Reinventing the Fashion Trade Show

Fashion trade shows are often dry, dreary affairs devoid of innovation and excitement. But they don’t have to be. Case in point, last week we visited Origin Passion & Beliefs in Vicenza, in the heart of Italy’s manufacturing base in the north, where thousands of family-owned mills, factories and workshops have called home for centuries. Conceived by Stefan Siegel of the online network powerhouse Not Just a Label (NJAL), in association with Fiera di Vicenza, the event — nay, “concept fair” — eschews the traditional trade show by doing something quietly revolutionary: bringing suppliers to the table as exhibitors.

Pairing NJAL’s global roster of independent designers with the finest manufacturers in Italy, those that give meaning to the Made In Italy tag, is both novel and ambitious. “This has been an extraordinary experiment in cross-fertilization,” said Matteo Marzotto, the effervescent chief of Fiera di Vicenza. “We’re bringing together new talents in international design with the most prestigious super-suppliers in the fashion system, representing all the regions in the country.”

Out of NJAL’s 18,000 indie labels, a cross-section of one hundred were handpicked to attend Origin, now in its second edition, representing 37 countries on the home turf of some 70 Italian suppliers. The fact that this was even a possibility, to connect mostly underground and unknown designers with the cream of Italy’s manufacturers, those usually reserved for the black book of the fashion elite, is a feat worth applauding. But the four-day event wasn’t just a fierce networking opportunity; there were seminars, workshops, and a unique take on speed-dating that saw designers and suppliers thrust together on an hourly basis.

We were given a guided tour of the event, which, although it could only scratch the surface, nonetheless revealed some of the innovation on display: seventh-generation weavers; the silk-production process, from tree to worm and back again; shoes that could be worn multiple ways; bespoke techno fabrics; and wood that was so finely sliced it could be curved into handbags. It was a feast for the creative mind, and many of the designers were taking full advantage of the business advice on offer.

Indeed this was an inventive, progressive approach to the fashion trade show, blurring the line between professional and non-professional, designer and supplier, public and private, and generally abandoning all rules in favor of new, more egalitarian production models. The new generation of global tastemakers has a lot to learn from old-school artisanal Italian luxury — and vice versa.

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