Trip report: Seattle Trend Show

Today we have a trip report from Alina Iovita who just got back from showing her line at the recent Seattle Trend Show. Thanks Alina!

I have been into the fashion design business since 1997 when I started with private lessons from a fashion designer in Mississauga, Ontario after seeing her portfolio and falling in love with her illustrations. I knew then I wanted to become a fashion designer and would do everything it took to get there. In 1999 I started offering custom clothing services (tailored suits, evening dresses and coats). In 2001 I moved to Toronto where I opened my own boutique. I designed everything that was sold in the boutique, contracted out the patterns and had a local manufacturer make three to five of each style. In 2005 I closed the boutique in Toronto because I wanted to move back home to Scottsdale AZ. Last fall I decided to create my own line. I spent a few days in Los Angeles picking out fabrics then going home and creating the designs. For my first line I chose only Italian fabrics, pretty costly, but my thought has always been that offering quality is always more important and worth the price. Thus far my line is only available for wholesale but I plan on offering it for retail within a year.

For quite a while I tried to decide whether to go to the San Francisco show in January or the Seattle show in the same month. I couldn’t do both, as much as I wanted to, because they overlapped by one day.

I decided on the Seattle show because it was $300 cheaper and signed up for it very late in December. I registered for a booth 5×10 and then found out that I needed to rent furniture because they didn’t provide anything -which was included in the price of the show at San Francisco. So I rented a 4×2 table and two very uncomfortable plastic chairs plus a grid wall for $300 from GES (so there went my price break on the Seattle show!). Luckily I was able to bring my own lights which saved some money since the rental lights were $80 and up. Flowers and plants were also available for rent from $25 on up and I ended up renting one for $35. All of these together cost almost as much as the booth.

On January 14th I was on the plane to Seattle minus my torso form that I had rushed to me from Houston for the show only to find out that there would be no way it would fit in my very large suitcase as I thought it would. Since it was too late to ship it to Seattle, I left it at home. I was told by the director of the show (a very nice lady and pleasant to deal with) that I had to show up at the location of the show on the 14th before 6pm to register. By registering they mean pick up your badge and start setting up your booth so everything is ready for the next day. I arrived at the Qwest Field Convention Center later that afternoon and was surprised to see that the actual size of the show was a lot smaller than on the floor plan they sent out in my packet. Later I found out that they sent out the wrong floor plan and the booth I picked out (from the wrong floor plan) was actually the very last booth in the building. When I had chosen it based on the wrong floor plan, it was shown as a corner booth towards the middle which would have been a great location. Then I arrived at my booth to find out that there was no electrical outlet. Good thing the lighting company had a booth set up in the back and they were able to come by and connect my outlet very fast.

The next four days at the show were pretty boring as not a lot of buyers were around, but it did give me a chance to catch up on work and meet sales agents. I was lucky to have a booth next to a sales agent who had been selling for over 10 years. It turned out that she had never done a show before either, she used to go on the road and meet with buyers at their store, and since this was her very first show she didn’t know what to expect either. She gave me a lot of information on what to expect when dealing with a sales agents, from percentages to pay an agent and even how to deal with buyers. She loved my line but she is currently only showing one line and wanted to stick with it (cut back from seven at one point). According to her, sales agents charge between 8%-12% depending on the line and the agent (the same as Kathleen’s book says). She also told me that it’s not uncommon for designers to bundle their styles and have a minimum of 1-2-1 (S M L) or a minimum dollar order. Apparently the size XL isn’t as common in bundled packages. This was surprising to me because my styles are packaged 1-2-2-1 to make it worth my ordering my fabrics from Italy and make a profit.

I expected around 800 buyers to attend the show, this was again information given to me when I registered for the show, but only 258 attended in four days. This was very disappointing and according to the sales agents that do this show regularly it has never been this bad. A lot of people were blaming it on the fact that the San Francisco show was so close to the Seattle show and some agents packed up and left to go to San Francisco two days before the show ended. This emptied some booths in better locations so at the end of the second day I had the opportunity to move to a bigger booth closer to the middle. I had more traffic there than if I had stayed in my initial booth and I was able to present the line to a buyer. She didn’t place an order however because she wanted to see more of the line in the future. I think it’s because she never heard of me and wanted to make sure I will be sticking around and attending other shows. I was also approached by a new sales agent wanting to carry my line but after talking to her more, she was afraid that it wouldn’t match what she had already picked up. The lines that she carried were very conservative and in the bridge categories. My line is contemporary and priced in the better range. Nonetheless, it was very nice to know that so many buyers and sales agents loved my line.

Overall, I had a pretty good time at the show, meeting new people and getting all the information I could. I ended up going home without a sale, but I have made contact with a few stores who were very interested in my line and I look forward to meeting them at the next show in April.

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  1. Hi Alina-
    Thanks for sharing your trip report. I just did the Minneapolis Apparel Mart and had about the same experience you did – not much traffic, but made some great contacts and learned a lot from the reps. From what I can tell it will take a while before people will pay attention to you – reps don’t want to take on new lines until they have seen you out there a few times and retailers like to stick with buying from the reps they have a relationship with. So we just have to keep getting out there until people are familiar with our brands. Best of luck to you!

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