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Collaboration, craft and inflation dictate January edition of Modefabriek

By Nora Veerman


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The entrance hall of Modefabriek at the RAI in Amsterdam. Image: Aygin Kolaei for FashionUnited

It is early Sunday morning at the entrance to the trade fair Modefabriek and the atmosphere is exuberant. Most visitors are happy to have stepped out of the chilly winter morning, into the heated hall, where they are welcomed by a wall of colour. From the ceiling of Amsterdam RAI, hundreds of coloured ribbons hang down to the concrete exhibition floor. When visitors have their ticket scanned, they are presented with a blank colour card that they can fill themselves with pieces of the ribbons that are cut by Modefabriek employees on request.

Like the many colours hanging down, there are also so many sides to this edition of Modefabriek. In addition to more than 400 men’s and women’s fashion brands, children’s fashion labels can now also be found at the fair. There is a separate section with more sustainable brands, a platform for young makers and The Fashion Gallery, with higher-end brands. Lectures and workshops also continue to be held at the fair, making it a good thermometer for the upcoming fashion season: what is going on in the minds, and collections, of brands and retailers?

Collaboration is key

The versatility of Modefabriek was also a feature of the last edition, and is the typical approach of director Caroline Krouwels, who has led the fair since 2020. "I think collaboration is very normal,” she said. "We can do a lot, but some things someone else can do better." When children's fashion platform Drive Inn Junior proposed setting up a segment at the fair last autumn, Krouwels was enthusiastic. "I've always felt a bit sad about the discontinuation of Market by Kleine Fabriek in 2017," Krouwels said during an interview on Sunday, "so I'm delighted that children's fashion is back."

Not all elements at the fair are new. Children's fashion was already part of Modefabriek before, and the fair has been supporting young designers in various ways since its inception in 1996. But the event is like a new puzzle with differently shaped pieces every year.

Drive Inn Junior during Modefabriek. Image: Aygin Kolaei for FashionUnited

And while the fair hasn't gotten much bigger. There are about 450 brands at Modefabriek, including around a hundred debutants. That is slightly more than during the last summer edition, but less than before the corona crisis, and the large back hall is still closed. In terms of brands, Krouwels likes to remain a bit selective, she said. She seeks a good balance between the space available, the number of brands applying and their level, and the atmosphere at the fair. "Growing for the sake of growing, I don't need that."

It is also striking that Modefabriek is curating the various platforms itself more often this year. Last year, the Young Entrepreneurs Platform and the Sustainable Stop were still organised by external parties, but this time Modefabriek kept control. "We still brand together with these partners, but we have pulled it more towards us," said Krouwels. "Selling a booth is really a profession. We know how to do it, we find that we can do it. And then it's convenient to do it ourselves, both for us and for the brands."

Attention to craft

While the Young Entrepreneurs Platform was still outside in the summer sun in June, for this edition it was given a spot in the middle of the main hall. It featured work by, among others, Lichting winner Ruben Jurriën, who presented his first ready-to-wear collection, House of Useless and children's fashion brand Petit Ganache.

The Sustainable Stop also looks slightly different from last year. It is slightly more spacious, and in the middle there is no longer an open platform, but café Wild & The Moon was instead set up where vegan snacks are sold, among other things. Around it were labels like Kings of Indigo, Lanius and Thinking Mu, and made-to-measure brand Atalyé which also has its own stand. On the other side is couturier Tess van Zalinge. Among other things, she is showing at Modefabriek her couture collection and bag line, both of which she made from deadstock fabrics and which she sells to retailers in limited editions. But she is mainly here to draw attention to the craft of fashion, she noted, while sewing beaded flowers onto a quilted pendant with tiny stitches on the spot.

Tess van Zalinge's booth at the Sustainable Stop. Image: Aygin Kolaei for FashionUnited

For Krouwels, craft was an important theme for the fair. "Craft is a personal predilection of mine, but above all it is the basis of clothing, the origin of our craft. It stands for making, remodelling, reusing. It belongs to these times. You can also see craft in the trends: combining and having fun with materials yourself. We will continue to see that in the years to come, I think."

The Sustainable Stop is proving to be a trigger for several retailers, such as Sam and Sander Visser, owners of Haarlem-based concept store Tiesjurt. It's their first time at Modefabriek, but their shop has only been around for a year. They were attracted by the offer of more sustainable brands, they said. They walked from the entrance straight to the Sustainable Stop, skipping the rest. The idea that several retailers come specifically for the Sustainable Stop was confirmed by Michelle van Laatum and Tran Munnik of MVL Agency, who are representing the Laurie brand at Modefabriek. "We like the fact that we are among them."

Hetty and Rosa Scholtens of Pakhuis Fashion in Hattem also came mainly for the more sustainable brands. They are happy with the Sustainable Stop, but think the other parties at the fair could do a lot more in terms of sustainability. "I think mainstream brands definitely show too little ambition in terms of sustainability," stated Rosa Scholtens. "And retailers are also not asking enough critical questions. To be honest, I'm pretty shocked: after all the sustainable promises in the corona era, I didn't expect Modefabriek to still look like this in 2023."

Costs rise at brands and retailers

Another theme among attendees is inflation, both for brands and retailers. Men's fashion label Bluefields has been “hard bargaining" to keep the brand's prices level, said Kim Verlooy. He serves at Bluefields as senior account manager of State of Art, Bluefields' parent company. "The buying behaviour of customers who already buy in the highest segment does not change that much. But customers who buy products below eighty euros switch when prices change. So we need to keep our prices the same, without compromising too much on quality."

Inflation is not so strong for all brands, however. At the Dutch Another Label, prices have risen slightly, said Tanith van Kammen of the Motel agency. The prices of some products have gone up, but those increases have been spread across the brand.

Whether prices rise also depends on whether a brand largely manages production in-house - and can therefore keep control of costs. Such is the case with Daniele Fiesoli, says Canip Simsek, owner of agency Studio C Company, which represents the brand in the Netherlands. But at other brands in his portfolio, prices have gone up by as much as 10 percent, he said. Prices have also gone up at Laurie. But there is no other way, said Van Laatum. "If you don't, someone else in the chain is compromising. Of course, it's not fun. But it's easy to explain."

Brands and retailers meet at the January edition of Modefabriek. Image: Aygin Kolaei for FashionUnited

Retailers, for their part, are quick to take a bite out of their own margins. Two buyers from a Dutch discounter present at the fair said the company has definitely "surrendered margin" in the buying season. Tamara and Michael Teppich of the Berlin retail chain Tatem initially tried not to raise prices, but will soon have to, they said. Furthermore, they choose not to compromise on quality, but mainly to buy less. Hetty and Rosa Scholtens also said that. "Rather less and better."

Calm to level again

Modefabriek itself also suffered from inflation, Krouwels said. But how strongly, she only knows in retrospect. "We made an estimate beforehand, of course, but that was a few months back, even before inflation really went hard. We can only make the final calculation after the fair, when the costs from the RAI are in. That will be exciting. But we are on top of it, and we are monitoring it well."

The prices of the stands are slightly higher than in the summer, she says. “But those prices were a lot lower than before Covid-19. We are also working on levelling up a bit. But you cannot do such an increase every year, you have to deal with it sensibly and calmly. Inflation is an issue for many companies. My point is: as a company you can't put it all down to your customer, we have to share it with each other.”

In the meantime, Krouwels was already thinking about the next edition of the fair. “Which segments need more attention, which do we want to expand, and what are we still missing?” It was clear that she wants to continue working with as many different parties as possible. “I have noticed in my career: if you work together and it fits, new things arise, and then it can be for the long term.”

The colourful ribbons in the front of the main hall of Modefabriek. Image: Aygin Kolaei for FashionUnited

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

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