Trade Show Report

Buyer Focus at Fashion Market Northern California

By California Apparel News Staff | Thursday, April 17, 2014


SAN MATEO, CALIF.—Now in its 50th year, Fashion Market Northern California showcased Fall 2014 styles from international brands and domestic labels during its April 11–13 run at the San Mateo County Event Center in San Mateo, Calif.

Nearly 230 exhibitors displayed apparel and accessories lines aimed at stocking specialty designer clothing boutiques across the Pacific Northwest. The number of exhibitors fell slightly from last fall’s show, when 252 attended in October. But the numbers are still high compared with recent years, according to Don Reichman, owner of the Los Angeles–based showroom Reichman & Associates, which represented seven contemporary fashion lines, including American-made Barbara Lesser, Stiletto and Karissa & Me, as well as Canadian line Jane & John, at the show.

“Attendance at FMNC has increased over the last few years for a number of reasons. More exhibitors are showing here as less retailers travel to LA due to reduced travel budgets in a more difficult economy,” Reichman said.

This season there was a shift in the start of the three-day show from a Sunday start to a Friday start, in observance of the Passover holiday, which began Mon., April 14. Some exhibitors noted a slow turnout on Saturday, which is a busy day for retailers, making it difficult for them to leave their stores, said Cynthia Zahm, a Northern California sales representative of 10 accessories lines.

“Our customers are used to going Sunday through Tuesday,” she said. Still, Zahm had little time to talk on Saturday as retailers browsed through her six booths, displaying the products of Sarah Cavender Metal Works, a line of U.S.-made jewelry, belts and brochettes, and IsArt, a collection of jewelry from Israeli artists Angie Olami and Ayala Bar.

The schedule change did not deter many Northern California retailers who rely on the FMNC as their main resource for fashion buying.

Erin Mewes, owner of Ethical Clothing in Petaluma, Calif., for 23 years, was looking for domestically made Fall and Holiday fashions. Mewes said she relies on FMNC to find lines such as Cut Loose, a San Francisco–based apparel line, and Nomadic Traders, based in Berkeley, Calif.

“I fill [Ethical Clothing] with 80 percent of the lines I find here—20 percent with other shows,” Mewes said.

With the surge of tech financing in San Francisco, Petaluma is becoming a premier destination for commuters wanting a more suburban/country lifestyle in Northern California. Mewes said her business is booming; she recently expanded her 2,000-square-foot shop to 4,000 square feet.

[su_column size=”1/5″]

Jewelry designer Alicia Van Fleteren

A piece from the “Wooly Dots” series by Berkeley, Calif.–based Susans

[su_column size=”4/5″]

“This show I picked a new line and looked at another line I may pick up as well. They always have something new to see,” said Mewes, who added FMNC is where she found her favorite pants line, Rafinalla.

Many retailers book appointments with their established sales representatives in advance, said Mewes, and then browsed the event to find new lines. That makes FMNC a tried-and-true market to pick up new accounts for Sheryl Draper, FMNC president and wholesale sales rep from San Rafael, Calif. She has worked in the industry for 25 years and currently represents 10 accessories lines, ranging from local San Francisco Bay Area–made jewelry and purses to European sock lines.

“I opened three accounts yesterday,” said Draper, counting through a small stack of orders. In all, Draper said, she opened seven new accounts in addition to existing clients who made reorders.

Even with the dates change, attending FMNC is worth the time and investment for local independent jewelry designer Alicia Van Fleteren. She began attending FMNC in 2012 to take her business “to the next level” and has steadily seen an increase in sales.

“In the last two years, I’ve seen a 30 percent to 35 percent increase each year. And this is the only clothing and accessories show I do,” said Van Fleteren, who is based nearby in Belmont, Calif., and mostly exhibits at gift shows.

Diverse Mix

FMNC exhibitors carry a wide mix of apparel and accessories from high-end collections to more-moderate lines.

Janet Foss, owner of J Foss, a high-end women’s specialty store in Palo Alto, Calif., finds European and domestic lines at FMNC. “My customers are sophisticated, well-traveled; they have resources and know quality,” said Foss, who carries lines such as Barbara Lesser and Tricotto from Canada.

Nancy Everette, who owns Blue Moon Aptos in Aptos, Calif., a women’s apparel store, attends FMNC to find new and existing brands of contemporary sportswear. “My clientele is better sportswear,” she said. “I don’t do business or dressy; I do casual, everyday wear.” Everette carries brands such as Dillon, Renuar, Comfy, JAG Jeans and Habitat.

Barbara Pasek Brown attends all five FMNC events each year to find items for the O’Connor Hospital gift shop in San Jose, Calif., where she has volunteered for 32 years. “Because we’re a hospital, my budget is moderate,” said Pasek Brown, who was looking for moderately priced accessories and found a tie-dyed head band that could also be interchanged to a bracelet. “If you don’t have a large budget, local shows like this one are important.”

Easy to Shop

Both retailers and sales representatives praised FMNC’s open-booth format, which made for an inviting experience for newcomer Eve Thomas.

“It’s my first time here,” said Thomas, who owns Sports Connection in Ketchum, Idaho. “I love it—it’s much easier to shop here than I thought it would be.”

Thomas, who has been in business for 25 years, usually shops the showrooms in Los Angeles but said she’ll return to the FMNC for its easy-to-shop layout.

“I was fearful of the open-booth layout—for the lack of privacy,” she said. “People can come in and start talking, but everyone’s very polite here.”

While showrooms offer more privacy, some buyers find them intimidating. “Buyers appreciate an open-booth format,” FMNC’s Draper said. “They can casually walk booth to booth and not feel too much pressure.”[/su_column]