I waited a spate of time after Daniel’s entries lest this entry become lost amid his journal entries. This is an interview that I conducted with an unnamed DE I’ll call “A”. It is largely a recitation of everything he and his wife did wrong at their recent launch at Moda Manhattan. Please be gentle, they were already on the downward slope of the launch when they found the blog, the book and the forum; too late they say, to change gears.
A says they didn’t walk Moda Manhattan before committing to show there. They’d been focusing on product development to the exclusion of all else and wanted to get a return, to make an impact this season rather than waiting for the next season. Their strategy was to research online, asking around to pick a show and jump in the fire. In the end, A says it was a worthwhile investment -not to generate orders- but as educational experience, learning along the way.
He says they narrowed it down to the two most likely shows, Intermettzo and Moda, which were being held at the same time at the Javitz center. He says they asked everyone they knew which shows were the best bet and none had heard of Intermezzo. He said others had heard of Coterie (owned by ENK) but they didn’t know enough to ask about that show at the time.
We submitted our stuff to Moda for jurying. We asked tons of question beyond the basics of cost ($6,000 10X10 booth). One of the first things I asked after looking at the past exhibitor’s list, was that the show looked to serve a different demographic, older than our stuff (our target is 18-35). I candidly asked Ellen because we wanted to make sure this was our show, and I told her our price points, and she said “we have lots of young designers, we’ll group you with them, the price points will be similar, buyers are looking for this stuff” and we took her word for it.
Fast forward, we set up; it was a mad scramble. There’s much more to do before you get there (can provide more later). We found our little booth, the day the show starts, and the stuff around us was nothing like us. Across from us was plus size new-agey yoga clothes, obviously targeting a totally different demography. It was totally the wrong spot for us to be in. Also, it was a mixed show with Fall, Holiday and a bit of Spring; Ellen (from Moda) said the show was 30% Fall, 50% Holiday and 20% Spring. What we found was that the show was mostly Fall (50%), Holiday (45%) and 5% Spring and our line was mostly Spring but some pieces would work for Holiday. Maybe out of the 25 pieces we showed there, 15 might have worked for Holiday. It was definitely different from what we were told so we stuck out.
We were also mis-sold on the age group buyers were shopping for being surrounded by people nothing like us. Ellen promised we would be around young hip clothes and her defense was that we got into the show late so she had to stick us there. She said that walking up front, there were young designers there but there was only one. Price points of the other vendors were significantly lower than ours, their game was selling to Target not Barney’s (our goal). Our wholesale prices ranged from $80- $215 with most in the range of $150. The only price points that came close to us were evening wear, long flowing stuff. Most vendors price points were $15-$40. That was a bit of a shock to see.
Once the show got under way, 95% of buyers or maybe even 98 percent were well over the age of 40 and looking for clothes they would wear. It was grey haired types running around buying. Any woman in their 20’s would glance at us for half a second, but if they had grey hair, they didn’t even look at us, quizzical looks like why were we there, these poor people, why are they here? We did get some traffic from NY types, they would all stop, exchange information. We got one of those maybe once every three hours. I felt we were mislead. Ellen was so sweet, so kind. The Coterie has five times more people wanting to get in their show so they let their inner Meryl Streep show through (Devil Wears Prada). I told Ellen I didn’t think she accurately described the nature of the show and she got this deer in the headlights look. Other people paid for a 20×20 show, were in stores already, had a nice catalog and had been around, not green and even they didn’t take an order. They were selling at a lower price than we were, maybe 15% lower than us although a little younger than we were but more conservative. Our line is a little zanier with more prints.
Pros and cons
I don’t necessarily consider it a total loss. We noticed ENK Shows Intermezzo tags on younger buyer’s necks which is where we should have shown but we found Moda first. Online there’s lots of hype about shows but nothing about their audience with lots of yadda yadda. Intermezzo’s site had no info at all either, one reason we chose Moda was because it had more description. In real life though, Intermezzo was four times the size of Moda. The first five booths there were majors, Juicy Couture etc. Anybody who’s anybody in the NY scene had a booth there. It was a totally different universe; booths were funky and hip. There was twenty or thirty young buyers for every person over forty.
Back at Moda, we were befriended by a rep across from us (not from the yoga line) who had ten lines there. He wrote tons of orders, left and right. He’d been doing it for twenty years, his parents had been in the business; even his wife was there, she used to be a designer and a buyer. He came over and said, “I can tell right now, you’ve never done a show before. If you’d been across the hall, you would have written $20,000 dollars worth of orders. You didn’t walk the show before did you”? He was abrupt but straight to the point. He said, “don’t believe a friggin word they say if a show has a single empty booth. Shows will say whatever it takes to get you there”. He said I needed to get into a showroom and gave me name of two (at Intermezzo). He said a good reputable showroom will charge $1,000-$2,000 a month as a draw against future commissions.
We did take one order from a small boutique, a new store. They didn’t buy from our pockets of mix and match but bought a run of sizes for about five different styles. I’m set up to bill at shipping, I learned that from you. I was prepared to fight a big war over that but it was a non issue, no bother at all. I ran into lots of stuff right from the book, like, I wanna buy pieces just for me and my friends, onsies. One glamorous woman gave us a lot of grief, but it didn’t seem to made sense. I took your advice. My wife was tempted, wavering after two days of nothing but we sent her packing. She gave us this huge hassle over our minimum. She wanted all kinds of givebacks but in the end, of course she didn’t do it.
At the end of the day we had to ask ourselves, was this a sound investment? It’s easy to call it a complete failure but we can’t think of it like that. I’m willing to pay to accelerate learning to get on the fast track rather than easing into it. As the person investing and not knowing anything about fashion, I wanted a sanity check of the world’s reaction to her stuff. I think her stuff looks great but is it going to sell? I wanted someone else’s reaction, not mine.
We learned an immense amount on what to watch out for, to see what it feels like, to deal with people not on the up and up on their show. Reading advice without really knowing or walking a show or talking to someone who’s been in a show, there was no way for us to check up on what we were told. Maybe I’m just justifying, but I’m almost glad it wasn’t our dream show. Being obviously new with imperfections, if it had to happen, at least it wasn’t in front of people we wanted to impress. Midway through the second day when I realized this, it almost felt a little liberating. I was glad we weren’t in front of the traffic, we stopped caring that we looked really new. We became very comfortable and able to talk to other people. We got a lot of advice on what we were doing wrong. We got to go through all the things you can do wrong but not in front of people we want to impress. Next time we can do it well. It was good to walk through both shows, we got to see how everyone prepared their booths. We could have seen these if we’d walked the show but as an exhibitor and paying for a space, we got more access to other exhibitors.
We did get two positive things out of it. Two people from the other show rushed into the booth. One was a stylist from 17 Magazine who wanted samples for a photo shoot, as did the other party (a prominent ecommerce site). We weren’t sure if we should be lending out samples but the stylist gave us her credit card number so we let her have them. That was a good decision and got them back no worse for wear.
One last bit. I talked to a rep at a showroom at Intermezzo. He said, “oh, you’re at the crappy show, what are you doing there”. Apparently, Moda is viewed as a second tier show. The rep said that if we show elsewhere, that our application should not say we showed at Moda (makes you look cheap). He said if you have to fill out a form including any other shows you’ve been in, don’t put down Moda. It’ll do you more damage than good.
I can’t stress walking the show enough, you have to find some way to get information on a show because people will straight up lie to you, nice as you please. There’s no potential long term damage to them, they’re just filling booths. Have you ever met a rude used car salesman? You need the people who don’t need you; the ones who don’t suck up. If you haven’t walked the show or have unbiased information, who you’re next to, positioning, branding of the show, be prepared to sell nothing and have a drastically different experience than what you were told. If you do it anyway, talk to other booths, try to make all the mistakes, and be bold enough to try what you want, experiment. Another place to get advice on shows is the forum because some information is too proprietary to post in a public place.