Launching at Moda

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.

A says:
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.

Parting words:
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.

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  1. Wow,

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have been researching the trade shows for quite a while online and have been seriously considering Moda. They do have one of the better websites as far as information about their show. Of course from the website you do not get the idea that it is a second tier show. I am definitely not ready to go to market at this point but thanks for the heads-up on where not to exhibit.


  2. cdbehrle says:

    Bravo for this post, it’s a hard and expensive lesson, but as “A” found it’s INVALUABLE. They will (and do) sell you anything to fill the booth. They have done it forever and that won’t change. Take the trip and walk the show(s) if that’s how you’ve determined to sell. Talk to people and get out there. Ditto with sales reps, When I was in full production, I found it way too easy to find “reps”- they could sell it all! (NOT!) I’ve gone overseas, just to walk shows. It’s well worth it.

    And make sure your showroom fee goes for something
    besides your rep’s rent- Some very high profile reps demand a huge monthly fee, but sit on the samples- it’s a well known practice.

  3. bethany says:

    If it makes you feel any better, the first trade show I ever did was ASR Holiday in Long Beach. I had seen competitors that had done it and it was really close to home and I was just itching to sell, so I went. Not only did I not get one order, I think maybe two stores stepped inside the booth! It was a disaster, but because it was so bad I knew all I could do was laugh. But I will say, just getting my feet wet made my second show, Bubble, go so much better then if Bubble was my first show.

    Oh, one last thing: I was looking for a fabric show besides the LA fabric show (this was before I found this site) and I saw there were two ‘fabric’ shows ‘Direction’ and something else. I read the websites and they looked awesome. So I flew to NYC, spent the night, got up and was first one in the show. Turns out it wasnt a fabric show at all! It was just a print show which means I could buys prints and get them printed on fabric myself. The buyers there were like Walmart, Target, etc- HUGE buyers! I about died! I was on a plane back to LA by 2:30pm that day! I dont think I was in NYC for 24 hours. Now that my friends, was a mistake! LOL!

  4. MW says:

    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.

    I wonder who was asked. I went to MODA, for the first time, in Vegas. It is definitely a certain type of show. It was bundled with Accessories the Show and they paired well together, but that show was definitely for a certain demographic. It reminded me of the chain store Georgiou (not sure of the spelling).

    Intermezzo and Coterie are definitely good shows. Harder to get into, but far better for certain demographics.

    Listen, if you cannot walk a show, and you must ignore all advice to walk first because you are pressed for time, look at the exhibitor list of past shows. 99.9% of the time, that will tell you if it’s even reasonable for you to be at that show. If you know who you “hang with” (past post), you can do a decent job picking a show by looking at where your peer group is showing. You should always go first (because even knowing where they show won’t prep you for being ready to show there, knowing the environment and all). But what I can say about MODA is had they looked at the exhibitor list, they would have known that wasn’t the show for them.

    In Vegas, it was very much an older woman’s dressy clothes (including heavily embellished evening wear) type of show.

  5. Mark says:

    “A” seems to suffer from a few misconceptions…first and formost that the Trade Show grass is always greener (and busier) someplace else…another show, another aisle…anywhere but where they are. Secondly would be judging a book by its cover (sorry for all the old adages). You don’t have to be 20 to sell to 20 or to have a shop for them either. It is about having a pulse on who or what your market is and merchandising to it. If 17 Mag is their target than perhpas that is what they should have told the rep at MODA. The phrase Young Designer can mean alot of things….you can be young and merch young or you can be young and target 35-65. It sounds like a bit of sour grapes because they did not research enough and felt misunderstood….(but to be sure it will happen again as it does to all of us because you can do everything right and still end up at the end of a dead end aisle next to the absolutely wrong line…..but also maybe their stuff was just not that good or not that right.

    Trade shows can be frustrating and when you are new to the market, or to a show….it is a lot more than “build it and they will come”. it takes time, marketing, postcards, phone calls, personal visits to stores….it takes prep and that is a lot more than making samples and showing up at the last second to decorate a booth.

    At the end of the day most Trade show people are selling real estate….some are nicer than others about it but that is what they are doing….nothing more and nothing less. Some care about your success (others could care less) but in the end the trade show rep can only do so much to bring success to your booth. THAT is incumbent upon you the exhibitor. Our company exhibited in both the February and May Moda shows we had the best February show ever (in NYC market) and we have done more than a few February shows. We made lots of appointments and that brought more traffic. Admittedly it is a bit of a vicious catch 22 to get there (and our company is still getting there) but we have created a niche with the specialty store….and I would no more want to be across from Juicy than I would that Yoga line….but you can have a good show either way.

    Our company has had experience with both the people at Bus. Journal (Moda, Acc the show etc) and ENK… and while ENK may draw a crowd….there is a lot of junk there too (like anywhere) AND, more importantly they are neither pleasant nor proffesional to deal with….and that is NOT an industry secret.

    A may or may not have a good product, in the end it doesn’t always matter. There is plenty of talent that goes no where, incredible lines that don’t get placed and alot of trash selling right accross the aisle from you at your next trade show. There is nothing worse (trade show wise) to be standing in your booth with a great collection and see the junk that is selling like it is the last day on earth…but it happens.

  6. Bethany,
    I have a little smile on my face reading your comment about Direction. I did the exact same thing last year (although I can drive to NYC, so it was not a big deal). I use a lot of patchwork in my line, and I saw a woman next to me pay $4.95 for a small piece of fabric. So I’m figuring in my head how many pieces it would take to make my top and I know I could never afford it. Well….when I glanced at her bill when it was written down, I saw…not $4.95, but $495.00. I nearly fainted, and then I learned what you learned. People are buying the right to the print and they take it to converters to get fabric. I’d never even heard of a converter! Now I actually have one.

    For fabrics, I just returned from Material World in NYC, and I’ll send Kathleen a mini-report on that show when I catch my breath from being away.

    Thanks, Kathleen, for posting this, and thank you, A, for giving us the benefit of your experience. I’m looking for a fit in a trade show and the names you mention are some I’ve considered.


  7. susan says:

    Thank you~~ Without better information, Moda does appear to be an obvious show to do. I’ve walked the show with a friend who is a buyer and neither of us were impressed by the clothing.

    I’ve also walked the Philadelphia show (Rosen group) and although the area of women’s clothing is small in comparison, it is more unique with higher price points. Depends on what you’re doing. If you design your own pieces and oversee production, the Philadelphia show may be a worthwhile consideration. But you have to commit to doing both the February and the August shows.

    Beside Coterie and Intermezzo, there is also the Atelier show ( and Nouveau Collective (

  8. Designer08 says:

    The same thing happened when I was talked into doing Shecky’s. $700 for a booth where supposedly Barney’s, Saks and other upscale buyers would be. I pulled my designs and left, very pissed off, less than two hours later. I was livid beyond belief. I was surrounded by people that were showing cheap jewelry, reworked one-of-a-kind clothes and about 500+ drunk women eating pizza and popcorn that wanted to handle my designs with greasy hands. Oh boy, that taught me to walk a show ahead of time. I never, ever would have given them a second thought if I checked them out at another date and time. Not that I can afford to lose $700 but it could have been worse.

  9. Designer08 says:

    The same thing happened when I was talked into doing Shecky’s. $700 for a booth where supposedly Barney’s, Saks and other upscale buyers would be. I pulled my designs and left, very pissed off, less than two hours later. I was livid beyond belief. I was surrounded by people that were showing cheap jewelry, reworked one-of-a-kind clothes and about 500+ drunk women eating pizza and popcorn that wanted to handle my designs with greasy hands. Oh boy, that taught me to walk a show ahead of time. I never, ever would have given them a second thought if I checked them out at another date and time. Not that I can afford to lose $700 but it could have been worse.

  10. from marissa v. says:

    Regarding A’s experience with being put in a bad area, I experienced a similar thing at Who’s Next in Paris (this doesn’t just happen in the US!). The problem was they had opened a new area as the show is quite popular and the sales rep for Who’s Next promised that it was appropriate for my semi-directional casualwear company (the show is called Who’s Next – the “international laboratory of style” for crying out loud). Instead, I found myself in an area featuring dark colours, lots of suits, Jackie O style dresses, and a furrier. I guess this new area was created to accomodate more mature companies than the usual Who’s Next crowd. I complained about this and the sales director came over, had a look at my stand, and admitted it was the wrong area – but that doesn’t mean I got a refund!
    It’s pretty common to be put in a bad area the first time of a show, and my experience is that even if you have been put in an excellent spot (as I have been at Pure London), you are still not likely to sell much when your brand is young. I have a hard time believing a young brand showing for the first time would write $20K in orders – you would need to have an extremely special product (I know, I know everyone thinks their own products are extremely special). You either have to look at showing as a marketing investment, or wait until your company has got more PR and more stores under your belt before showing.

  11. Andrea says:

    Wow. Great article! I’m an assistant to a designer who asked me to check out the NY shows and my Google search lead me here first! Valuable information that I plan to share with my boss. Thanks for the insights.

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