Getting into your first trade show

Angela writes:

The fabric/trade shows: how does one attend if one is not yet an “industry professional” or “student”? I get the feeling that walking up to the door of an event without any credentials would be futile. Any suggestions? Shows which don’t mind look-y-loos?

I don’t know and I’m sorry. I do know that a lot of times, the show management posts all these rules to scare people off but if you go to register and act like you belong, you’ll be okay. I mean, that’s what I do when I want to get into shows that have nothing to do with what I’m doing. I do know that it will not hurt to get on industrial mailing lists (Apparel magazine, Canadian Apparel* magazine etc) because you’ll get coupons or codes in the mail (or via email) to sign up for stuff. Note: when you register on any industry site, do it right; don’t fill in bogus information. This business is really small. People are connected in the most unlikely ways and they will talk. Some amateurs following a link from here last year, went and filed bogus applications over at the Canadian Apparel Federation and I heard all about it. That makes everybody look bad. Industrial sites simply do not have the time, money, interest nor inclination to send you a bunch of junk either on their behalf or selling it to someone else. Business to business sales (at least in this business) are nothing like the pervasive non-stop marketing onslaught typical of consumer level retail so don’t worry. You want to get on all the mailing lists you can. At least at the outset. If anything, this business is the opposite. You sign up for stuff and nobody sends you anything.

Personally, I’ve never been to a wholesale clothing show like Magic (I’ve only gone to the machine, fabric and equipment shows). I have often wondered how I would get into something like Magic because I’m not a buyer or a non-exhibiting competitor (manufacturer). I’ve thought that when the time comes, I just call up one of the people I know and get them to get me a badge but I know that is not something that everyone can do. My experience at fabric shows won’t help you either. I was usually invited to attend (as a speaker) or I knew the show’s promoter.

There are smaller fabric shows that cater to start ups like the AIBI shows in Chicago. There are smaller shows in NY and LA too but I’ve never been to those. The rules are lax to get into the smaller shows. Often it only takes a business card and a recent canceled check. They’re asking for a canceled check so they know you have a legitimate account. If your check is a personal account with some sewing icons on it, it may be a problem. My business checks don’t even have my name on them; a practice I’d recommend. I mean, do large businesses have the owner’s name on the checks? Nope. Just the little guys who haven’t figured that part out yet. I’d also recommend the big checks, not the little ones you use for personal checking. This could be considered “signaling”.

Readers? What’s your take on this? How do you get into your first show if you’re just starting out and have no credentials? I know some shows that require you to show paid invoices totaling $500 or more but aside from making those up in your word processing program (if needed), how do you get in the door? Suggestions? Ideas?

* I don’t write about it nearly enough, but I really like the CAF’s magazine. I realize most of us are US based but our magazine is awful with regards to the interests of small companies. The Canadian magazine is much friendlier. I’m hoping that if the magazine’s circulation grows to sufficient extent, they can justify adding news and features for smaller businesses here in the lower 48. The subscription is free but worth paying for.

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  1. Kathleen says:

    Speaking of being sent stuff from being on mailing lists, I’d meant to post this sooner (sorry!). The first is from the AIBI. Pasted as is:

    aibi and tech conference.
    Re: The Business of Fashion 2006 – Conference Agenda
    Are you a designer with talent, but lacking BUSINESS SAVVY? See how to JUMP START your NEW COMPANY or SUPERCHARGE your EXISTING COMPANY at this comprehensive Seminar Series.

    The Apparel Industry Board’s educational Seminar Series “The Business of Fashion” will begin on Wednesday, September 6th and continue through November 15th covering all facets of the fashion industry. Attend these workshops and you are in for an ENLIGHTENING EXPERIENCE! This 9 Week lecture series is led by TOP INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS who give hands on instructions.

    Below please find the dates and topics to be discussed. For the complete conference agenda please reference the attachment.

    Cluster A – “The Business of Business”
    September 6 – The Basics of Starting a Business, How to get ready, get started, and GO!
    September 13 – Giving & Getting Credit, Understanding Credit.
    September 20 – Putting it All Together, The Do’s & Don’ts of Banking, Legalities, and Licensing.

    Cluster B – “The Business of Manufacturing”
    October 4 – From Concept to Completion, Fashion Design from Beginning to End!
    October 11 – Cost it OUT, How to Design Profitably!

    Cluster C – “The Business of Selling”
    October 25 – Alternative Avenues of Selling, Tradeshows, sales representatives, and YOU.
    November 1 – Presenting your Line to a Retailer, Communicating that “magic.”
    November 8 – Marketing & Selling on the Internet, The doorway to the world marketplace.

    “Fashion Finale”
    November 15 – “CHICAGO’S RED HOT!!!” Designers, Meet the Designers & Learn How They Did It.

    Call the office at (312) 836-1041 to reserve your space today!

    Apparel Industry Board, Inc.
    Apparel Industry Foundation, Inc.
    350 N. Orleans St., Suite 690
    Chicago, Illinois 60654
    t: 312.836.1041 f:312.923.907
    AIBI website

    And speaking of Apparel, they’re sponsoring a Tech Conference (pasted)
    Dear Kathleen,
    Register now for the 2006 Apparel Tech Conference, November 8-9 at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in midtown Manhattan. This FREE day-and-a-half conference features exhibits and product demonstrations from more than 25 of the leading solution providers and delivers a variety of expert-led educational sessions focused on the industry’s hottest topics, including:

    Ø Design & Product Development
    Ø Fit Solutions
    Ø Information Technology
    Ø PLM
    Ø Color Management
    Ø Supply Chain Collaboration
    Ø Retailing Technology & More!


    Get solutions for your most pressing business challenges and opportunities in any of these confirmed sessions:
    Ø Active Textiles – Introducing Technologies That Provide Care, Freshness and Sun Protection For Your Skin, presented by Cognis Corp.
    Ø The Complete Solution for Color Lifecycle Management, presented by Datacolor
    Ø PLM in the Retail World, presented by Lectra
    Ø The Gains and Pains of Technology From My Perspective – A Candid Discussion Among Users of Technology, presented by Tukatech
    Ø The Changing Shapes of America & The ‘Fit Opportunity’ for Retailers and Brands, presented by AlvaProducts
    Ø ASP in Apparel Manufacturing – A Competitiveness Powerball, presented by Assyst-Bullmer
    Ø The Microsoft Revolution in Business Software, presented by Blue Fox Porini & Microsoft
    Ø Increase Productivity In A Collaborative Environment!, presented by Computer Generated Solutions
    Ø How to Make Great Product: Focus on Core Competencies and Strategic Technologies, presented by Fashionware Solutions Inc.
    Ø How Tightly Managed PLM Can Yield Maximum Return in Planning the Collection, presented by Infor
    Ø Speed to Market with Integrated PLM and Global Sourcing Systems, presented by New Generation Computing
    Ø If the Dress Fits: A Custom Apparel Manufacturer’s Guide to Made-to-Measure & 3D Virtual Fitting Technology, presented by OptiTex USA Inc.
    Ø The Key to Successful Data Management for Small- to Mid-Sized Apparel Companies, presented by Polygon Software
    Ø PLM Therapy – A Prescription Plan for Speed, Quality, Efficiency, presented by PTC
    Ø Integrating the Consumer into the Product Development Process, presented by [TC]2 and WDA BrandMarketing
    Ø Using Consumer Demand Insights to Create a Demand-Driven Enterprise, presented by TXT e-Solutions
    Ø Leveraging Cross-Industry PLM Best Practices in Apparel, presented by UGS Corp.
    Plus, gain strategic insight in the Apparel Tech Conference’s Opening and Second Day Keynote Addresses:
    * Opening Keynote Address: Fast Fashion & Technology: Promise or Peril, Michael Barrett, Research Director, Retail, AMR Research
    * 2nd Day Keynote: Interactive RetailingSM and Your IT Imperative, Chad Doiron, Kurt Salmon Associates

    Leading vendors will exhibit on both days of the conference, previewing new solutions, products and services designed to drive apparel and retail companies’ competitiveness. These include:
    Platinum Sponsors: Cognis Corp, Datacolor, Lectra and Tukatech
    Gold Sponsors: AlvaProducts, Assyst-Bullmer Inc., Blue Fox Porini, Computer Generated Solutions Inc., Fashionware Solutions, Gerber Technology Inc., Infor, New Generation Computing Inc., OptiTex USA Inc., Polygon Software, PTC, Shapely Shadow Inc., TXT e-Solutions and UGS Corp.
    Silver Sponsors: Cotton Incorporated, ecVision Inc, QuestaWeb and Yunique Solutions.
    Endorsing Association: The Textile/Clothing Technology Corp., [TC]2

    Admittance to the Apparel Tech Conference and all educational sessions is free for apparel, soft goods and retail executives. A Networking Reception on Nov. 8 and a Continental Breakfast and Lunch on November 9 is included. (Non-sponsoring suppliers, educators and students are not eligible for Tech Conference attendance. Industry vendors interested in sponsorship are invited to contact, or

  2. Jen says:

    I attended Magic a couple of years ago, though I was not yet an industry professional and had no connections. We called them to explain that we were in the developmental stages and were considering showing our line there in the future and would like to check the show out. We asked what we would need to do to attend, and they were actually very understanding and helpful. They asked us to provide several documents, such as business cards, tax registration, and a letter of intent, all of which we were able to obtain event though we weren’t actually producing anything yet. I believe most shows have contact information on their web sites. I would definitely recommend registering in advance to be sure you’ve provided what they require to get in.

    I also was able to register for Material World New York by providing basic business information (address, job function, business category, contact information). You don’t really need to have your business up and running to attend a lot of these shows. I think in many cases, if you’ve registered your business with the IRS and your state government (which you really should do anyway if you’re incurring any costs, even if you’re not producing or selling anything yet) and have a business checking account, you can usually provide enough documentation to get in.

  3. Karen C. says:

    Even though I’m just about to have product to sell, in the past I really didn’t have much problem getting into shows such as the International Textile show in Los Angeles, with just my business card and a copy of my re-sale license. However, I was refused entry into the San Francisco Market once because I did not have an invoice showing my “brick and mortar” place of business. They let me know that if I didn’t have a sales rep already in the building, as a designer I was not welcome, even though I just wanted to see if it was a trade show I would be interested in showing at in the future. They were only interested in buyers.

  4. Danielle says:

    Thanks for the AIBI stuff. I am planning to go to a show that does not let you pre-register. The website merely states show up and have a business card and register at the door. Is there some catch? They did not mention anything about other kinds of credentials. I am worried that I am going to travel 400 miles to go see this show and then not be let in beacuse they don’t know me or somehting. I am a designer and a boutique owner. I should be okay right?

  5. Karren says:

    The most common technique I see for attending a trade show before you open your own business is to go with someone else who does have a business and be a member of their business for the day or their guest. Many businesses travel in little packs and adding one more to the group is usually not a problem. This connection with an ongoing business can be helpful in other ways too.

    Altho’ these restrictions seem silly now, when you are selling at a trade show and a gaggle of 3 women come up and then want to order only 6 pieces in sizes that are obviously for themselves (they are thrilled to get wholesale prices)you will wish they hadn’t made it in!

  6. Jeff Martin says:

    I recently attended the POOL Trade Show; I hadn’t pre-registered, I just showed up as a prospective exhibitor. Though I did have some credentials (aka a business card), I didn’t have any other formal documentation like 3 invoices (invoices?!) However, I did have a connection and a name: the owner of the boutique where I sell my apparel, and his direct contact on their staff.

    When I showed up, I explained that I owned a burgeoning clothing company and just wanted to walk through, and that I was a potential exhibitor for the Feb. show. They gave me the official runaround, two people sent me back and forth 4 times.

    Ultimately, I asked if Mindy was around, that she was close with the owner of the boutique where I’ve been selling for over a year, and I was promtply given a guest pass and sent on my way.

    So I guess one strategy is to name drop. Do some research on who some of the staff are that run the show, and ask for that member. The people there will think you have some sort of pre-arranged deal with them, and if they show up you will at least be talking to someone who can make a decision to get you in. I realize it is a bit petty, but I am not above such techniques; it got me into POOL. (Which was surprisingly subdued.)

  7. Danielle says:

    Yea, someone else told me that Pool was really low key. I have a few boutiques whose coat-tails I could ride I suppose. I just think going through these sorts of hoops is silly-especially if I am very intent on showing there in the future and am a serious business owner. They should just let me in! I guess I feel a sense of entitlement…I would never go and try to buy things for myself wholesale and waste peoples time like that. That seems a little rude and unprofessional. I guess alot of these people are really young/partying and have never had real carees. I think I will just go to these shows and have invoices and checks prepared and on hand in case. Can’t believe this is such a big deal. The organizations that put on these shows are really cagey about stuff that is really not important.

  8. Yahzi Rose says:

    For Magic I went with a boutique owner as a buyer. There was a couple in line behind us that did not have the required paperwork and had to pay a $175 fee to get in. For the San Francisco show I ‘borrowed’ my friend’s paperwork, said I ran out of biz cards and got in that way. I think the easiest way if you don’t know anyone is to call up like others have said, be friendly and simply ask. I did this with the NY Children’s Show and it was no problem. Also, if I went to other shows going on at the the same time/same city I would just wear my badge from the 1st show and would only have to sign in.

  9. Danielle says:

    I have been invited to exhinit at a show-w workshop Paris. I is on very short notice-the show is Octiber 4th. Should I go? Does anyone have any info on the show and what is its reputation?

  10. Cecilia says:

    I recently attended MAGIC. I pre-registered & had to submit the required “credentials”: business card, invoices of materials purchased, tax id info. I registered under the SOURCING section, with intentions of sourcing materials, hardware, manufacturers. I did have a few exhibitors in the apparel section ~ in a defensive manner I may add ~ ask me what the ‘Sourcing’ on my badge meant…apparently concerned about spies? (Yeah, Homebase, this is 005 reporting for duty. Come in Homebase. ;)

  11. Danielle says:

    So I am goin to the show in Paris. None of my contacts in the states has heard of it but it has been around for 12 years and I will be exhibiting write next to the Louvre/tulleries and Paris fahion week shows. So I am happy. Will be ALOT of hard work though. So I am a little worried-I do have an assistant with me so that will help considerably. So this will be my first show! From what I understand it is like a small European version of designers and agents-much smaller. I looked up alot of the other desginers and its some good stuff-very new and emerging. If anyone has any thoughts or advice or info on anything-please do not hesitate to send it this way.

  12. janel says:

    just found this site and it seems that there is a wealth of info here!
    i have a small children’s clothing company and i am interested in finding ways to connect with fabric reps and other fabric wholesale suppliers. i am getting bored with the same companies and really want to find some great fabric for my line. any suggestions? how about info about how to get wholesale from Kokka fabric…i think that they are based in Japan, but i am assuming that there are reps here? i am in northern CA.

  13. Kelly says:

    I just called D&A about attending the LA show as a potential future exhibitor. They said no problem, just bring a business card to register. I think I’ll check it out, although it seems like most of my target boutiques (at least in San Francisco) do most of their buying in NY in September.

  14. Amy says:

    I just saw Janel’s posting. I am a chicago designer looking to source higher end nylon & microfiber type of fabrics for cosmetic cases. I cannot seem to find wholesale fabrics of this type and wonder if these are sold through reps or what. Any recommendations on reps or sources? I am from Chicago. Thanks!

  15. Jessica says:

    I attened the Trend Selection (the NY version of the Italian LineaPelle) at the beginning of September. They had an online entrance form and it was very east to get in. Once inside I was lucky that I remembered business cards. Without business cards none of the reps would write down orders for samples or even talk to you. I was very nervous and can be a little shy at time, but I just walked right up to the reps and acted like I belonged.

    Some of the reps from Europe were very standoffish, but once you got right up to them and asked for samples of this or that they became very friendly.

    I contacted Sole Commerce which is part of Coeterie and was honest with them. I told them that I was a designer and that I’d like to attend the show to see if it would be right for me. They were very helpful and gave me contact info about where to go and even a name to ask for if I had any problems. Being honest is the best practice.

  16. Sue Rock says:

    What a wonderful experience.

    After searching “getting into tradeshows” I read this posting.

    I then basically Cut and Pasted Jen’s response above because I really appreciated her honesty and forthrightness. (Something about lying right out the gate just doesn’t feel right for me, and I knew there must be another option…..)

    Well look at the response received from ENK which holds the COTERIE and a number of other shows here in NY. Who Knew! (Thanks so much Jen for giving me the confidence!)

    Hello Sue,
    Thank you for your interest in ENK shows. We offer show tours to all potential exhibitors, where you will meet with one of us, go over the application process and the show overall and then have the chance to walk a couple aisles of the show within a group (please note that designers that are not exhibiting in the show are not allowed to walk the show floor on their own). I will be scheduling the tours as we get closer to the show and will make sure to touch base with you then.

    Also, just to clarify, do you have accessories or apparel? You mentioned Coterie and Fraîche – please note that Coterie is primarily a ready-to-wear market, focusing on apparel collections. Fraîche is the emerging designer platform within Accessorie Circuit, our dedicated market to the accessories category. Let me know in which category your collection falls into.

    Best regards,

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