understand what their company goals are, and who they are trying to reach. Don’t rush into things. I wouldn’t just look at what other companies are doing and try to establish that if they aren’t even sure what they’re looking for right now.”



Upcoming online events:

Shoptalk replaced its previously scheduled in-person Shoptalk 2020 event with a new virtual event called Shoptalk’s Retail Meetup, which will take place during three half days from October 20-22.

Upon initially postponing its conference, Shoptalk created the Shoptalk Virtual Conference Series, which consisted of webinars scheduled to take place every two weeks. The conversations are based on Shoptalk’s Retail Framework for COVID-19, which was introduced earlier in May. The final session, Rapid Reengineering: The Acceleration of Digital in the Era of COVID-19, takes place July 23 at 1 p.m. ET.

How exhibitors can participate/leverage the event:

Exhibitors have an opportunity to attend both the Shoptalk Virtual Conference Series and upcoming Shoptalk Retail Meetup. During the three-day digital event, exhibitors will have the opportunity to engage in 20,000+ video conference interactions with prospective retailers and brands.

But the true value comes in from the lead up to the event. On Sept. 28, exhibitors and brands can create and customize their profiles, revealing details about their businesses and more importantly sharing availability for a chat.

The platform will then match companies based on interests and availability. On Oct. 12, exhibitors and brands can check their matches, opt in to new meeting requests and prioritize accordingly.

Shoptalk also offers a Slack Workspace Application for businesses that want to engage in constant conversation in between the company’s virtual events. Participation is subject to approval by Shoptalk.


PI Apparel

Upcoming online events:

PI Apparel is hosting member-exclusive weekly Digital Roundtables throughout the summer season ahead of its PI Apparel Hong Kong physical trade show tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15-16. The interactive, collaborative Digital Roundtables serve as a major networking opportunity for exhibitors to get out in front of potential retail and brand clients, and potentially generate leads, all while sharing how they solve problems within the apparel and footwear industries.

The upcoming editions include:

  • The Viability & Potential of Automated 3D Asset Creation, Thursday, June 25
  • Understanding Seamless Tool Integration Needs, Thursday, July 2
  • 3D Printing as a Viable Option for Personalized Footwear, July 9

How exhibitors can participate/leverage the event:

Membership within PI Apparel enables exhibitors to access weekly podcasts and other content, but more importantly gain access to upcoming online training courses designed to empower them with in-depth knowledge and skills related to product innovation.

Upcoming topics that exhibitors can be trained on include:

  • Building an xR (Mixed Reality) Roadmap
  • Getting Started with 3D Digital Product Creation
  • Defining a Full, End-to-End Digital Vision Beyond 3D Design
  • The 12 Technologies Transforming Fashion

Training is free for all large and small businesses that sign up for membership, while single users pay a fee.

Additional online show resources:

PI Apparel has an extensive library of talks, Digital Roundtables and Fashion Made podcasts, totaling 500+ hours of content, including interviews, panels and case studies from peers and industry leaders.

Additionally, the trade show organizer also offers the PI Apparel Tech Digest, which compiles articles every two weeks in a newsletter to help readers stay informed on apparel and footwear industry subjects and trends.