Key Takeaways:

  • Despite a move towards remote working and digital collaboration, the major events in fashion’s calendar have not only returned to their pre-pandemic size, but many have actually expanded even further.
  • As technology has assumed an even greater importance for fashion professionals, these same milestone industry events have extended their digital footprints to play host to vital technology conversations and opportunities for collaboration.
  • On top of visiting in-person shoes to discover new trends, source materials, forge partnerships, and showcase their products, audiences see major events like MAGIC, Coterie, and the other events in the Informa Markets Fashion stable as key destinations for education and engagement that covers sourcing, partnerships, technology, and more.
  • In North America, The Interline continued to partner with SOURCING at MAGIC throughout 2023 to help bring the fashion technology conversation to life for a diversifying audience of fashion professionals and digital decision-makers.

As the world changes around fashion, one thing has remained constant: the seasonal event calendar.

For decades, fashion professionals have been making the twice-yearly pilgrimage to industry institutions like MAGIC, Project, Coterie, and other events in the Informa Markets Fashion stable. From finding the right finished products to define their retail storefronts and delight shoppers next season, to forging new partnerships built around material sourcing and manufacturing to create their own styles from scratch, fashion events have – against the odds – not only remained the cornerstones of the industry’s annual calendar, but have also taken on a new importance as fashion itself evolves.

This autumn / winter season – and, in fact, throughout 2023 – fashion’s biggest and buzziest events have widened their scope and hit new scale. More exhibitors, from more regions of the world, who came to demonstrate everything from fabric to fashion technology. More visitors, across a wider range of job roles and functions than ever, who attended these landmark shows to conduct their core business at the same time as getting up to speed on new trends, new regulations, new opportunities, and new solutions. More speakers, from celebrities to sustainability experts, who seized the opportunity to tell their stories to a dedicated audience of fashion and footwear decision-makers, all gathered in one place.

And the latest season has also seen the introduction of even more dates and locations, with events like SOURCING at MAGIC expanding to the East Coast of the USA from 19th to 21st September, after being established for decades in Las Vegas – opening up all these possibilities to a completely new cohort of fashion designers, buyers, merchandisers, sourcing managers, executives and more.

But all of this growth was by no means guaranteed. During the deepest disruptions of the pandemic, a lot of people – The Interline included – wondered aloud if the age of in-person events was coming to an end. When nobody could travel, and the idea of mounting a large physical show seemed incredibly distant, digital sourcing platforms and online education sessions filled the gap, and the feeling was that perhaps the fashion industry would find itself preferring to keep doing all these things remotely once the restrictions were lifted.

The reality turned out very differently. While the absolute basics of fashion buying and sourcing could be replicated to some extent online, a lot else was lost. Browsing through material swatches online, for example, fulfilled the essential need of discovering new fabric options, but both suppliers and their customers found that there was no substitute for in-person touch, feel, and inspiration. Similarly, browsing a digital catalogue of finished products, or exploring possibilities with new production partners, proved to be a surface-level experience when compared to discovering and directly engaging with partners – both existing and potential – from around the world.

So, after a period of enforced separation, both sides of the fashion equation – makers and the creators who buy from and collaborate with them – overwhelmingly voted with their feet and their travel budgets, and returned to in-person connection, engagement, education, and interaction.

Based on audience and exhibitor figures for this season’s marquee events, the number of people returning doesn’t account for the sheer scale of these landmark shows in 2023 – these events also secured new audiences.  SOURCING at MAGIC alone bringing in thousands of exhibitors and over ten thousand attendees to the 20th anniversary of its landmark Las Vegas show – which is co-located with Informa Markets stablemates MAGIC and Project, which each brought in tens of thousands more.

The question of whether fashion’s biggest events remain relevant in a fast-changing world has been conclusively answered, then. But what, specifically, is driving these record numbers? Why have the best-established fashion industry events been able to subvert expectations and expand at a time when remote working and online engagement have completely reshaped the way other sectors of fashion operate? Why are fashion’s most famous events getting bigger while fashion itself is apparently getting leaner?

“Fashion was evolving before the pandemic, but the speed of change since COVID has really reinforced the importance of physical events – especially those that are available in different regions, that cover all the different disciplines under the fashion umbrella, and that have a hybrid digital component” says Andreu David, VP of SOURCING at MAGIC. “Fashion now runs on a very unpredictable calendar, with retailers and brands moving to shorter, more frequent, more dynamic timelines to capture trends, and that’s really changed the way the different sides of the industry engage with one another. Sourcing patterns in 2023 look very different to how they looked in 2019, so buyers, designers, and executives are having to make more decisions, more quickly – and they want to make those choices based on first-hand interactions and equipped with the latest insights and education.”

This constant evolution has also driven the development of SOURCING at MAGIC’s hybrid approach, with digital channels of engagement between brands, retailers, and suppliers extending beyond the confines of the physical show. For example, SOURCING at MAGIC ran live in Las Vegas for three days in early August, but the SOURCING at MAGIC Online platform – which replicates onsite access to the event’s global pool of manufacturers, suppliers, and services providers, online – was available until the end of September, and also saw the organisers being nominated for an industry award for its hybrid approach.

But another important change has also been taking place over the last year, starting in August 2022, with SOURCING at MAGIC rapidly expanding its fashion technology footprint across the full spectrum of solution and process areas – from material digitisation, discovery, and digital product creation, through to sustainability and sourcing strategies and new platforms for immersive virtual shopping and consumer engagement.

For the latest season, technology shared top billing with trend, product, and partner discovery – reflecting the growth in interest, demand, and investment from brands of all shapes and sizes in tools and solutions designed to allow them to solve common challenges or seize new opportunities.

And the scale of that technology footprint was evident in several places.

First in the dedicated exhibition and pitch space, where supply chain mapping, quality management, virtual reality, product testing, and logistics automation solutions all drew crowds.

Second on the central education stage, where our Editor, Ben Hanson, led a workshop for scale-up brands that showcased the possibilities that have opened up thanks to capable, affordable technology democratising access to new tools and capabilities. Similar sessions also took place on that main stage, from the mechanics of sustainability and supply chain mapping, to new tools for collaboration between brands and their production partners.

And third, behind closed doors at the VIP Summit, where the role of digital tools in mitigating sourcing risk, overcoming overproduction, and delivering a host of other key strategic objectives were discussed.

This broad – near-universal – interest in technology mirrors what we’ve seen at The Interline in the three-plus years since we were founded. Where technology initiatives and transformation projects were once led by IT departments and sponsored by executives, they are now equally likely to be spearheaded at the grassroots level, by heads of department and passionate processes champions.

When top-down and bottom-up approaches to anything meet, the effect will be felt in the middle – in this case in the job roles where fashion professionals in design, development, sourcing, production, sales and marketing encounter creative roadblocks and commercial barriers, and look to find new ways around them. This is why, at both industry mainstay events and in our own publications, we encounter a hugely diverse audience – because technology now touches every part of the fashion value chain, and because professional development in fashion is becoming closely tied to the acquisition and deepening of digital capabilities.

This diversity is also reflected in the off-site collaborations that The Interline and Informa Markets Fashion have undertaken – from the “Fashion Technology Foundations” series that began with Digital Product Creation and will culminate with Sustainability next month, to the detailed deep-dive that is our annual DPC Report, which was first published in 2022, with a second edition due in December 2023. (Informa Markets Fashion also partners with other publications on downloadable reports and briefings that cover sustainability, sourcing trends, and more.)

And the same diversity, it appears, is also at least part of the reason that major fashion industry events have thrived at a time when many predicted they could be in decline.

“The SOURCING at MAGIC audience has evolved in a major way over the last year or so, with our core audience of sourcing, buying, and merchandising professionals now being joined at our live shows by colleagues in design, technical development, IT, marketing, and more,” concludes Andreu David. “Each of these are roles that either interact with technology on a regular basis, or whose day-to-day lives are going to be reshaped by digital tools very soon, and all of them have an essential role to play in enabling fashion to create on-trend products more quickly than ever, without compromising on quality or sustainability. From our audience’s perspective, technology goes hand-in-hand with the industry’s overall strategic direction, and I believe the ongoing success of events like ours stems from a recognition that fashion is never static, so the mechanics of fashion – which technology plays a huge part in today – should never stand still.”

This year’s event season may now be coming to a close, but there’s currently every reason to expect that 2024 will see major fashion industry events continuing on the same upwards trajectory. From geopolitics to the speed of trend, various market forces are coming together to make fashion a more complex and faster-moving industry than it has ever been. So as even more job roles from across fashion begin to look for solutions to the challenges this creates, we expect to see technology not just coming along for the ride as the industry’s biggest shows continue to expand, but also helping to drive that growth.

About our partner: SOURCING at MAGIC is redefining sourcing and buying solutions for the ever-changing fashion industry. Increase discovery, maximize shopping experiences and find new cutting-edge solutions through thoughtfully organized merchandising and engaging product demonstrations throughout our live events – with SOURCING at MAGIC returning next to Las Vegas from 13th to 15th February 2024.