“We need support from retailers in the North to sustain a position here,” said Juls Dawson, founder and organiser of trade show Just Around the Corner (JATC), in a conversation with FashionUnited. A total of 150 brands exhibited at the event, which is now in its second season in Manchester, and was hosted from August 2 to 3, slightly ahead of its more seasoned London show.
According to JATC, the number of visitors had increased since its first January edition, driven largely by an increase in the attendance of women’s independents. Additionally, a number of key accounts also made an appearance, including the likes of Tessutti, JD Sports, Internet Fusion, Very, Next and Footasylum. Speaking on this season’s response, Dawson said: “We have brought the show to the North and the concept of having everything - menswear, womenswear, accessories - under one roof is definitely filling a gap in the market. There is a demand for that.”
The first day of the event began with some unexpected difficulties as the rainy British weather conditions had caused leaking through the ceiling of the building. Frustrated exhibitors and organisers scrambled to quickly fix the issue, and after a lot of buckets and a bit of repositioning, the crisis was quickly averted and the show was back underway.
Despite the initial leakage, the venue itself was impressive and quite a distinct choice for a trade show, providing a very different atmosphere to its industry peers. Set in the city’s Freight Island venue, the location, which is often used as a food hall and event space, provided an industrial backdrop to the show, with artistic chandeliers, pops of colour and bold signs also bringing a contemporary feel.
Dedicated exhibition zones
Inside, exhibitors were separated into dedicated zones, with footwear and sustainable brands positioned on the lower floor at the entrance and menswear and womenswear occupying the two upper mezzanine levels. A new zone for the season was ‘The Edit’ which consisted of over 40 womenswear exhibitors that offered a more premium price point. The decision to adopt specified zones was met with both enthusiasm and hesitancy from attendees, with some stating that they believed it was good for visitors to have a focus, while others said the flow of the event was slightly disrupted.
A representative from an agency working with brands entering the UK market, said their position in ‘The Edit’ worked in their favour as it helped to direct a group that specifically looked for what they offered. After noting that they had seen a steady footfall and had signed on a few new accounts, the agent said about the section: “Clients that come here are looking for that slightly more elevated price point, and our brands fit with that customer. We have brought brands that target a younger demographic too, which works with the location because, compared to other trade shows, there are different clients walking through the door. JATC caters to a younger customer.”
While exhibitors in the clothing zones were upbeat, some exhibitors in other sections expressed a desire to not be as divided. A representative from an exhibiting footwear brand, which set out with the goal of attracting more independent retailers, said that while the venue itself was ideal, the layout could be adapted to optimise the circulation of attendees. The exhibitor stated: “The show is heavily geared towards womenswear. It would be good to have footwear and accessories dotted in between those stands to help the flow a little bit and give some more opportunity to other brands here.”
Footfall and attendees
Views also differed on footfall. Those located in the womenswear and The Edit sections said that their footfall was strong, while those in menswear and footwear had noted slightly less traffic. This issue was something that organiser Juls Dawson had also become aware of, as there was a particular lack of men’s independents stopping by. “Menswear independents, where are you? We have brought the brands and the concept here,” he said. “January was really buoyant on menswear. I think men’s and footwear have closed their books earlier this season because of issues with logistics, the Far East and supply.”
Mia Veinedotter, a merchandising director at Mish Mash, a 32 year old denim menswear brand, seconded Dawson’s remarks, adding that she believed the trade show needed to potentially be a bit earlier in the season for menswear brands. However, for Mish Mash, attendance was mostly centred around brand awareness and representation, with Veinedotter adding that while the the company is generally targeted towards older male shoppers, its placement in JATC meant that she could reconsider its displayed stock, with a collection that was more suitable for younger men - something that it had not completely focused on before.
Attending a trade show for the first time, Alice Mubarak, from streetwear-focused company Wonderland Brands Agency, said the slow footfall actually worked in her favour. Setting out to secure Northern accounts for her start-up, Mubarak noted that she had struck up some contacts with a number of big players and, on the generally quiet atmosphere, said: “It has been good for me because I’m still at the very early stages of my business, so I’m still getting my business out there. I want to put faces to names so I can build a rapport with people. I want to see people face to face so this is still very valuable for me.”
In the womenswear section, brands seemed to have a different experience, with some saying they were almost “mobbed” on the first day, meeting a consistent stream of visitors and welcoming on a host of new accounts. Hannah Moody, design director of family run business James Steward, was also attending JATC Manchester for the first time, and said: “On the first day, it was busy, there was a really good flow of people - both our regular stockists and new customers.”
Boosting the Northern fashion industry
Moody added that the location of the event was ideal for her small Leeds business, allowing for easier travel and the chance to connect with more local retailers. “It is quite a good hub for everyone to come to,” she continued, “there are even Irish stockists that are coming - it is easier access.”
Other exhibitors had also reported meeting with a number of Scottish, Welsh and Northern English retailers, something many of them said they had not had the chance to connect with at Southern-centred trade shows. For Kent-based brand Chalk, the North was a relatively new setting for them, as they are mostly focused on the Southern market, with the decision to take part in this edition of JATC set as a trial run. Founded by two sisters, the brand was one of the few lifestyle labels there, offering clothing, homeware, cosmetics and accessories.
Speaking on the show, Tina Ireton, one half of the sibling duo, said: “The few orders that we have done have been primarily new customers, which is something we haven’t seen at other recent trade shows and it’s exactly what we wanted. It’s not as manic as we are used to, but that is what we expected. It's a different vibe. We didn’t have to think about setting up, we just had to place our stock, so it has been a much nicer experience.”
Another zone that saw a slight expansion this year was the ‘Sustainable’ section, albeit only housing three brands, one of which, Passenger, already boasts a number of significant partnerships, including with John Lewis. Like Chalk, the representatives of Passenger also found the experience of setting up at JATC very smooth, with the brand’s head of sales, Robin Wilkins, stating: “The package is as good as I have had as a show. It feels very functional and has clearly been done by someone who has good experience of what buyers and brands want.”
Signing on several new accounts, Wilkins said the response they received was fairly on par with what they had hoped for and supported their goal of growing their foothold among independent Northern stockists. “We are an on-demand model, which is something we have had a great response to but I think there are adjustments retailers need to make so they can commit,” Wilkins said. “We needed to see it grow and that was what we wanted to test. We have signed on several accounts, which gives us a nice footprint in the North and we can start to build around that. I would of course have wanted more attendance from different accounts, and I think they would have benefitted from it. It’s a shame that retailers haven’t seemed to fully support it and that there weren’t more sustainable brands prepared to take part.”
On to London and future editions
The JATC team are now moving their sights onto the upcoming London show, set to take place between August 7 and 9. Many of the brands attending Manchester will also be positioned at the London event in the hope of striking up deals, orders and accounts with Southern stockists, a different consumer base from that of the Northern show.
Juls Dawson expressed his enthusiasm for the show, also noting that there again was a high demand. He stated: “Our pre-registered is about 30 to 40 percent up on last season, so the indications are strong for London. We are sold out, but we could have signed on more exhibitors. More and more brands are talking to each other at other trade shows and finding out about JATC, so we have had a lot of inquiries which we have had to move to next season.”
While still focused on London, Dawson did say that they had already started preparing for JATC’s next editions, with plans for some major new additions to the roster, including ‘Resort’ and ‘Swimwear’ zones, which will first be launched in London next week. “We are also launching skincare, beauty and fragrance next season,” he added. “We need more space so we will be expanding the Manchester venue too, to accommodate more brands.”
Recognising that JATC is still growing, Dawson concluded: “We are a young show, and are learning all the time and are finding our feet on our journey, but we do listen and strive to improve, and we know that we have a formula that, on the whole, is working. JATC has great potential to become even bigger and better.”