Pure London – Brands and Buyers – The Reality
Pure London, regarded as one of the key UK trade events for UK fashion retailers and international buyers to identify fashion trends and select brands to match their customer profiles and expand their customer reach.
Over 800 fashion design brands showcase their collections predominantly across womenswear, footwear and accessories, including 300 new brands. Up to 80 brands chose Pure to launch their collection, timed to coincide with the buying calendar. Pure is entirely trade focused, with exhibitors eagerly scanning badges for the key participant that makes the whole equation work – the buyer visitor.
Success for the vendor investing around £8k for a small stand, without adding any additional advertising costs for increasing profile in the show guide or numerous, costly visibility-raising exercises – catwalk shows for example, (not to mention the not insignificant investment of creating the collection in the first place and getting staff there) is judged in the first instance by the quality of prospect buyer; in terms of their buying power and not just the numbers of buyers visiting the stand. And of course, orders taken on the spot. Is the buyer representing a chain of boutiques, a department store or an independent boutique? Or heavens forbid, merely posing as a buyer to check out your collection surreptitiously? No designer at Pure would be ashamed to admit they took a sneaky peek at other vendors rails, a good way for them to assess the market also.
Some companies I spoke to only show a limited range of their collection, channelling interest instead to their showrooms for a buyer genuinely interested in their range. Designs can get unscrupulously copied apparently. The relatively new designer/vendor that knows their production limitations will not want to take on more than they can satisfy to risk souring the very relationships they are trying to finesse and develop into long time clients. Honesty and integrity are very much the watch-words, but some will over-reach through inexperience and the lure of finally underwriting the business set-up costs, a constant worry for the start-up. For the new design led business, managing the uncertainties of receiving actual orders, requires deep pockets, deep enough to sustain 1-2 years, maybe longer, of trickle-through orders. And no guarantees of ever succeeding. This year’s new vendor record intake is replacing many of those who won’t be back from last season.
Experienced buyers will forestall this eventuality by simply starting with capsule collections or smaller orders and slowly increasing order numbers with new, unknown suppliers. No-one wants to get it wrong and waste their efforts which can hurt financially, specifically the opportunity cost of not being able to push fashion product through your business – the only commodity for generating income.
Orders are often taken on the spot from existing and new customers who know what collections they want from look books, or when they see it for the first time. This has to be at the wholesale price point that allows them to draw profit from the retail mark-up their customers will bear. Usually around two and half to three times the wholesale price, and often with minimum numbers built into the order. These factors come together to determine best fit between buyer and supplier, with the buyer’s judgement on vendor reliability, quality and sustainability determined by their existing client track record, referrals and years in the business. New start-up businesses often have to demonstrate sustainability to be able to deliver to the bigger buyer, judging whether they can commit to a supply source that will not let them or their customers down. For some designers I spoke to this entails leveraging professional contacts as testimonials, drawing from when they have previously been buyers themselves for key accounts. Pretty much doing whatever it takes to win the business, assuming the buyers have come anywhere near your stand in the first place. Not always the case for some very disappointed vendors I spoke to.
Students are granted entry on the last day, not so great for the vendor who has not had great buying traction from their target audience, but important educational experience for the fashion buyer, retail specialist and designer of tomorrow. From my talks and visits to a number of stands, the whole spectrum of a successful buying experience to almost pitiful interest levels was relayed. Some discernible by a naivety of brand presentation, Vis uninviting stand layouts, some unfathomable by virtue of the contradictory success stories happening all around them. Almost as if it just wasn’t their day, their event, their time. But there’s usually always something fundamental about the product making the difference.
Some first time international brands may have a steeper learning curve, or a more challenging brand positioning act to pull off, especially if they want to be seen to be in sync with the market they are selling into. And committed to it. With the global origination and proliferation of brands at every level, there’s no reason for not knowing with some degree of marketing acumen, what is trending in your chosen market. Those that get this wrong, tend to stand out with various fashion culture visual faux pas, (that is implicitly saying, but this always works back home) though to be fair, Pure London is such an international melting pot, the buyer’s skin is sufficiently thick to look past this and discern quality and price, first and last.
However, the investment in Pure is not insignificant and tremendously disappointing for the smaller, first time entrant with poor buyer traction, and potentially financially disastrous. While 65 per cent of vendors may have already re-booked for next Pure in the summer, a third haven’t and a lot of those third will not necessarily do so. There’s a reason for that. While buyers can’t be forced to visit these newcomer stands, (or any stands) there’s a certain professional responsibility towards nurturing the talent of the very people who underwrite the costs of the event and a key part of the fashion industry buying dynamic. Try getting onto the schedule of a big buyer who already knows the designers and collections they are working with a number of seasons in advance. Aye, there’s the rub.
By Paul J Markevicius