The fashion industry’s trade shows are under pressure like they never have been before. Facing last minute cancellations and poor attendance figures, the issues shows have faced for several years have now accelerated to the surface. In an effort to flip the script, Juls Dawson’s Just Around The Corner is ready for its second round of showcasing this season, heading to London after a successful stint in Manchester.
We caught up with the agent turned trade show founder to get his thoughts on the state of fashion’s live events scene.
I had studied law at university but never wanted to pursue a career in law. I grew up with all my family in fashion retail and haberdasheries, so I guess I was destined to follow, much to their dismay!
I started on the shop floor and crossed over to wholesale pretty quickly for French Connection. Then, I worked in the volume end of the market supplying the high street, followed by setting up my own denim sourcing office in Hong Kong. I became involved in the relaunch of Gio-Goi and we took it to £25m in just 5 years!
Agents are critical to getting brands to market as they are the conduit between brands and retailers. Most will usually have a better understanding than in house sales terms of the whole market, given that they will normally have a cross section of collections spanning several sectors.
Also, by offering multiple brands, buyers often like the idea of the agent’s showrooms as a ‘one stop shop’. Very often agents also launch brands (either homegrown or from overseas) into their domestic market due to the prohibitive costs of setting up in house sales teams, and as a result many start-up brands opt to start their journeys via the agency route. As agents, we have very special relationships with most key accounts due to the length of time we have worked with them, along with the breadth of brands we might supply them with.
We try and offer over and above just a sales service, hence the ‘consultancies’ within our company name.
Dependent on what a brand wants from us and where they are in their journey, we offer a multitude of additional services over and above just purely a sales function, For example distribution strategies, assistance with range planning and price architecture, detailed knowledge of pre-retail requirements and delivery requirements for key accounts and of course seasonal reporting.
We also cover pretty much service all sections of the market from premium, mid to volume and off price and from accessories, footwear, women’s and men’s, both young fashion and heritage brands. We’ve always tried to cater for a multitude of sectors and select brands that don’t compete with each other as with retail this just bastardises sales. As the retailers are developing and move towards the marketplace model, we are also developing a new arm to the business which will allow us to offer this increasingly common sales channel to our brands and provide offer a merchandising function to monitor and drive these sales on behalf of our partners.
We have a 4ksq ft showroom on Brick Lane and decided 3 years ago to hold an open showroom event in our HQ. Since we are called JUST, it seemed logical to call our show, “Just Around the Corner”.
We invited a few brands to join us, offered complimentary food and drink to all, and encouraged an order writing environment. It was a success and we continued until Covid, which was the catalyst to take it to the next level last July. We realised that buyers and brands were desperate to re-engage in person after 18 months buying/selling behind screens, and were eager to get tactile with product. We took the leap and booked space at the Truman Brewery, enough for 150 brands which we subsequently sold out. We’re now the fastest growing trade show in the UK with over 250 brands showing with us across our two locations this Jan/Feb.
We had been exhibiting for 20 years at other trade shows and so knew the pitfalls and what we would do differently ourselves, which is why we offer accessibly priced stands and no extra charges (e.g. for a plug on a stand!), secure, characterful industrial settings (not conference centres), a relaxed and convivial atmosphere and free food, coffee and drink from street vendors (not an overpriced stale sandwich!).
We have an unofficial internal strapline, “for the industry, by the industry”.
Undoubtedly Covid has affected foot-flow, which considering we smashed our attendance targets, only bodes well for the future, once the pandemic dissipates further. Success wise, we are providing something dynamic and new, which after all, is what fashion is all about.
We launched in Manchester our first dedicated sustainable zones, footwear and accessories zones, and the uptake has been really pleasing to witness.
Covid spurred us on to move North as the London event in July coincided with Freedom Day and when we looked at the attendance figures, we realised that a large amount of the visitors were from the South (with hindsight probably due to fear of travelling at that time).
We thought if they aren’t coming to us, we will go to them. As it happens, we have filled a gap as the Northerners and Scottish attended our inaugural event last month in droves and we had so much good feedback about how both brands and buyers said a Northern show was long overdue. After all, Manchester was Cottonpolis, so it seems fitting that a fashion/textiles event is held there.
There are also many retailers (keys and independents) who are based in the North who don’t want to travel to London due to time and expenses involved, so they are more than willing to support a show there. Furthermore, like at JUST many brands and agencies have Northern showrooms for this very reason.
Follow our lead, I.E. make stand prices more workable, provide decent refreshments, make the environment more welcoming, promote actual order writing, offer sustainable zones…
Trade shows need strong attendances both from exhibitors and visitors alike. They have been part of the landscape for decades, and for that, we need support from brands and retailers alike in order to continue growth and success.
We will continue to grow and better our events season on season, whilst still retaining our key USPs. We will look to house our shows in bigger spaces and who knows, look at third location…but for more on that, you will have to watch this space…
Photo source: Justagroup.co.uk