With trade shows now a penny across the fashion landscape, FashionUnited talks to Sola Oyebade, founder and director of Mahogany International, a trade show with a difference: the longest running European bridal fashion show for African/Caribbean brides. This year being its 15th going strong, FashionUnited finds out more about overcoming prejudices and keeping going!
did the idea for a specific African/Caribbean bridal show come about 15 years ago?
It came about because at the time I was looking to source African Caribbean companies or individuals that could provide wedding related goods and services to a friend that was getting married and it was very difficult to find such companies. 15 years ago there were limited events or shows for the African Caribbean community, especially within the entertainment industry, as it was not as developed as it is now. I felt that the gap in the market had to be filled and thus started the Mahogany Bridal Show.
How were you received back then when a niche exhibition show like this was a complete novelty?
It was very strange and a very hard sale, firstly, because people were sceptical as to whether there was even a need for such a show, that it would work, or that anyone would attend and, secondly, it was hard to even find African Caribbean companies that were involved in the wedding business. Those issues aside it was very well received and accepted by not only the African Caribbean community but also by mainstream as well, and we had a number of mainstream companies also exhibit at the show and have done so ever since.
Why do you think the show has retained its place over such a long period of time?
It has maintained its place because people actually underestimate how difficult and costly doing bridal shows are and, thus, others who have tried to compete have ended up withering away. Beyond that I believe that the key thing is that we are constantly reinventing ourselves and trying to adapt to the changing times. We try and ensure that we put on a highly professional, well managed show and we look for exhibitors that are unique and have something different to offer, as well as making sure that we find designers that don't produce just the traditional bridal wear. We endeavour to put on a show not just an event.
Who and where does your main buying interest come from during the show?
Due to the fact that we have been the only and biggest bridal show in the UK for many years it has meant that people are naturally drawn to the show, most African Caribbean brides and grooms that are getting married in the UK come to the show. And feedback and comments from visitors to the show indicates that they have from countries all over the world from France, Germany, Holland, Nigeria, Ghana and many other countries so it is truly an international event. Our visitors and exhibitors are not only African Caribbean but also Asian and Caucasian and many other communities.
How many designers do you showcase during the event?
This is not the type of bridal show where you come, to see lots of traditional white wedding and bridesmaids dresses but if you are looking for something different, bright, colourful and original than the Mahogany Bridal Fashion Show is the place to visit as it brings you some of the best alternative bridal designers that the UK, Europe, the Caribbean and Africa has to offer. Each year we showcase at least eight designers and we try and ensure that they are a mixture of traditional and alternative dress designers. There are two fantastic fashion shows featuring an array of designers who showcase everything from traditional, alternative and African inspired wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses as well as menswear.
What are the main developments to the show over the years?
The main change over the years particularly with the economic downturn is that we have made the focus more about the bridal fashion show than having a very large exhibition, particularly because not as many companies and individuals can afford to exhibit. Also due to visitor feedback we have been given we have now made the fashion shows the focal point of Mahogany. One of the things that I am most proud of is that exhibitors are far more professional and take pride in the presentation of their stands. The show continues to get both national and international recognition as well as press attention.
With new online developments what do you think the future of the trade show is?
I already believe that online developments are having an effect of our show – so in response we have downsized the amount of exhibitors we have at the show because ever more of them sell online and can reach their target audience via various online mediums and no longer really need trade shows to create audience awareness. Recognising this we changed the name from the mahogany bridal show to the mahogany bridal fashion show with greater concentration on the fashion element of getting married as fashion - We are monitoring the effects of the online revolution and will continue to adapt as we feel we need to.
Photo: iDeLick Media