10 Trade Show Survival Tips For Fashion Designers

Whether you’re showing at Designers and Agents, Capsule, FFANY, Coterie, MAGIC, or anywhere else, if you are a fashion designer who wants to sell products at wholesale to retailers, here is a solid list of things to keep in mind.

by Seth Friedermann and Charles Beckwith

#1 – Don’t expect buyers to show up without an appointment.

Simply taking a trade show booth is highly unlikely to result in sales. Buyers don’t spend a lot of time browsing during Market Week.

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#2 – Start reaching out to boutiques several months in advance.

Identify the top 40 boutiques that you want to see your designs in. Do this by comparing price points and finding similar brands to zero in on places where you believe your work will sell. Use email, social media, store visits, cookies, whatever you can. Don’t be annoying, but do be honest and direct.

Remember, you are saying to the buyer, “I believe I can make you money.”

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#3 – You don’t have to accept the first rate and location the trade show organizers give you.

You have to fight for the best deal and the best location you can get. You want to be near the door or the food, but not at the end of a row. If you register with other designers, you may be able to get a group discount. Haggling is one of fashion’s finest traditions.

#4 – Once you sign your deal and have your booth number, use every outlet available to you to let the world know where you will be.

Re-contact all the buyers on your list and let them know where you will be. Send an email, send a postcard, and ping them on social media the day the show starts.

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#5 – Use committed people to staff your booth.

Even though you should carry the bulk of the hours, you will need breaks. Your booth can NEVER be empty, not even for a second. The people you choose to help you must be as knowledgeable and passionate about your designs as you are. You are responsible for their preparation and performance.

#6 – Make sure your booth matches your brand.

Use color, props, graphics, lighting, furnishings, et al… But make sure it sends one message…

I am ______. 

Make sure the word you use to fill in that blank isn’t “cluttered” or “inaccessible” or…

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#7 – Be social on social.

Network your brains out and take tons of photos to share. Encourage the brands you meet to do the same for your brand. Make contacts and stay in touch. Close to half of all brand collaborations start with meetings at trade shows.

#8 – Practice your pitch for each piece.

Explain to the buyers why X design will do well with their customer. They rarely find designers who understand their lives; be the exception.

#9 – Have sweets at your booth.

That doesn’t require an explanation, does it? A little hospitality goes a long way.

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#10 – Get cards and other contact info.

Solicit feedback, and as soon as the person is out of sight, write what they said down and attach their name to it. Then… follow up, follow up, follow up. Nothing impresses people more than having what they said remembered.

BONUS TIPS

You should bring… business cards, disposable pens, markers, tape, a power strip, a stapler with extra staples, a notebook, paper, a laptop or tablet, trash bags, zip-lock bags, and for the sake of all humanity… caffeine. Do you know how popular you’ll be if you have a coffee machine in your booth?!?!

You should probably not be on the phone or social media if you are the only person in your booth.

If you’re feeling really exhausted and burned out, take a walk. Go outside. Don’t have that energy in your booth.

Dress up, but be aware that you’ll likely be standing on concrete all day for three days straight, so plan footwear accordingly.

Lighting can really transform a booth. A simple lamp can do wonders for grey walls.

Producing locally? Invite buyers to visit your workspace, tour the factory you’re using, or visit you at your alpaca farm upstate.

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