Denim trade fair Kingpins returned to Amsterdam this week for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. The two-day event, running from April 20 to 21, took place for the first time at SugarCity in the outskirts of Amsterdam.
Over 80 exhibitors attended the show, which kicked off on a sunny Wednesday with an upbeat and excited energy. The consensus among businesses was that while the digital iteration of the fair set up during the pandemic had been practical in the circumstances, it fell far short of replacing the intimacy and physical aspects of the traditional trade fair.
“It’s been a long two years since we last saw each other and I think everyone is just really happy to be back,” said Helen Latham, a senior strategic account manager at The Lycra Company. “There is a huge amount of pent up excitement - it’s just great to see each other in the flesh again and not through a screen.”
Lycra had a “non-stop” busy show, meeting customers and showcasing its two key new innovations: Lycra Adaptiv fiber, which is made from a patent-pending polymer that helps jeans adapt to fit more body shapes; and Lycra Dual Comfort, a sustainable innovation for ready-to-wear and wovens.
The new, upsized location of the fair boasted 40 percent more space than the former venue at Westergasfabriek. Unlike the previous location, the expansive factory spanned various floors, with its rugged industrial interior a fitting backdrop to the denim convention. While the consensus was that the upsizing of the venue was a positive thing, some found that the more complex shape and additional floors hindered the flow of visitors to stands. However, it’s safe to say that any change in setting will have teething issues.
A key new addition to the venue was a dedicated sustainability section under the ‘Transformers’ banner. Kingpins launched Transformers in 2014 as a summit series spotlighting positive changes needed in the denim industry, and in 2020 it evolved into a non-profit foundation focused on actively addressing and facilitating change in key areas across the supply chain.
One company in the sustainable section was India’s Arvind, which was showcasing a number of sustainable products, with a particular focus on water saving initiatives such as its ‘Quantum Indigo’, a foam dyeing method that reduces the use of water by 95 percent.
“It’s great to see this dedicated sustainability section at Kingpins,” said Matthew Abbott, a design consultant at Arvind. “It’s increasingly hard to see just how sustainable companies really are through all their claims, so it’s great to have a section like this where their business practices and products are vetted.”
Sustainability takes centre stage
The new Transformers section comes at a time when demand for sustainability continues to climb, with various exhibitors at Kingpins citing it as one of the most sought after features clients are interested in when searching for products.
Kingpins also launched a new sustainable installation at the entrance to the venue called ‘Most Sustainable Product’, where different products from the exhibitors have been curated and designed into a selection of hybrid outfits.
“This is a very exciting new space for us where clients can see past all these sustainable claims and marketing strategies to know what are truly the most sustainable products,” said Emily Olah, the acting executive director of the Transformers Foundation and the managing director of Kingpins.
She added that in the future she hopes to further expand the area and include different features, such as trim, pocketing or labelling, to give an “absolute view” of a sustainable outfit.
Supply chain worries
Despite the overall upbeat mood at Kingpins, the trade fair came at a time of deep uncertainty for the denim and wider apparel industry which has faced unprecedented disruption as supply chains have been impacted by the pandemic and more recently by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, many companies at Kingpins said supply chain issues were a key concern for them amid rising inflation and prices of energy, cotton and other raw materials.
“We have a lot of problems with the high prices, so this is the driver that we most feel, after a long time we are talking about sustainability and we were able to reach a good level for this,” said Frank Strathmann, a sales manager from garment maker DenimAuthority. “But everything gets a bit destroyed because of high production prices. They are starting to search for solutions to save money and that kills all these activities we did before.”
However, DenimAuthority has seen some positives in terms of its supply chain. Strathmann said that the company has recently been seeing entrances from brands who used to work in the Far East who are now looking for places closer to Europe.
China-based Freedom Denim has also faced difficulties. “Like many companies we’ve been hit by the pandemic and we haven’t managed to get all of our current collection here like we would have liked to, so we’re showing some of our older stuff, too,” said a sales rep from the company. “But everyone here is in the same boat - it’s about learning to work with it and deal with it as it comes.”
The Lycra Company has also not gone unaffected. “We are currently sold out of products. Things are really moving and it’s hard to keep up,” said Helen Latham, referring to the rebound in demand for denim now that economies have reopened. “Strong demand is a nice problem to have, of course”, she said, but added that the company is now “starting to see the first signs of consumers going less into stores” as inflation rises.
The overall takeaway from Kingpins varied from business to business: Many exhibitors celebrated a strong number of orders and consistent footfall, while others said they were doing mostly networking, pointing to the Easter holidays as a reason why it might have been quieter than they would have hoped.
But the overall mood was undoubtedly upbeat, with attendees happy to see each other in person again after what has been a long and difficult two years, and there was a reassuring optimism that the end of the pandemic was firmly in sight.