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Joah Spearman Headshot

Fashion Weeks and Trade Shows: The Has-Beens of the Fashion Industry?

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There's a sentiment on the fringes of the fashion industry that is picking up steam and now fully seeping into the industry's most coveted position: the inside.

The sentiment I speak of is that big city fashion weeks and major trade shows are not what they once were. It's now a lot like watching Billy Crystal tell jokes or Whitney Houston sing ballads. They're legends as much as they are has-beens. You'd rather hear a joke by Tosh.O or a song by Adele, right? Sure, they may not last as long, but relevancy is everything to today's buyers. Seniority means nothing, as those laid off autoworkers can tell you.

Fashion week events are still everywhere and rampant with budgets. They're in fashion hubs like New York and Paris and mid-markets like Austin, Texas, and Charleston, South Carolina. They represent the TV of the fashion business; yes, people still watch them and there's still a lot of money behind them. Highly paid executives will ensure they live much longer than they have reason to.

But the innovation is gone. So is the genuine intrigue and pure inspiration.

The major fashion events of yesterday, like network news before CNN launched, are holding on as long as they can before the bottom falls out and they no longer dictate the news cycle.

Their news cycle is our fashion cycle. And who needs seasons prescribed by fashion czars behind curtains with models walking the runway when you have 24-hours-a-day access to an e-commerce site to buy exactly what you like?

So what does the bottom falling out look like for these traditional fashion events? Well, ask Sony what they think about Apple or Blockbuster how they feel about Netflix. It's worse, largely because most fashion designers have become stars based on their success on the runway and this model will change sooner than the industry is prepared for today.

As for the major trade shows, the story is much the same. Sure, there are wholesale buyers looking for new brands to discover and designers to meet and greet. The Magic Trade show and others of its kind will continue to exist, especially as more brands launch and seek out national retail presences. But small businesses continue to fail at a 90 percent clip because they want to become big businesses too quickly. Trade shows are well positioned to capitalize on that reality even more than fashion weeks.

Still, with more and more brands seeking the attention of fewer and fewer buyers (at least the kind with sizable budgets), the role of the trade show is greatly diminished because small-time buyers are basing decisions on what they like and what sells, not what they saw in booth Q36 in a Las Vegas convention center. It's not 2005 anymore and certainly no longer the '90s. A 10-foot-by-10-foot booth is no bigger this year than it was last year, but that major retailer's booth will certainly grow, further cementing their status as the leader and the small, unknown brand's status as the small, unknown brand.

I'm biased here because I play in this arena with Style X, an event focused primarily on the up-and-comer, but I'm not alone in this viewpoint with regard to both fashion weeks and trade shows.

Check out what's happening on StyleCaster.com, StyleLikeU.com or BurdaStyle.com and you see communities of hundreds of thousands of people passionate about style. These community members (not just site visitors) don't wait around for the powers that be to grace them with photos from an exclusive runway show or access to an expensive trade show event.

The gap for style events is now being filled with everything from well-trafficked pop-up shops and Fashion Nights Out to style events free and open to the public that reflect both the democratization of fashion and the influence of social media.

Why is there a gap in the first place? Well, because those fashion weeks and trade shows are struggling to connect with the young and the innovative. As a result, the evolution is being forced upon these events the same way innovation has been forced onto the music industry and network television. Your favorite show in 1998 may not make it today with competition like Mad Men and True Blood.

The challenge for major fashion companies will be to embrace this evolution so they don't end up getting pushed off air by changing the way they think about what's on the runway. And as an upstart fashion designer, are fashion weeks and trade shows so important to you that you will spend and spend until you're out of business or no longer relevant with consumers you hope to buy from you?

For answers look not to be, but to what's being said about these fashion weeks and trade shows that even fashion outsiders used to rave about. Those raves have now turned to rants, even amongst the insiders.

Pretty soon, the outsiders' community -- especially the online ones with passionate participants -- will become the inside of the fashion industry. When that happens, and it's not far off, the oligarchy of fashion week and trade show proponents will be begging to be invited. And if history serves us any good, they'll be willing to pay big bucks for it.