Last Tuesday saw me strolling down Los Angeles Street in the downtown Los Angeles Fashion District heading for the Fall 2016 Los Angeles Fashion Market Week.
What is Market Week? Its a four day affair of seasonal wholesale buying in the showrooms and trade shows of the main wholesale centers: the California Market Center, the New Mart, the Cooper Design Space, and other venues in the Fashion District.
Five times a year, US and international wholesale buyers roam the showrooms and booth shows determined to stay within their budgets as they buy what’s hot, pass on what’s not, and perhaps gamble on what’s next. Most buyers who want to stay in business or keep their jobs have a good idea what is working for their customers, and what to take a punt on to freshen up their floors.
By the time I get to the crossroads of contemporary apparel wholesaling at Los Angeles and 9th, I can usually tell how the day is progressing. The telltale signs are everywhere. What is the foot traffic like on the sidewalks and filing in and out of the buildings? How many people are sitting in the cafes? How many are waiting at the traffic signals to get across to the adjacent buildings? How full are the parking lots?
First impressions were that this was going to be the average Fall market week that it turned out to be. You can muse over the full California Apparel News review of the week.
Fall market week in LA is the second busiest behind the October Spring edition. Despite Los Angeles having the largest apparel infrastructure and being the second largest city and metro area in the US, the LA market week is not as consequential as you would think. By the time buyers have been to the massive Las Vegas trade shows and the marquee New York showcases, LA is left to mainly service west coast and some international buyers.
Last week, I focused my time on walking the temporary booth trade shows – Brand Assembly in the Cooper Design Space, Designers and Agents in the New Mart, and the accessories showcase Coeur and the activewear and lifestyle grouping ALT in the California Market Center.
Brand Assembly has expanded to 125 brands and now takes up the entire bright, white 13th floor event space of the Cooper Design Space. The carefully curated premier contemporary women’s showcase, “gathers designers with similar price points while avoiding direct brand competition”, as it was explained to me by co-founder, Hilary France. There is a well written profile of Hilary on Fashionista.com.
“Due to exhibitor demand, we could be much bigger but we are committed to a selective, curated approach that optimizes the Brand Assembly experience for our brands and buyers”, professed the other co-founder, Alex Repola.
I was delighted to see We Are Kindred hanging beautifully in the busy The SYNDY Showroom booth. I introduced the label to The SYDNY. The SYDNY does an excellent job representing Australian designers and brands in the US market.
Brand Assembly was by far the busiest space of the week. Maybe buyers are taking the advice of one of the exhibitor brands, Monrow who have declared that “Brand Assembly Los Angeles is an incredibly well-curated assortment of brands & categories. If I was a boutique, I would only shop there.”
The advanced contemporary Designers and Agents on the 3rd floor event space at the New Mart was close to full but a bit light on buyer traffic when I was there. D&A is known as an independent, international show that attracts brands from the US, Europe and Japan. D&A New York is a much larger, busier show.
Ben De Luca of Brooklyn Hat Company told me he had a busy Monday but Tuesday was slower.
Coeur and ALT were stranded on the buyer desert that is the huge penthouse event space of the California Market Center. It was very quiet up there. The penthouse space is only ever full for the LA Textile Show. The space is massive which tends to diffuse whatever energy is created. I think they should switch the smaller showcases to the more cozy and attractive 10th floor, 10B Loft. 10B Loft is about a third the size of the Penthouse and would create a significantly more intimate setting.
Coeur has suffered over the past two or three seasons from a lack of a permanent home (it was at the Alexandria Hotel last season) and most significantly from no longer sharing the 13th floor space with Brand Assembly. Coeur’s accessories and Brand Assembly contemporary apparel complimented each other nicely and fed buyers from one to the other. Coeur was squeezed out by Brand Assembly’s expansion.
The only eye catcher for me at Coeur was Mansi Shah, the namesake brand of New York artist, you guessed it, Mansi Shah. The print focused accessories and caps fuse the subtly innovative prints with a clean, hip mix of color and style, and are well priced.
We are told that the economy is doing better. The unemployment rate is down and there is even talk that there is sustainable wages growth on the horizon. Retail should be doing significantly better. But it isn’t. The Census Bureau’s Advance Retail Sales Report released March 15 reported that seasonally adjusted sales in February contracted month-over-month with January revised downward.
Continued softness in the retail sector is naturally reaching back to the wholesale market. I am hearing that business at the Fall16 trade shows has been choppy. In my February article, US Economy in 2016 – Steady As She Goes?, I detailed the reasons why I thought 2016 would be a steady year. I still think that a year with some positive momentum is how we will look back on 2016.
It is four months until the swimwear and resort trade shows in Miami and five months until the breaking of Spring17 collections in Las Vegas. I am looking forward to seeing where we are at as an industry should our current slow but steady economic momentum continue or even pick up.
paul brindley consults