Fashion showrooms have traditionally been established to facilitate business by assisting designers in pushing their brand into the market and selling their clothes – ideally – to reputable, established stores like Joyce Boutiques, Barneys New York or Collette. But in the age of social media and e-commerce, things have taken a shift, and the relevance of showrooms have come into question because emerging designers can now target buyers and consumers directly in many different ways. It’s a conversation that pits a modern outlook on the business of fashion against a traditional one – a recurring theme the industry faces as technology and the democratisation of fashion starts to change power dynamics. We talk to industry leaders about their views on the values of the showroom to see if it’s still worth their time.
“We need showrooms to filter through all the new designers that are coming out now”, says General Merchandising Manager at Joyce Boutique Michael Mok. “They know if the designers are capable of making a whole collection, which is something buyers worry about. I see many talented people, but are they capable of producing and fulfilling orders? Often not.”
“Certain showrooms curate a particular aesthetic, which makes it easier for me to find the type of styles we want in our stores,” he continues. From a buyer’s perspective showrooms creative convenience, but most importantly a sense of accountability.
From a designer standpoint, the value of showrooms are less certain. “Fashion is moving so fast that it might not be worth having your collection sit at a showroom”, says Luna Lo, Design Manager at Jay Ahr. “Just turn Instagram into your showroom, contact buyers directly, show them your pieces in person, and if the terms are good, there’s no need for traditional showrooms.” This, of course, hinges on the networking and business savvy of the individual designer. On top of being creative, they also have to be good managers.
Derek Chan, founder and designer of DEMO., has a different perspective. “Showrooms still have value, because they have lots of valuable connections and are more skillful at bargaining terms and conditions with buyers. For startup brands like us, we definitely still need to rely on showrooms.”
Designer Aries Sin from MODEMENT agrees. “I think e-commerce and online versions of showrooms can only work as a browsing function to entice buyers to find the designers, but they can’t replace shops and showrooms. There are too many details that you need to see in person that aren’t reflected in photos.” She continues: “I feel like managing my own online distribution requires more manpower and cost more opposed to outsourcing it. If we use a showroom, they manage the clients and ordering logistics. For emerging designers, you have to establish a lot of different distribution channels before attempting to go online. At the moment, sales from physical stores are still higher than online sales. Cutting out the middleman just seems less cost-effective.”
Choosing the right showroom
Showrooms can support and boost a brand, but there are certain things to look out for. “Obviously they have to help you sell,” says Sin. “But there are ways to figure out whether or not they can in the first place. Find out which designers they’ve worked with, how much bargaining power they have, what type of rapport they have with the press, their level of customer service and how well their online platform works in tandem with the physical showroom.”
Mok adds that the size of the showroom is also important. “If it’s too big your brand could get lost, and you won’t make sales, but if it’s too niche and small it might not attract enough buyers and you won’t make sales.”
Tried and True
It looks like showrooms are here to stay for a while, and the successful ones will learn to adapt to the age of social media and e-commerce and use their online platforms as a way to support their physical space. TOMORROW is a big reputable showroom that Mok recommends. It operates at all the major fashion capitals around the world like London, Milan, Hong Kong, Paris and New York and has huge backing from investors. Most importantly it also works with cool, relevant brands like Jourden, a burgeoning Hong Kong label with a global presence.
For something a bit more niche, Sin recommends 3RdEye SHOWROOM. “It’s a new showroom with a lot of energy and passion,” she says. “As MODEMENT is a young label, we want to position ourselves in a place that’s full of other exciting new labels, which we think will attract buyers.”
If you’re starting a brand, showrooms are still important because they are essential to the business development process: attracting buyers, selling, fulfilling orders and contacting the right press. It’s an added cost for sure, but a necessary one.