Brands Are Back at Who’s Next, Impact and Bijorhca, Despite Uncertain Times

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PARIS — The theme of an American-style sports competition set the energetic tone for a return to normal scale for Who’s Next, Impact and Bijorhca. Held from Sept. 2 to 5 at the Porte de Versailles, the combined trade shows drew almost 1,500 brands, including nearly 40 percent newcomers, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels, according to organizers.

The number of visitors was up 30 percent compared to September 2021, with a majority of attendees hailing from Europe, and a particularly busy first day, though attendance during the four-day event ebbed and flowed.

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“This edition marks a real comeback,” said Frédéric Maus, general director of WSN Développement, which organizes the event.

“I think we’ve reached this level because we never missed a buying session or cut ourselves off from our ecosystem of exhibitors and visitors. [During the height of the pandemic] we continued to meet with them in smaller formats when necessary,” he said, noting this was the first edition without major constraints designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We got through a period that wasn’t easy, but we’ve come out of it,” he added. Visitors from most countries, excluding China, were able to attend the event.

At the entrance, dancers performed with basketballs and did acrobatics as attendees were welcomed by recorded sounds of cheering crowds, as if entering a sports stadium — never mind the row of lounging smokers churning out a veil of cigarette smoke at the door.

Once inside, while visitors spoke of optimism about a spring 2023 season promising bright color, most shared feelings of uncertainty about the coming months. Inflation, climate change, the energy crisis and ongoing war in Ukraine left buyers and exhibitors struggling to foresee the road ahead, while admitting expectations were low.

“It’s an uncertain period, because our customers might shop differently, and we don’t really know how. For the moment we feel they’ll probably consume less,” said Régis Pennel, founder of online French retailer L’Exception. “We’ll compensate that drop by recruiting more customers, which will allow us to continue to grow. But I think each individual customer will consume less.”

Nevertheless, he expects L’Exception to end the year with 60 percent growth in sales versus 2019. “We’re lucky to be in a higher-quality bracket of products that are made to last, with a big focus on eco-responsible manufacturing. We are as transparent as possible about it,” he added.

L’Exception buyers were more “careful” about making purchases “because there’s been a lot of inflation on prices, and at a certain point, the customer won’t follow in terms of cost increases,” said Pennel. He also noticed some price tags did not appear justified by material costs alone, and were more a reflection of brand repositioning. “This is probably not the best time to reposition oneself [as a higher-end brand],” he added.

Buyer Marcel Lassance, who worked for Paris concept store Merci for more than a decade and is now buying for Japanese clients, agreed the the current situation was hard. “Prices are changing every week for fabric, and there are problems with container shipping, so we don’t really know what’s going on. We’re at a point where we’re happy to get 70 percent of a shipment. It’s complicated,” he said.

Like many others, Lassance praised Impact, the sustainable fair attached to Who’s Next, and the large recycled material offering. Following a summer of record heatwaves and fires, climate change and eco-responsibility are more pressing topics than ever for both buyers and exhibitors. That was particularly visible in sustainable trends such as materials made of recycled plastic waste from the ocean, or food industry by-products. The number of vegan brands has also taken off.

“I noticed a lot more authentic, eco-responsible brands with a focus on transparent production, so that you can really trace everything back to the source. [Brands] are sending strong messages, and you can feel a real social awareness, which is very important for us,” said Alexandra Tistounet, men’s buyer for Printemps.

“Impact has shown that when things go in the right direction [in terms of eco-responsibility], they evolve pretty fast,” said Maus. “With the summer we’ve just experienced, I think we’re just starting to understand we’ve gone too far. It’s visible. We feel it.”

The trade show is stepping up efforts to reduce its environmental impact. Its carpeting is recycled into insulating material, and energy used for heating will be reduced this winter. As reported, as of January, animal fur will no longer be accepted at WSN’s fairs. Meanwhile, the next edition of Who’s Next in January will last three days, instead of four, to help reduce costs.

As the pandemic pushed many physical events to go virtual, Maus resisted, preferring to use the online marketplace Comexposium as a complement to physical meetings.

“I don’t believe in virtual trade shows, because a trade show is the opposite of that. It’s about meeting and exchanging with people and feeling something. I think we tried to dismiss large, physical events a little too soon,” he said.

That said, people need a “strong enough reason” to attend, he said. To that end, he added the Interfilière lingerie show to Who’s Next, Impact and Bijorhca, with the first combined edition launching in January 2023.

After years of limited physical shows, “we’re seeing an appetite for newness,” concluded Maus.

“I’m psyched about this show. It was really good for us,” commented Gale Mayron King, creator of Pennsylvania-based niche beauty brand Jao Ltd., specializing in natural, multifunctional skin care. Her booth was in the Villa Beauté area dedicated to personal care items.

She was not the only one. “We’ve seen brands that are happy overall with Who’s Next, and returning to a successful trade show format,” said Pennel, who felt the burst of colorful collections also lent a positive note.

Other color trends included a continuation of purples, greens, browns, burgundy, and more sunlit shades and peachy pinks.

Key trends spotted by womenswear buyer Anne Jacob at L’Exception were longer shorts for women; metallic accessories and sneakers, and ‘80s-tinged color pops inspired by the hit series “Stranger Things.”

“The kimono trend is skyrocketing,” noted Murielle Darques, owner of accessories boutique Coraline in the northern French city of Caen. “This trade show is a must-see,” she added, noting she liked the brown color trends. “It’s a base, and you can do everything with it.”

Darques reported that sales at her store were back to pre-pandemic levels. “I’ve stayed optimistic and haven’t lowered my budget. This year, customers were back and wanted to treat themselves,” she said.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Brand: Weng Studio
Designer: Weng Tzuchun 

Taiwanese brands were back in-person for the first time in two years, with a collective of young designers.

Among them, Weng-Studio by Taiwanese designer Weng Tzuchun, founded in 2020, featured his latest collection, Symphony of Glow. Like a Monet painting, garments in ethereal yellow-greens, pinks and lavenders played with light, revealing new aspects and details when seen up close. “I want to catch the weather changing, and to give a fresh, hopeful feeling,” said Tzuchun. Clothing is made and designed in Italy and priced between 160 euros and 400 euros retail.

Brand: Rainodd
Designer: Bianca Benloukil

One-year-old, Amsterdam-based Rainodd is a line of waterproof, unisex ponchos made of RPET recycled plastic, which is also infinitely recyclable. Inspired by how locals weathered the rain season in Bali, founder Bianca Benloukil designed an eco-responsible poncho to “bring to Europe.” She strives to make garments “that do the least harm to the planet.” Materials contain perfluorinated hydrocarbons, or PFCs.  Benloukil designs her own prints and is working on a unisex trench coat. “This is my first trade show, and I see it’s working really well, so I’m reassured,” she said. Retail price: 125 euros.

Brand: Liberadd
Designer: Kyoo Sun Lee

Elsewhere in Impact, South Korea-based Liberadd by designer Kyoo Sun Lee, launched this year, featured comfy, minimalist and feminine silhouettes with oversize volumes inspired by curving waves. They’re made with graphene, a high-functioning and sustainable fabric. “I wanted women to feel powerful while wearing this, but also feminine at the same time,” said Sun Lee. Garments contain a combination of graphene-injected recycled nylon and cotton. Graphene is extracted from carbon, and strengthens other fabric materials, effectively reducing the amount of blended material needed. It is antibacterial, antistatic, UV-blocking, and offers thermal insulation. Wholesale prices range from 60 euros to 220 euros.

Brand: MoEa
Designer: Achille Gazagnes

MoEa, the Paris-based vegan sneakers brand created in 2021 by Achille Gazagnes, has already entered the U.S. and U.K. markets. The label’s bio-based sneakers are made from agricultural waste from the grape, apple, pineapple, cactus and corn food industry. The vegan leather is naturally dyed, and most materials are sourced in Italy, barring the Mexican-sourced cactus. Manufacturing is in Portugal. A new model made of upcycled mangoes will be coming out soon. “Our carbon footprint assessment showed 89 percent less carbon print than for the same product made of leather,” said Gazagnes. Shoe soles are made of recycled bamboo. Retail prices range from 149 euros to 189 euros.

Brand: Mono Skincare
Founder: Laurie Mias

In the beauty section, young French brand Mono Skincare presented its refillable, prebiotic and natural skin care products. Designed by pharmacists for sensitive skin, with no added perfumes, thickeners or other chemicals, their range of small, solid capsules are dropped into reusable glass bottles, which are filled with water at home, effectively reducing their transport carbon footprint. By supporting and maintaining the skin’s natural microbiome, largely thanks to hero ingredients such as inulin, products are designed to balance skin. New items include an antiage Soft Facial Peeling, and an antipollution Everyday Mist is set to launch in 2023. Retail prices range from 28 euros to 88 euros.

Brand: ALT
Designer: Théo Jocquet

Launched in April of this year, ALT in Paris presented its unisex silver and gold vermeil jewelry collection inspired by designer Théo Jocquet’s family jewelry — notably a chain pocket watch. Pieces are simple, with delicate abstract details on closer inspection. Jocquet also makes rings to measure, particularly for unusual sizes that are hard to find on the market. He currently offers 14 different ring sizes, due to customer demand. “I have everything for customers who felt rejected by standard jewelry,” he said.

Brand: Calanque Swimwear
Designer: Thalie Moliner

One prime example of a new collection made from ocean waste is Calanque Swimwear, based in Marseille, and created by Thalie Moliner. Her men’s swimming shorts are made from trash found in the Mediterranean Sea, including plastic bottles, nets and bags. She was moved to launch the brand in 2021 because “men lacked choices” in swimwear, she said. The shorts can also be worn outside the water, and embroidered details and colors are inspired by Mediterranean cultures. Retail prices are 79 euros to 134 euros.

Brand: Eau Swim
Designer: Yasmine Benlamlih

The two-year-old women’s swimwear brand Eau Swim enjoyed a steady stream of admirers for its first outing at Fame in Who’s Next. Designed in Los Angeles by Yasmine Benlamlih, and produced in Casablanca, the one-piece swimsuits come in mixtures of solid, deep natural shades cut in chic geometric forms inspired by modern art and French elegance. Designs are meant to flatter and “accompany” a woman throughout her life’s bodily changes, explained Benlamlih. Wholesale price: 70 euros.

Launch Gallery: Brands at the Who’s Next, Impact and Bijorhca Trade Shows

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