Like so many other fashion events, PI Apparel has made its return after a pandemic-induced hiatus that saw its in-person networking events readjust to a new digital format. Now, almost three years after its last event took place in 2019 in Italy, the organisation hosted its Supply Chain Forum Europe in Amsterdam, where it was initially set to appear in 2020.
“No one knew what was around the corner when we were scheduled for 2019,” said David Wilcox, head of communications at PI Apparel, in a conversation with FashionUnited. “It’s been amazing to get back to in-person events again. This whole week we felt the energy from the fashion community getting back together and we have had more attendees than we have ever had in Europe before.”
The event itself took place over the course of two days, April 28 to 29, and closely followed PI Apparel’s prior forum centred around Product Development, which took place earlier in the week from April 25 to 26. Visitors could jump from speeches and focus groups to one-on-one meetings with supply chain solution providers, all of which could be arranged through a dedicated app distributed beforehand, where users could also access more information about each attendee.
“We want to facilitate conversations. People come here to connect with the rest of the industry, and it can often be difficult to find someone that you want to speak to,” Wilcox noted. “You may know someone’s job title, but you also need to know their challenges and why they are coming to an event, which is why we let everyone fill in their profiles, see who is attending and organise meetings. If you formalise it and you put it into an introductory, 15 minute meeting, it creates a simple way for people to achieve the whole reason they came to the event - to meet new people and make new connections.”
Return to face-to-face meetings
The event was faced with the unfortunate fact that it took place immediately after King’s Day, April 27, a national holiday in the Netherlands that consists of day-long street parties, possibly resulting in the decrease of foot traffic at the forum. However, the quiet atmosphere did not deter present exhibitors, many of which had also been in attendance at the event earlier in the week.
“After King’s Day, there was definitely an impact, but we have actually used that to our advantage,” said Raine Georgiou, marketing manager of New York software company, Infor. “It has allowed us to have more in-depth conversations. Normally, we get stuck in the IT route, so it’s nice for us to talk to a wider variety of people - it has been really positive in that sense.”
This sentiment was also mirrored by Katrina Duck, senior client engagement manager at Serai, a HSBC-owned firm based in Hong Kong focused on traceability solutions for the supply chain.
“Without travelling for two years, I think face-to-face meetings are amazing. A zoom meeting will never fill that void,” Duck said. “We are here to network and this is the first forum we have been at. Our goal was to create more brand awareness and meet people that didn’t know us, and I think we have done that. It has been interesting to connect with so many international people.”
Similarly, attendees of the event were also positive about the chance for connections during the forum. Katherine Absher, manager, fashion and digital design of Cotton Incorporated, was among those that enjoyed the chance for in-person interactions. Being just two years old, the non-profit organisation's digital department is something that is continuously developing, with this event coming as part of Absher’s agenda to further drive this growth.
“The highest value of an event like this was to meet people that you probably wouldn’t have connected with working separately,” she said. “I think it’s about putting people who are working on the same or similar projects together and giving them a chance to meet and connect. With this event being in Europe, and Cotton Inc. being based in the US, I did find that not very many people were familiar with our organisation, so it is something to take back to my team to maybe push us in that direction.”
Speaking on the content of the forum, Absher added: “With the work and research I have been doing, you always worry that you are not doing enough to stay in the know, so it has been nice to know that, from what I have gathered from questions other people are asking and the sessions themselves, I am actually familiar with that is being talked about and have a good understanding of it. It was good to know we are aware of the same things and working on those together.”
New EU regulations and cross-industry collaboration
It was this idea of cross-industry collaboration that was a particular theme in the array of speeches, focus groups and panel talks over the two days. “I think we need to think about putting creators on the same stage as the brand,” said Borre Akkersdijk, founder of Byborre, a material development platform, during his presentation on Friday. Akkersdijk spoke of dismantling the gatekeeping of responsible textile creation, something he has set out to do with Byborre. “We are democratising the accessibility to innovation,” he noted.
Like in other talks, Akkersdijk was also asked about the EU’s new Textile Strategy, which will enforce strict regulations upon brands to adopt sustainable and ethical practices. “I think it's interesting to see how legislation is pushing industries to be more responsible,” he said, further adding that fashion should take notes from other industries like food, that are already regulated.
A similar topic related to new legislations was touched upon by Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) lecturer Sandra Kuijpers and Miriam Geelhoed, a consultant at Modint, who talked about the implementation of set digital criteria for measuring fabric, something mills have so far been reluctant to adopt. However, as noted by Kuijpers, with new regulations set to be put in place, this technology might not be as far reaching as once thought. Such a framework, added Kuijpers, could help garments to become predictable in terms of their life cycle, longevity and waste, tying neatly in with what the EU will soon require from textile companies.
Expectations for the incoming legislation was especially covered in a presentation by Dirk Vantyghem from Euratex, who set out to simplify the rules and help attendees get a feel for what these could mean once put into place.
“While the textile industry was once often ignored or forgotten when it came to sustainability frameworks,” Vantyghem said, “it is now about to undergo a complete restructuring.” He added that Euratex was in favour of this transition, stating: “We want to maintain an open market but we believe that everybody should respect the same standards.”
The recent publishing of the EU’s Textile Strategy was something that had to be quickly factored into the final event. David Wilcox noted: “When you are talking about regulatory compliance and regulations, these are a constant issue especially within the supply chain side of things, so those kinds of talks are always scheduled for these events. You do have to be agile as a production team in creating these agendas, especially right now, you always have to have a few ideas in your back pocket.”
Overall, the event was successful in driving home the need for more cross-industry collaboration to help resolve supply chain issues, putting an emphasis on democratising access to resources to make them more widely available. Additionally, the return to an in-person convention was favoured by exhibitors and attendees alike, with both warmly welcoming the structure of previously planned meeting slots and an open forum that encouraged plenty of dialogue.