What Really Happens at Tradeshows? 2

There was a time when Pitti used to be a tradeshow filled with slightly boring slim navy linen suits. Now it can be officially called Pitti: Where men with no sweat glands gather (but still with slightly boring slim navy linen suits). But what goes on behind the scenes at tradeshows? We spoke to four brands, Tim Little of Grenson, Neil Christopher of ARN Mercantile, Adam Bach of Mismo and Kenneth Mackenzie of 6876 to find out a little more.

Tradeshows can look like a non stop thrill ride of well dressed men, people eating ice cream and brands yukking it up with buyers, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a reason why there were formerly known as the unglamorous part of the trade and we decided to ask three brands about the parts of tradeshows you rarely hear about.

Tim Little, Grenson

What do you do on a slow day at a tradeshow?

Panic, fret and worry. We all take it personally, like nobody has come to the show because they hate us. We talk for hours about what to do, shall we move to another show, shut the company or just commit suicide.

What are some of the most ridiculous statements you’ve heard from buyers at a tradeshow? 

One guy said to me once “I absolutely love them, its just the colour and the design i’m not sure about”. Also someone once asked me if they could buy just the laces. I mean, how insulting is that?

Can you name one (or more) bad experience you’ve had at a tradeshow? 

We’ve been very lucky so far but it’s a constant worry. We were very cross one year because we were put by the toilets but after a while we realised that everyone went to the toilets at some point, so they were sitting ducks.  Mind you, it’s a bit sad when you rely on the public toilets to attract people to your brand.


Adam Alexander Bach, Co-founder of Mismo

What do you do on a slow day at a tradeshow?

It gives you an opportunity to look around and see who’s actually showing next to you. Slow days are good for conversation and networking with the other brands/exhibitors. Usually you’re so full of your own stuff that it can be difficult to take in new impressions, especially on busy days with customers coming and going in a steady flow. So on slow days you get a chance to dig a little deeper in the great products and persons that are standing right next to you.

Some of our best friends in the industry are people we’ve been showing next to at the same tradeshow through several seasons.

What are some of the most ridiculous statements you’ve heard from buyers at a tradeshow?

It’s difficult to come across something that stands out as being profound ridiculous… Most buyers I must say have a broad knowledge about what they are doing and are usually very respectful and sincere in their wish to learn more about your brand and products.

Can you name one (or more) bad experience you’ve had at a tradeshow?

A couple of years ago we were supposed to show at Capsule in Paris. We had been showing for a few seasons there, so it had become an important show for us where we met with most of our accounts. The show opened on Saturday lasting through Monday. I arrived on Friday to set up the booth with the collection that had been shipped by DHL from Denmark that Wednesday. We had a one day buffer on the shipment, so everything should be safe. Nevertheless, when I showed up, there were no sign of our five boxes. It turned out that DHL had lost track of the shipment and didn’t expect to deliver before Monday the earliest (if they found them that is).

So we had to face it, the worst nightmare of any brand doing a tradeshow, we were left with nothing to show but the pricelists and two bags that I had hand carried with me.

When dealing with production on an almost daily basis you’re used to tackle mistakes trying to make the best of them, but this was a serious blow with a full season on stake. We pulled ourselves together and gambled a little anticipating we would be able to find a showroom that we could reschedule our appointments to Tuesday and Wednesday instead (trusting the collection was arrived at that point). So while I did a three day long show without anything but a good explanation and a suggestion to show them the collection a few days later at a place not yet discovered if they still were in town. Rikke, my partner, walked the streets of the Marais trying to locate a decent showroom in the very last minute.

To round off a long story, during Sunday we found a lovely gallery in rue Charlot, Gallery Dansk, with classic old Danish designer furniture, almost too perfect a setting for our products. We rented for two days at a compassionate low price.

The collection arrived on Monday and the next two days we managed to get all our most important customers through the showroom, to everybody’s great delight. We left Paris that Wednesday night filled with joy and excitement, as we had overcome the worst possible scenario and turned it into a wholehearted positive experience for ourselves and our customers. It’s those kind of feelings that make you buckle up once more and go through the bumpy ride towards a new season, new collection, new challenges….


Neil Christopher, Arn Mercantile

How do you fill a slow day?

Filling a slow day, last show in Berlin, spent a happy few moments posting on the BBB instagram wall (we weren’t showing at BBB), eating is always a good way. In honesty I’m lucky to spend most of my time with likeminded people so we talk about production, cutting and fabric, I’m a clothing Geek so it’s all good fun. A fair bit of time is spent sharing war stories or telling funny tales about the others we have crossed paths with. A slow day is normal for us, we sell to order and through appointment only, I get to talk cloth and process as well as catch up with friends and talk cloth and process with them. I did spend a horrid slow day at Pitti a few years ago in the hellish heat racing melting ice cream on a tin roof. A new level of  DULL.

What are some of the most ridiculous statements you’ve heard from buyers at a trade show?

Buyers are okay, for the most part the ones we deal with are people I’d have no problem coming around the house for dinner. It’s the brands that are full of stupid/ridiculous stuff just to sell product. An Italian store insists that he can only sell 18 pieces from any collection and will only buy 18 pieces, no more or no less, from ANYONE. There was a store in Stockholm (it’s closed now) whose buyer once told me he’d only buy denim if I would give him a pair to drag behind his car, so he knows it’ll be strong enough for his customers (he also sold Levi M&C, which is really badly made). I had another buyer from the US who was convinced the Harris Tweed dye was ‘fixed’ with horse piss. I had one couple who told me, with all conviction, that you had to sleep in your jeans to make them fit right and sold their customers this soap made from indigo to hold the colour in the denim.

But mainly it’s just repeating the shit they’ve been told by others. The business is full of myths about how and why things do this and that. Then you get the store owners who want so badly to be ‘in the loop’ no matter how stupid that loop is.  When I was younger I worked with a UK based company who would make up the most ridiculous shit about their brands product, I’d go to the shows as part of my job (thankfully not for sales) and heard this crap roll through the customers and then just to have it repeated back to me by someone else. Trade show, well big trade shows are about sales at whatever cost, some stores/buyers believe that they must be seen to know.

I had a meeting with ARN and a big UK store based in the north of England a few years back. The owner came to our house (we don’t have a showroom in the UK) went on and on about it was good he came as his buyer would never understand our product, how great it was to see an organic company in the UK selling ‘honest’ product, then after hours of this (I really hate such gushing) he was running down his own staff and telling me how no one would understand the ideas behind our concept (he used too many buzz words). He asked us to make in organic nylon. No matter how hard I tried to explain, he was convinced Nylon was organic, he knew places where it was made, the plant grow without chemicals (NYLON PLANTS!!!!!)  some statements made are so far beyond the real world they pass ridiculous.


Can you name one (or more) bad experience you’ve had at a tradeshow?

Hell yes.

First time we showed at Pitti, the day before the show is set up. We went in, set up the stand, took pictures. Overnight, we had all the samples stolen from the stand at the show, were told by the show that security only started when the show was open. They refused to take ANY responsibly for the loss and instead we kept the stand and put samples on it or we would be infraction of the contract. Next day I saw one of the security guards in one of our shirts, went mental at him and called in the reps from the show. The shirt was returned, but we were asked to leave the show!

Next time, a show in Paris. When we turned up at the venue is was gone, I mean the building was gone, an empty space. Outside, where the venue should’ve been, sat four other labels and the show reps, the building had been demolished the week before and no one had thought to check.

Then a show in LA. We had a full ride (hotel, flight and space) laid on, the hotel was nice, the flight was good. US customs held all our Japanese made samples because it ‘looked like Chinese’ on the paperwork. We had to sell from a laptop with pictures and swatches

Then a show in Germany, a BIG show in Germany we were courted to show there. We were taken out for dinner, the reps talked about how great we were and amazing the product was, we got to the show to set up and we had a tiny booth. They thought we were a hat company, even after we’d sent them images of the product for the show directory.

We did a trunk show in New York, nice hotel, mid-town and good stores were coming. There were about 7 labels on our floor, all doing this hotel/trunk show thing. Then the fire sprinklers went off, everything was soaked and it took them an hour to fix the problem.

Did a show in Paris a long time ago and the organisers had put the wrong address on the invites. There are showrooms all over Paris on fashion week, NO ONE showed up on the first day. I went to get lunch in the late afternoon, just to see buyers from one of our stores in a show room across the street. They thought it was our show and could not work out why we were not there (again, this was YEARS ago).

Kenneth Mackenzie, 6876

What did you do on slow days?

Wonder why I’d spent 6 to 8 months working on a collection only to be standing in a half empty stand talking platitudes to brands I had nothing in common with.

What were some of the most ridiculous statements you heard?

You name it. “There’s not enough branding”, “Its quite plain”, “I love it but our customers won’t get it”. But the best one was “you should really do baseball caps”.

Why did you stop doing tradeshows?

I grew tired of the circuit, I started doing shows with Duffer in 1990 and did them with 6876 until around 2005/6. It wasn’t financially viable for a small brand to accent everything to two seasonal periods and my feeling was that it was too restrictive.

Also, I think the growth of social media has weakened the power of the store. Brands don’t need to present ranges exclusively to store owners. The world’s changed and, to be honest when I visit a show now I feel the walls closing in around me. And there’s this format which, although great for others, is outdated for me and my aspirations. Plus we don’t wholesale now (apart from indirectly with the Cash Ca range) as it will affect the retail price on our website and, by extension, those customers as UK manufacturing can be expensive.

For the future we are embarking on a world tour of trunk shows with likeminded retailers.

Any bad experiences at tradeshows?

Sure, everyone has horror stories. Around 2001 Sehm had been revamped and moved to Porte De Versailles, where we weren’t really keen to participate but the organisers convinced us with a special deal to take part. So, after setting up the stand the night before, we arrived the next day to find our key style – a double detachable Harrington – had been stolen. What made it worse was that when we complained, we were met with a Gallic shrug of so what?/Can’t help you.

But the overriding factor has to be the rudeness and incomprehension from various buyers who constantly hang on the shirt tails of others. And then there’s the time wasters who visit the stand constantly but never buy. But mostly it’s the mind crunching monotony

Finally there was Tranoi way back when. After feeling unwell I retired downstairs only to find myself unable to relax and then I suffered an extreme panic attack and was taken to Hospital. Thanks to Edgar, the organiser, the French fire brigade took me the quickest way to hospital in Paris which, maybe more than anything, explains my reticence to take part. Where ever Edgar is, I owe you one.

Jason Dike is a london based writer who’s contributed to the likes of Esquire UK and Men’s Health amongst other publications. He has a highly entertaining (his own words), but sporadically updated (our words) website at jasondike.co.uk and you can follow him on twitter at @jasondike.

Words by Jason Dike
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