Busy Pure London defies Brexit fears, brands do brisk business
The news around UK retail may seem to be almost all bad at the moment but nobody seemed to have told the visitors to Pure London last week with the show feeling busier than last summer’s event and plenty of exhibitors telling us they were writing orders.
There remained some gripes around stand positioning, but the overwhelming reaction was positive, even though Brexit was the spectre at the feast.
Exhibitors were unwilling to go on the record about Brexit, although the universal reaction when the ‘B’ word was mentioned was a screwed-up face and lots of head-shaking. And the fact that exhibitor after exhibitor told us that most of their visitors on-stand were UK-based could also be a reflection of Brexit with international buyers taking a wait-and-see approach to the UK market for now.
GATEWAY TO UK
That said, Pure remains a key gateway show both to the UK and Ireland markets, and consequently attracts a large number of EU-based brands, either directly or through their UK agents.
Danish brand Mos Mosh’s UK agent was upbeat in its first time at the show (it’s a premium brand and usually shows at Scoop) with a “really busy first day” and “more people looking around with a purpose”, which meant it “did quite well on new business.”
A spokesperson told us that for this label, “the appeal of Pure is also that they do a nice build that really represents the brand, and a good location near the entrance.”
Spain’s Compañia Fantastica was also congratulating itself on a successful show. Commercial director Mark Cuthbert said it had good visibility and healthy visitor traffic: “We made a lot of contacts" and wrote close to 30 orders on the first two days "to both new and existing customers.”
The stand certainly seemed to be attracting attention with its quirky animal prints making an impact. They’re part of the brand’s USP, but its pricing is also key. "We retail at around £50-£60 and stock turn is very high," Cuthbert said. "The feedback we receive is that we offer very high value for money. The sell-through is very fast. Many brands offer higher mark-ups but the sell-through is poor and in difficult times our brand outperforms most.”
Clearly, that was a key selling point at Pure as buyers sought out brands that will make cautious consumers spend.
Compañia Fantastica’s target consumer is an urban creative aged round 30, but another Spanish brand at a higher price point and targeting a more conservative customer was also happy with the show. Alba Conde’s export manager Pablo Conde said the firm is in its fifth year at Pure and “each year is better and better.”
But he added that it's “noticeable that the stores have less money to spend. Buyers are travelling less and the shows are a little bit down, but we are doing well.”
Interestingly, the brand is actually stronger in Ireland than the UK and has around 40 stockists in the former compared to around 10 in Britain. But Pure remains an important way to reach Irish buyers and the company seems committed to the show, even with the impending issue of Brexit.
Would it consider showing elsewhere in Europe in a UK-outside-of-the-EU future? It seems not. It already shows in Madrid and has shown at much bigger Paris shows before, but didn’t do so this time as it says Pure is just the right size to attract lots of buyers but to still stand out.
It’s interesting that almost every smaller/young brand we spoke to at the show has some kind of sustainability/social good aspect to their business and even if it wasn't possible to use fully sustainable or organic materials, the young entrepreneurs felt a strong need to ‘give something back’.
Portugal-based Boon is a good example of this. The two-year-old brand is built on its links to art. Founder Leonor Sáragga told us the concept came from her artist sister Filippa Sáragga wanting to use her art on clothes and Leonor decided to continue the brand after that project was complete.
The giving back element comes from the label’s charity link. Head designer Maria Teixeira Bastos said the company has a partnership with a group that provides fabrics for women to make bags in prison, ensuring zero waste for Boon and helping the women earn money.
But the concept of the clothes themselves is also appealing on a purely commercial level. With pieces at wholesale prices ranging from €35 to €100, the big selling points are both the simple silhouettes and unique art-based prints. Leonor said it’s all about “living art” and the marketing approach that has seen them linking up with gallery events and bloggers, really stresses that art connection.
It seems to have resonated with visitors to Pure. “We’re trying to internationalise our brand and Pure has been good. We’ve been having amazing feedback,” Sáragga said. “They love the concept and colours, the fact that it’s an exclusive print, but it’s our first time, buyers tend to like what they see but not place an order. They want to see us next season and know that we will be reliable.”
Boon was showing in the main hall of the event but many of the most sustainability-focused brands chose to take part in the specific Conscious section. This continued to generate reasonable footfall, but as last season, exhibitor opinion was once again divided over its positioning and whether footfall was adequate.
However, they were united in praising the concept and it continues to attract a healthy mix of interesting brands. This season some of the accessories brands stood out the most.
One interesting label was Morphbag by GSK, launched by Giovanna Sessi-Knott only last November, setting out to show that vegan bags can offer high quality and not feel cheap.
She already has a webstore and sells her bags at a premium price (£349), although that includes four bags in one (a large reversible tote in a "conservative" colour and a "fun" colour), plus a cross body bag and a clutch. Given the increasing number of bag labels building up a strong business based on a few core styles but worked in multiple colour options, it’s a solid commercial concept.
Of course, the vegan element adds an extra layer too. Sessi-Knott told us that she “thought that in the current market there’s a misconception that quality and style gets compromised by being vegan. I want to attract the non-vegan who’s ethically conscious but is ignored. Currently you have the hippie vegan stuff and then Stella McCartney, but little in the middle.”
The coated polyurethane that she uses certainly looks the part and she said she had a good response at Pure, although the general consensus was that her pricing was too high for the event.
Meanwhile a lower-priced bag brand, Soruka, is taking an alternative approach to sustainability, using leather off-cuts as a way of ensuring “zero waste” and in order to make its products both unique and affordable (RRP around £40-£100). The Barcelona-based brand had a busy show and was at Pure for the first time specifically because of the Conscious section.
The company uses leather pieces that used to go to landfill and manager Josep Rjera said doing this means “each bag is individual. Even though it’s high quality leather, because they’re made with off-cuts, we can lower the price.”
It's certainly a concept that has proved appealing in Europe with the brand only two years old but having stockists across the continent. “People like the bags,” Rjera told us, “but they also like the idea that we’re not producing more waste.”
And bags weren’t the only focus of the accessories exhibitors at Conscious. Pretty Pink Eco jewellery makes its chunky beads from the Latin American fruit tagua, whose seeds are also known as ‘vegan ivory’.
Director Amalia Wragg said she’s had a strong response from buyers since starting wholesale operations just a few months ago but was concerned about the out-of-the-way positioning of the Conscious section and said that in future she may consider showing as part of the main accessories offer, having done this and enjoyed heavy footfall as a result at the recent Spring Fair in Birmingham.
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