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Revivals, mergers and London’s return: What went down at the first Pure London x JATC

By Rachel Douglass


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Pure London x JATC, Feb 2024 edition. Credits: Pure London x JATC.

In the world of the UK’s trade show landscape, the merging of Pure London and Just Around the Corner (JATC) was a one that brought much attention to the industry. The duo, once rivals individually hosting their respective events in the UK’s capital, announced their decision to come together mid-2023, aligning with the promise of boosting reach and offer. It reaffirmed a trend for such unification among the wider trade show industry – with Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF) also recently absorbing its smaller rival Revolve, bringing exhibitors under one roof.

Spanning February 11 to 13, and running simultaneously to sister fair Scoop, also run by parent company Hyve Group, the first edition of Pure London x JATC took place, returning to Pure’s home of Olympia London, welcoming a “record number” of exhibitors to the venue. Over the course of the three days, the event played host to trend seminars, panel discussions and runways shows, where featured brands and overarching seasonal trends were put on display for all those passing through.

Merging markets and missions

Like CIFF, the challenge for Pure and JATC was to combine their missions, a learning curve for the shows’ respective organisers, Gloria Sandrucci and Juls Dawson. Next to the goal of making the trade show more accessible for buyers and exhibitors, elements of each show could be seen among the stands. For example, a new showroom package allowed exhibitors to have a more simple, and therefore cheaper format. Speaking to FashionUnited, Sandrucci added: “For us, we embraced the more simplistic way that Juls had at JATC. We’ve introduced other very simple packages to allow new brands, young talents to experience the show in an innovative way.”

This was evident in Pure x JATC’s expanded ‘Pop’ section where, alongside established Gen Z-targeted brands, were a number of upcoming labels led by Gen Z themselves. One-year-old Heretic Nine was among those, co-founded by Leyla Edwards, who draws on past eras to inform her highly otherworldly yet nostalgia-based collections. Akin to the concept of Pop as a whole, Edwards’ mission is to eventually de-gender fashion and while the brand itself stood out among some of the more household names, she said that being at the event has helped her to learn a lot in the way of business and how to operate.

Heretic Nine’s presence at Pure comes ahead of a soon-to-be-revealed collaboration with Asos, which has previously offered the brand’s collections through its e-commerce site, and on the back of a concept store opening in Shoreditch. And being at the event has only expanded the possibilities for Edwards, who said: “Quite a few developing streetwear boutiques and outlets have come by, a lot from Ireland and a few in the US and around Europe. I’m also looking for people to collaborate with. We’re around pretty like-minded people, so it’s been quite a community-feel here and I’ve done a lot of networking.”

Pure London x JATC, Feb 2024 edition. Credits: Pure London x JATC.

Such a mission to bolster newcomers has and will continue to be an important part of Pure x JATC, and for Sandrucci, who noted that it was also the second time the fair had partnered with the Graduate Fashion Foundation, participants of which showed their own lines at the show. She continued: “They’re the future. They are absolutely crucial to the landscape of fashion. We are very much championing young talent and offer a pared back solution for brands that are nearing the start of their journey, with pre-ordered furniture, so brands can turn up with their wares and it makes attending easier for them.”

Former JATC exhibitors become Pure returnees

This builds on JATC’s prior mission of backing those who have less accessibility to the industry overall. For Dawson in particular, there had previously been an emphasis on the Northern industry, bringing in a demographic from this area through biannual Manchester events, which were decidedly closer to home for Northern English, Northern Irish and Scottish retailers, for which a trip to London was likely too much of a financial burden.

It was a concept that drew some exhibitors towards JATC, pushing them to switch out Pure in favour of what they perceived as a more wide-reaching and accessible event. While the trade show’s parent company, Hyve Group, also hosts an event in Birmingham – a city that is on the cusp of the northern territory – the departure from this setup seemingly proved a little disappointing to some.

Among those was Byoung, a Danish brand under the DK Company umbrella that hosted one of the larger stands at this edition of the show. The label had been a long-time exhibitor at Pure before it opted to move to JATC. Now returning to the Olympia grounds, for the representatives of the brand, despite a buoyant footfall of independents, there was a distinct lack of Irish and Northern retailers. They had also seen a similar mentality among the buyers that were stopping by, who were expecting to see a much bigger iteration of past editions.

Pure London x JATC, Feb 2024 edition. Credits: Pure London x JATC.

Agent Mary Ryan said: “The problem is, when splitting the shows and now coming back, not enough brands have also come back. A lot of buyers have come back but the general feeling is there is not enough here. There needs to be more of the bigger brands. We are part of DK Company, so we’ve got this big area. I think as much as buyers have come back because they like the idea of the shows being together, there have been a few disappointed ones that expected it to be bigger.”

This contrasted the sentiment of Cara Melzack, CEO and founder of Cara & The Sky, who had similarly been a prior attendee of JATC, but for whom the latest shift had been a positive experience. She commented: "I like that they’ve kept the feel of JATC, just having the rails so we didn’t have to buy into giant production areas. It’s been a huge benefit because there’s just one show everyone’s coming to. You don’t have to divide your time. I’ve got lots of new customers. It’s a large venue, which can make it feel quiet, but I’m selling. It’s been a really positive experience. And the team has been so welcoming.”

Revival of menswear and eveningwear

As mentioned, a record number of exhibitors were present amid what Pure’s Sandrucci said was a “curve” that was only growing. Such expansion could be seen among the “destinations” of the event. While Pure had initially put its focus on womenswear, JATC was decidedly more diversified despite its smaller format, bringing together a much more equal mix of womenswear, menswear and accessories. As such, on the balcony of Olympia London overlooking the fair’s ground were a handful of menswear and accessory brands, representing the expanded categories for the season.

On the challenge of retaining relevance among the categories, Sandrucci said: “The level of people travelling is going to exceed pre-pandemic. That is a reflection of what we have to keep in mind for developing new areas. Clothing has definitely become very much versatile, you can dress up or dress down according to the accessories that you are utilising. That's why it's so important that we've got all these destination areas together and offer a retailer a department store experience.”

Menswear has arguably navigated the wave of economic uncertainty with more difficulty than womenswear. Yet with the upcoming surge in tailoring, one of the definitive trends among brands this season according to Sandrucci, the reintroduction of the menswear category was critical for this edition. In a talk alongside journalist Eric Musgrave, Dawson said: “A lot of brands and boutiques offer for men and women, specialising in both, and that means we can offer what they want. Womenswear is about 60 percent of our industry, but menswear is still key. When so much of the high street is working in competition and looking the same, independent boutiques make such a fantastic point of difference. They can really concentrate on what the people in their location want.”

Pure London x JATC, Feb 2024 edition. Credits: Pure London x JATC.

Another sector on the up following a pandemic-induced standstill is eveningwear, a category which had a growing, yet still notably small presence at Pure x JATC. For Manchester-based Portia & Scarlett, a brand that was recently acquired by Australian group Allure Bridals last year, this smaller presence meant that the typical prom-centric clients the team usually targets were lacking, albeit it allowed them to delve deeper into a more multicultural market that they had previously not considered. Used to the chaos of seasonal and specialised trade shows the brand usually frequents, the team at Pure said there was a much calmer atmosphere, however that allowed them to speak to a number of potential clients to onboard at a later date.

On the event and industry as a whole, agent Eleanor McKinnon said: “In bridal, we had a boom in 2022 when everyone went back to shopping, and that’s kind of plateaued. We’re hoping for a lot more growth this year. Eveningwear has been hit harder because this is not an essential item that is also available on other platforms at a lower price point. Prom girls were watching what they’re spending, but they’re coming back because they want the experience and choice. They don’t want to go online, they want to try it on. It’s been quiet [at Pure] for us, but I think that with our type of product, we’re probably more likely to have more footfall at a show directed towards this product. We’ve mostly seen small boutique owners that want high-priced items, so that hasn’t been a problem. I did approach this event from a more networking standpoint, so it has been really good to see that there are other stores that would be interested in this kind of product.”

Supply chain issues are not a factor but high street concern remains

In fact, a large part of the UK has become a lot more budget-conscious in the past year, as the cost-of-living crisis continues to clamp down on the wallets of end consumers. It is this factor that has also sowed a seed of doubt into the longevity of high streets across the country, a concern that could be seen even among the largest of exhibitors of Pure. Ryan of Byoung, for example, said that while parent company DK was not worried about the similarly ongoing supply chain issues – noting that Danish shipping company Maersk had been able to avoid any delays – she added that physical retailers, and especially independents, were feeling the squeeze.

Amid an ongoing strategy to secure a larger foothold in the bigger markets like the US, Ryan said of the current atmosphere among UK retailers: “They’re trudging along, doing their best, but online is affecting them. They all say that. But I think there’s been a lot of things in the last year, because we’ve had the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine, and all of those are feeding into it. It’s not just online.”

Sandrucci recognised the concern, yet had a more positive outlook on the future, commenting: “We saw a very strong attendance of buyers here and also at the previous show we had in Birmingham last week [Spring Fair]. We know that buyers are out there and they want to buy so that is actually quite encouraging and a really good sign for what the future will be. UK trade shows are super important because the budgets are tighter and there's not the same budgets for buyers to go sourcing abroad.”

Pure London x JATC, Feb 2024 edition. Credits: Pure London x JATC.

In relation to supply chain concerns – largely centred around the Red Sea, where there has been a hold up in distribution due to certain attacks – the overarching feeling is a less immediate worry. Spanish brand Vilagallo, another expansive exhibitor at the fair, said that with production in Europe the team had not experienced many difficulties, simply dealing occasionally with slightly late orders.

By now, however, with the turbulence of the supply chain having already been ongoing for a number of years, JATC’s Dawson hopes brands are well adjusted to the flexibility needed. He added: “There have long been problems with the supply chain and hopefully people build that into their critical path now, because there's always something at this point. I'm an agent as well and most of my brands are delivering spring on time despite there being a one or two week delay because they built it into their process. You have to make allowances nowadays.”

What’s to come

Both Dawson and Sandrucci have a positive perspective, in fact, with a lot of hope for the future of the UK industry. “Travelling is coming back. London has suffered from a lack of tourism, and people are scheduling big trips now just for buying. That is certainly something that I can see coming back,” Sandrucci said. When asked how as event organisers, they ensure the event stays relevant for those attending, she added: “We really embrace changes and in order to stay relevant. We reinvent ourselves constantly in how we do trade shows. This is an example of coming together, the resources that you can combine. We are bringing the breadth of branding, we are growing the brand mix, which then gives the retailers the freedom to spend their time here. What consumers' behaviours are, what they want; so really always being ahead of the curve and that's where our trend partners become helpful because we can understand where to focus our energies.”

When it comes down to what to expect for next season, the duo are tight-lipped, but their enthusiasm for what is to come already hints at big things. Dawson, who said the merging of events was a “dream come true”, said: “It's just what we wanted to make it easier for the buyers and the industry, to bring everything together. We've seen it happen in other capital cities around the world, like Copenhagen. And the reaction when we first announced this over six months ago was really positive. We saw the impact of that this time with the show growing so much, so we're expecting big growth given the reaction we've had the last few days.”

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