New York City’s tradeshow circuit is slowly returning. Project New York is making a welcome return to the schedule after cancelling due to the surge in the Omicron COVID-19 variant last winter. Now, the annual tradeshow is set to return from July 18 to 19 at Iron 23. Edwina Kulego, vice president of international and business development at Project New York, spoke with FashionUnited about the show’s return, how the organization is working to keep attendees safe from COVID-19, and how tradeshows have changed as we fight to emerge from the pandemic.
What was the demand to bring back Project in-person?
We recognize that there’s importance in having a dedicated menswear event in NYC, especially after our 2-year hiatus. From both the brand and retail sides, we’ve had many requests to return to in-person shows. In terms of location, NYC is imperative not only for our U.S. brands, but from an international perspective as well. We want to replace traditional events with a fresh approach and spark new ideas and dialog within our community of top designers, buyers, innovators and industry tastemakers. Brands and retailers alike are wanting to connect in-person to network and speak about the challenges and trends shaping the next wave of fashion for seasons to come.
What guidelines are being set up to ensure attendee safety?
Safety at our events is always at the forefront of our mind. We always adhere to city guidelines and protocols. At our events, we have enhanced cleaning, provide masks, have sanitizer stations and beyond.
What's been the response from buyers and retailers?
The response has been very positive. The desire to discover new and emerging brands is strong, both U.S.-based and international. There’s something about touching and seeing the products in-person that was missed. Since the pandemic, the community has asked us to come back, and we are listening. Our event format is a new strategy based on what our customers are asking for. They understand that the industry is changing (because of COVID) and with that change comes opportunity. Project NY addresses the needs of both our brands and buying communities, and we choose the central location to make attendance easier for all who come.
How large is this upcoming show expected to be compared to past shows?
This is a curated, intimate event featuring about 60 brands across a wide range of categories. In the past, we’ve covered all men’s categories and levels of distribution, but now we see that our customers want more curated offerings on relevant brands and new, emerging designers and trends across apparel, footwear, and other accessories. Retailer registration to-date has been very positive, with a larger department store representation this season.
How has the trade show circuit changed since COVID-19?
We’ve seen the appetite for trade shows heightened as our customers are looking to return to in-person events, with being able to touch and feel the collections, discovering new brands, and overall networking/connecting with one another. Shows now, more than ever, need to be more than just buying and selling. It needs to be an opportunity to get like-minded fashion folks together to connect, innovate, and create. It is no longer a one size fits all strategy; we need to focus on the different needs for each category of business. We need to focus on helping businesses via omni-channel approach, creating content opportunities, business resources, and support on match making. There is also a major focus on supporting minority brands through IMFC and sustainability of course as the new generations are demanding it.
How did postponing last season help better prepare you for this upcoming season?
For the upcoming season, we’re able to accommodate more retailers and international brands who were not able to attend in the past due to travel restrictions. We feel confident in our ability to deliver a safe event for our customers. With the postponement, we’ve also been able to speak to our showing brands and buyers to create an experience they fully believe in and are excited for.
What's been the most difficult part of organizing an in-person show again?
As a team, we’re being flexible in our approach knowing that Covid creates an always-changing situation, so it’s about staying nimble, never knowing what may happen. That said, we’ve been organizing in-person events for many years and as such, have the tools and resources to bring them back in an impactful way. Navigating Covid restrictions and guidelines have been a challenge for all in-person events, but with our ability to provide safety and expected great turnout, we’re thrilled to have our communities of brands and buyers come together.
What are you all doing to attract international buyers again?
We are lucky to have a retail relation team to focus on both domestic and international retail attendance. We have hired men’s industry influencer Mordechai Rubinstein to specifically support getting all the best top stores globally to our menswear events. As many travel bans have now been lifted, we have seen a great interest from our international brands and buyers to come to the U.S. for all Project events. We are so grateful for that. I was also able to travel again to Europe to discover new brands and cultivate new relationships with brands who we think would attract everyone who attends our shows. They have missed our shows, our community and are excited to be back. There is nothing like being face to face.
What are the advantages you all see to aligning closer to the other men's market shows?
Our shows are all about community over competition. As all we want to do is make it easier for the buyers who may cross shop multiple categories, we want to always work together to do what is right for the industry. Gone are the days where we can try to stand alone as competitors. We need to all be working together to do what is best for our customers. That is real progress. Any of the old school mentality will only hurt what is best for the business at large. We take an inclusive, customer-led approach.
Why was Iron 23 selected as the location?
It is a totally new concept for us, it allows for a more intimate, curated experience which is what we want for our New York events moving forward. It allows more interaction, more curation, more networking, and it is modernizing the evolution of our NY event into our new normal which is fully different from the past. Having a central location is key for us and we feel that this stunning new venue will only continue to elevate our customer’s experience.
Why did Project decide to expand to include gender fluid brands?
Project has always been an event that showcases the most prominent and contemporary brands in our industry. Our aim is to always serve our retailers with inclusive fashion that is outside of the norm. Gender fluidity in fashion is not new, and we don’t see it as a “trend” - it’s who we are and have always been, which we see demand for with our customers. We always want to make sure we are listening to the industry and addressing what will soon be a very normal part of fashion. We stand for inclusivity, diversity, equality, and we will support the designers who are taking risks, creating for the future, and allowing fashion to be a way of self-expression. While traditional menswear will always be here, we are focusing on what is now and future for the fashion industry.AUTHOR: Kristopher Fraser PLEASE Publish a copy of this story as non-featured on UK, IN, NZ, IE