After more than a year, Expo Riva Schuh is back with an appointment in attendance from 18 to 20 July, confirming once again the resilience of the historic Riva del Garda fair and its centrality in the international trade fair scene. It was undoubtedly a different edition from the past, both for the certainly small numbers, and for the restrictions that inevitably characterised it in order to ensure safety and physical distancing welcoming almost 3 thousand visitors from Europe and the rest of the world. And yet it was a particularly important edition for the significance it had and for the message of responsiveness and recovery that it wanted to give to the sector as a whole, with the ability to attract nearly 3,000 visitors from 79 countries around the world. We wanted to ‘capture’ the general mood from the living voice of some of its protagonists and get a more complete overview of the footwear sector in the various national realities.
The restart of physical fairs
“I believe the world cannot be stopped due to Covid-19 and that the fairs must go on, because I am sure that we will have to live with this pandemic for some time yet – says Francisco Albert Rico – Manager Director Pinoso’s – Spain. This is why our presence at Expo Riva Schuh was so important: the fact of being able to meet customers in person, show them live samples, have real relationships with them, all this is essential, even if we were aware that it would not be a ‘normal’ edition… But we had to start somewhere to get the machine ‘running again’!”.
Also Ruggero Abbiati – Condor Trade (Inblu) – Italy, representative of a historic presence at the Riva del Garda fair, shares the same opinion: “It was a pleasure to return to this Expo Riva Schuh edition, a historic and fundamental event for us to meet the majors European distribution chains, and especially of Northern Europe. This is because it was important to give a signal of restart and resilience, but also because after a long time it was finally possible to see customers face-to-face again, in a relationship that cannot be replaced by digital. I believe, in fact, that in the near future the virtual presentation of the collection will integrate ever more with the physical one, but it will never be able to completely replace it”.
According to Carlo Crescente, CEO of Focus Int. (Armata di Mare) – Italy, this typical ‘shoe’ product type requires face-to-face contact between producer and buyer: “Footwear is a complex product, because it is not just the quality or less of the materials used or the pleasant or trendy aesthetics, fit, flexibility, comfort are fundamental. The shoe is a product that you need to see and touch with your hands. That is why physical fairs are so important: four out of five new customers we met at Expo Riva Schuh, wanted to try on the shoe before placing orders”.
Also according to Paulo Martins – CEO Ambitious – Portugal, the return of of Expo Riva Schuh’s physical edition represented a substantial turning point for the corporate business: “Here in Riva del Garda we work above all with private labels and it is essential for us to meet buyers in person: this is the only way for them to take a closer look at the shoe, touch it, and make the appropriate adjustments to a detail, a colour combination or material”.
Moreover, according to several exhibitors, precisely restrictions and greater difficulties in travel resulting from the pandemic have led really interested visitors, motivated to purchase to the three days of the Rivana event. This is also confirmed by Paulo Martins of Ambitious: “Without a doubt this Expo Riva Schuh edition, like all the other fairs at the moment, has been subdued compared to the past one, but it could only be so given the international restrictions and the fears still related to Covid, but we met seriously interested buyers, who did not come to the fair for PR, but to make collections and place orders”.
Almost all of the exhibitors we interviewed presented their new collection for summer 2022 at the fair, also because the postponed date to July is already far ahead in the seasonal calendar to place ready-to-wear orders for the large international distribution. Not to mention that delivery times have a decisive impact on imported products, as underlined by Carlo Crescente of Armata di Mare: “For those who, like us, make an imported product, and rather complex in terms of technologies used and combination of materials, production times as well as shipping times are medium-long. Collections must therefore be planned well in advance without the possibility to work in ready-to-wear fashion”.
Signs of recovery and new global balances
The good attendance at the physical fair was confirmation of a first turnaround from the crisis following the pandemic, with a recovery of the clothing and footwear sector in various countries, as Francisco Albert Rico of Pinoso’s confirms: “The sales situation in Spain shows the first signs of recovery after a long period of stagnation. When the pandemic broke out, in fact, people continued to need food, but clothing and footwear took a back seat, even if our product (comfort and diabetic footwear) suffered a limited decline. More than one year later, we are seeing the first signs of a return to purchase, especially in the store, so much that in recent months we have seen a decrease in direct online sales on our website, compared to those in physical stores. However, it is important to remember that our company policy has always been aimed at protecting our distributing customers by applying an online price that is always the same or lower than that applied by physical distribution”.
The impression that things are finally moving is also shared by Paulo Martins of Ambitious, who states: “By working 98% with the foreign market we get a global vision of the situation, and the general impression is that – after a period of fear and disorientation – the world is learning to live with this virus and also the footwear market is reacting positively”. Even in the case of Ambitiuos, the business was strongly influenced by the strategies implemented by the company during the advent of Covid. “From the first moment, we decided not to stop, continuing to invest in R&D and always developing new models, even if this often meant overcoming many difficulties in finding materials or components. Ours has proved to be a winning strategy and today we are reaping the benefits of this work, because the warehouse stocks of many retailers have run out and buyers are looking for a new model shop to offer to the end customer”.
Focusing on continuous investment in the development of the collection, is a strategy also undertaken by Inblu, as confirmed by Ruggero Abbiati of Condor Trade: “As always, at Expo Riva Schuh we proposed a wide variety of models and, despite July is a bit late for our product, we managed to set appointments for late orders. In order to give an incentive to the market, we have focused on the development of several new models, many of which have been selected by large chain stores for important orders”.
Same orientation for Gorkem Bilgin, owner of Mago Shoes – Turkey, who states: “In this spring/ summer 2022 collection we have introduced many new models, characterised by new colour combinations, prints on leather and soles. Our new line of stylish sneakers and sandals has already received positive feedback from our customers, thanks to a highly sought-after mix of fashion and comfort. In addition to the new models, also the best sellers of the season were rewarded by buyers, which represent a highly successful option for final sales. The advent of Covid has also pushed us to focus more than in the past on social media, which today are increasingly important to communicate with the younger generations”.
Speaking of Turkey, the country where the company is based, Gorkem Bilgin points out “It is no secret that every country’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and Turkey makes no exception. We are however pleased to see that things are improving day by day and the turnout of buyers at the fair was a confirmation of this”.
Also Carlo Crescente, from Armata di Mare, confirms that he has met several new customers at the fair, coming in particular from Poland, Latvia, Croatia, Canada and the USA, but he also highlights the birth of new global balances with the emergence of growing difficulties related to the price increase of raw materials and the rising shipping costs from the Far East. “Today it is increasingly difficult to produce in China, because delivery times have terribly lengthened and the costs of materials and components have increased. Shipping companies try to maximise profit and cut costs by making more calls in different ports than in the past, and consequently the delivery times of the products in Europe are getting longer. At the same time, it is nowadays difficult to reconvert production in Europe and Italy, because after years of relocation it is now difficult to find skilled and competent labour at competitive prices. This is the price we are paying after having taken our know-how across the borders for years. But not only that: I believe that we will have to rethink the way of doing fashion in general, because the rush to create new collections with an ever shorter life, as well as the frenzy of fast fashion, but also a fashion made up of increasingly elaborate and complex products, has led to unsustainable environmental and social costs. I think the future of fashion must go towards a simpler product, created to last longer and considering social and environmental ethics”.