The Sourcing at Magic trade show in Las Vegas opened its doors this week with a more curated look and feel—and a smaller footprint.
That’s because many of the event’s usual exhibitors, namely those from China, continue to contend with the impacts of the pandemic, including a Centers for Disease Control-imposed ban on travel to the U.S. But while China’s normally imposing physical influence has shrunk—along with the presence of similarly limited exhibiting countries like India, Brazil, the U.K. and E.U. nations—2021’s Sourcing event has been tailored to make up for those in-person absences.
According to Andreu David, events director for Sourcing at Magic, learnings from the February 2020 event (which took place mere days after a China travel ban sidelined the country’s makers) have informed the show’s forward-looking strategy. In 2021, the event is fully hybridized, making use of a digital platform, an in-person market, and an inventive physical-virtual solution for manufacturers that could not make the trek across the globe, but sent along samples in their stead, he said.
“This is our third season being online, and now we’re coming back to a physical show,” David said. “We wanted to incorporate the digital offering with our physical show so they are complementary.” The executive expects to see the show’s virtualized component stick, even post-pandemic.
Before Covid, exhibitors from China made up the largest contingent on the showroom floor, accounting for about 70 percent of manufacturers in attendance. After more than a year of travel restrictions, however, Sourcing at Magic has created a tailored solution for Chinese vendors that allows buyers to experience their finished goods and materials in person, even if reps are barred from being present.
The Sourcing hall now features an assortment of racks curated by each China-based exhibitor, stacked with best-selling items from their assortments. Buyers can browse the racks and connect with representatives overseas in real-time using the digitized Sourcing platform on their own devices or the desktop computers on the showroom floor.
The platform contains product and producer information for all companies at the show, including photos of factories and stats like MOQs and unit pricing, David said. About 30 producers from China chose to take advantage of the hybridized approach, while 130 opted to showcase their wares digitally this year. Just 20 suppliers from the country were able to set up full booths this year, staffed by employees who reside stateside or outside of countries banned from U.S. travel.
Indian producers were similarly impacted, as Covid outbreaks across the country prompted the CDC to issue a ban on travel to the U.S. on May 4. Many held out hope that the restrictions might be lifted by this week, but they were ultimately unable to travel or create similar contingency plans to Chinese producers, David said.
In total, 319 global producers have uploaded almost 14,000 products to the digital platform, according to David, and about half—157 producers in total—attended the show in person. “This is a much smaller scale than 2020,” though next year’s shows are expected to grow in size as travel restrictions are lifted, he added.
Despite the headwinds facing some of the sourcing world’s most prominent production countries, David said that the smaller collective of producers has actually made for a more manageable experience for buyers. The normally sprawling show has been condensed and reorganized to showcase a more concise range of products, and that has given countries that normally sit in China’s shadow room to shine.
“Bangladesh came in with a sizable contingent,” David said, noting that the country has established itself as the preeminent “non-China option” at the show, with about 16 producers on display. “A lot of production is moving here because it’s flexible, it offers competitive pricing, and they’re innovating on sustainability.”
Central and South American producers from countries like Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and Guatemala have also benefited from the spotlight, owning a focus on sustainable processes, ethical manufacturing, material innovation and a growing interest in near-shoring amid the continued logistics delays that have plagued overseas production for more than a year.
According to David, the makeup of the buyer base at Sourcing at Magic is also continuing to evolve. The show has always attracted small startups and DTCs, he said, but in recent seasons, fashion “newbies” have been attending in droves.
“The ones just entering the market are the lifeblood of this industry, especially with what’s happened over the past year, seeing so many businesses close,” David said. “There’s this new blood hungry to come in and do business, and we provide them almost a safe haven to find the right partners and get information.”
With the newcomers comes a growing interest in sustainability and supply chain ethics, David said. As social responsibility and environmental stewardship continues to dominate, the show is undertaking a new role as a guide and a validator for sustainable businesses.
David’s biggest project at this year’s show has been curating an installation dubbed the Sustainable Alternatives Gallery to elevate some of the show’s most responsible producers in partnership with Hey Social Good, an auditing body that vets and verifies company’s sustainability claims. Companies like Lenzing, Repreve and Aztex have been featured in the assortment, with garments on display for buyers to both observe and touch. What’s more, David said, “Buyers can come in here and feel confident—they don’t have to ask for certifications,” as the legwork has already been done for them.
In the modern age of sourcing, David believes that most brands are “on the road to doing social and environmental good,” and he hopes that the show can now begin to act as a partner on the journey. “We’re all working toward a common goal, and we hope to help brands keep moving in the right direction,” he added.
Hey Social Good CEO and founder Cindy J. Lin told Sourcing Journal that beyond acting as a resource for buyers looking for sustainable sourcing, the program aims to inspire suppliers to take further steps to become compliant and seek certifications. The program’s focus is “creating an assessment methodology that is focused on positive impact, rather than dinging people” for not doing enough, Lin said. For the purposes of the Sourcing at Magic trade show, Hey Social Good has created a set of distinctions that brands can earn if they hit certain targets for environmental action, giving back and social impact.
“The ones that you see here are the ones that we awarded a meta-ranking and are verified by us,” she said. “They are are adopting sustainable practices and trying to make a concrete, positive impact in the world.” This year, about 15 percent of the show’s attendees were recognized for efforts to better their supply chains, Lin pointed out.
“What we’ve found is that sometimes people want to be sustainable, but it’s expensive or hard or confusing,” Lin said. “My goal is to inspire people to take the first step.”