Arinda & Simone

How to prep for PV or any fabric fair?

I remember when I started studying about and working in fashion I was mostly baffled by the fact that we started design 13 to 18 months prior GTM (Go to Market). I never gave trends much thought as how they came about, or how some brands always seem to know first. The development process is a rollercoaster - you start with new designs and then the problems start. And actually all you do for 13+ months is problem solving, who would have imagined that. I loved every single part of it, the challenges, the stress, the numbers game, the innovations - all. But, what I loved most was starting a new season. Leaving all 'problems' behind for a bit and dive into a new world of design and development - as this season it will be different ;). Who are you kidding ha-ha. 

I've been extremely spoiled with starting my career at Nike, where we had an inhouse material library and people were all day busy getting it at the latest innovative standard. But, how I still loved to go to the fairs and be enlightened in the world of new materials, new thinking and innovation - a little peek into the future, time traveling at its finest. 

"We have the rule that we let start-ups and students enter the last day of the fair... "

Simone leemann - sales director (union ag embroideries)
When you are a smaller starting or scaling brand - where do you start though? As what the fuck should I look at, what should I do, what can I expect and what should I walk out with? It's all very overwhelming. 

- maybe not start with PV full stop. Listen, even though we learn at school this is the place to be, and the industry tells us to go. It's an enormous fair - you will get lost the moment you enter and walk out with probably nothing. The problem when you walk out with nothing is that this causes a major aftermath. You feel unsuccessful, you've spend money staying there towards no outcome. Clearly you have been there, it was an experience you can lock into your backpack - but at the same time you could have spend your time better. I completely agree with Simone Leemann (Sales director Union AG embroideries) here stating to start your fair journey with visiting Munich Fabric Start. It's still large and everyone is there, but it's less intense and a better place to start / continue your sourcing journey. 

- prep well! Don't go anywhere unprepared as you'll walk for hours going no-where. These are not the places to window shop, you'll be paralyzed with opportunity and buy nothing. A few things I should do to prep yourself for whatever larger (even smaller) fair that comes your way. 

1. Decide and make a list of what you are going to do and want to achieve there. Think of a certain material you need to purchase, how much and what can it cost per yardage. Think of a new innovation you need to make product idea x fly. Write it down and don't make the list too long. You go for that, and the rest is a bonus. 

2. Suppliers are mostly listed before the fair starts on the website and clustered by material group or sustainability or even low MOQ offers. Research and make a short list of suppliers you really want to visit. Best is to even reach out before hand to make appointments - this could also help you flow through the day a little bit more focused. 

3. Start your fair visit with a visit to the offered trend forums. It gets you in the mood and help you already with some answers to innovative or newness questions. Don't leave this to the end as it can really turn your vision upside down - and all done before is a waste. Also it will give you a focus of what booths to visit as they will represent themselves at the forums. Don't forget that the real juicy stuff is mostly not represented at the forums as we still live in a world who is afraid of the copy cat ;). 

4. Ensure you bring a business card, a real one - not a handwritten note. Make sure it's clear at first sight who you are, what you do and where they can reach you. 

- a few inside goodies before you hit the road. Many larger vendors don't let you into their booth. You should understand that the largest portion of their seasonal sales targets are managed at these fairs. This is the place where they instantly meet a large portion of their customer base in one place avoiding long and wasteful travels. Meaning they are busy and really don't want to bother with a small buyer like yourself. Sad, but true. Some though, do let you into their booths at the last day(s) of the fair, so maybe better to not go the first day, but actually join the last day. 
I stated already above, be clever - some fairs offer smaller MOQ lists of suppliers offering the ability to buy smaller quantities. Research up front, invest the time and reach out - then you don't go there for nothing. 
And here is a new, rather sexy one - but maybe even bulk buy together. When you're talking a certain jersey or plain woven. It might make sense to buy yardage together with another brand and share the costs. This gives you the ability to reduce the purchase price without forcing yourself to break the bank or create overstock. You can afterwards print, or your design language is very different - and no one would ever notice. 

To take with - don't expect to walk out with your shopping list ticked off. As a newbie or small player these are not per default the places to purchase fabrics. But see it as a place to be inspired, learn and connect for the future. 

A quick note, don't forget the cultural differences and language gaps. You might have had a fluent conversation with someone in writing (email) but when seeing them in the flesh, it's working with hands and feet. This happens and don't get frustrated, see it as a challenge - but always lock it in writing after ;). 

Hope this will answer some of the questions in regards to fabric fair'ing and PV. Have a marvelous time, be inspired and learn along the way. 

xo Arinda

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