Last week’s Sourcing at Magic trade show in Las Vegas reflected the many changes the industry has faced since the pandemic arrived more than two years ago.
More than 650 mills, manufacturers, material innovators and technology providers came out, more than double the number seen in February, and outpacing the 160 exhibitors who showcased their offerings a year ago, said Andreu David, Sourcing at Magic vice president. The number of countries represented at the show grew to 26 from 21 six months ago.
While China’s Covid restrictions have limited the presence of vendors arriving from the world’s factory in recent years, many found a way to represent their offerings last week. Sixty-seven Chinese companies participated in Informa’s Hybrid Gallery, where unmanned garment racks displayed products from international vendors who couldn’t attend in person. By contrast, just 24 Chinese suppliers presented via the gallery in February.
“These exhibitors have chosen not to attend in person because they have to quarantine” for three weeks when they return to China, David said. Instead, they shipped their samples to be merchandised by the trade show’s team. Prospective buyers scan a QR code on any garment to view the supplier’s profile and place orders or connect in real time for a virtual meeting with the overseas factory.
A rep who could converse with Chinese-speaking buyers staffed the Hybrid Gallery. While the Chinese government—which subsidized its exhibitors—was skeptical of the hybrid approach, “they were convinced to do it, because they need to continue doing business,” David said.
“This is becoming a really popular, successful model,” he added.
About 220 Chinese manufacturers chose traditional booths manned by U.S. personnel. Informa worked closely with a local temp agency to train staffers to speak about the factories and their products and make sales, David said. “It’s just an astounding concept that none of these exhibitors are actually the people who own these companies or these factories,” he added, noting that recruiting for the show became a significant source of business for the Las Vegas community.
The show drew a small number of exhibitors from Morocco, Sri Lanka, and Ghana for the first time in a number of years, David said. “What happens with these countries’ associations is that they will leverage both Sourcing and our sister shows, like Project,” he said, promoting their manufacturing capabilities and collections to boutique buyers. Countries like Turkey and Brazil were represented in both convention center halls.
Meanwhile, February’s uptick in nearshoring interest has quieted down, he said. Much of 2021 and spring 2022 was characterized by talk of shipping slowdowns and rising freight prices, putting North, South and Central American producers in the spotlight. Now, those groups are “at capacity,” with many who are unable to take new on orders sitting out the show as a result, David said.
“The number of countries is fewer, but the number of exhibitors is comparable” to February, he said, noting that suppliers from Mexico, Colombia and Canada remained fixtures at the show, while fewer Guatemalan and Honduran vendors exhibited.
The trade show continues to pursue ways to create awareness across sourcing regions, David said, noting that the more muted presence of the Americas paints a different picture than what he believes to be the reality of the sourcing landscape.
“I think [nearshoring] will persist, because this isn’t just an issue driven by the pandemic anymore,” he said. “It’s about responsible production, reducing your carbon footprint, sustainability.” Logistics costs, speed to market, and lower MOQs via nearshore producers mean the movement is “going to be relevant a year, two years, three years from now,” he added.
“I think one of the learnings that we definitely had these past couple of years is you don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” continued David, who encourages companies to “diversify.” “The smartest way to do your development is to make sure it’s balanced.”
U.S. makers in attendance reached 17, up from about a dozen in February. David is making an effort to promote domestic production, and the show attempted to spotlight each state’s differentiated qualities. The state flowers for California, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia were displayed alongside trivia such as “California has the largest number of textile mills and apparel factories in the United States,” at 168.
Retail technology ramps up
For the first time, the Sourcing show promoted retail technology with a dedicated section featuring a dozen companies displaying their digital design, fit technology and point-of-sale (POS) systems.
“Technology is really pushing forward in our industry,” David said, with companies working to use 3D tech to reduce sampling and waste, or streamline processes for greater efficiency. A lounge where tech vendors could demonstrate their products on a big screen and field questions was consistently “one of the busiest parts of the show,” he said.
Swatchbook, a digital database for virtual fabric and material renderings that integrates with product development software, was interested in reaching independent businesses and designers, chief business development officer Jason Eric Brown said. “We’re more set up for large enterprise, but we recognize the need for individual smaller brands and individuals” to digitize their operations, he said.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) provider Aims 360 said it hoped to target mid-sized brands, CEO Shahrooz Kohan told Sourcing Journal. “It’s really important to have software in place once the growth starts, otherwise you’re just doing manual work,” he said. With companies grappling with labor, cost and organizational issues, fashion brands need to prioritize digitization to manage production, inventory, sales and fulfillment, he said, adding, “You’re really automating those processes so that the business can continue to grow without getting stuck.”
Kohan said he drew “pretty good interest” from fashion companies using “Excel and spreadsheets to manage their business.”
3D design software provider Embodee, which was demonstrating its virtual apparel creation platform Orchids, isn’t so sure it’ll be back for the next show. “We decided to come here because people are still learning about 3D and want to get a feel for it,” said Isabel Morales, a marketing team member with the Puerto Rican company. But the platform, which serves designers and suppliers, requires some prior knowledge of 3D, and that was a sticking point at the Sourcing show, she said. “We cater to small and large companies, but they have to use 3D and have it in their design process,” she said.
Brent Urbanski, Embodee’s director of design and production, said companies see the software as a way to create more sustainably and efficiently. “They want to see a greater assortment of options—to create more, faster” without making so many physical samples, he said.
“At technology shows, it’s well understood—you don’t have to describe it to [attendees], but here, they’re sourcing materials. It’s all kind of new,” Urbanski said.