Show report: Harrogate Fashion Week extends to three days
Harrogate Fashion Week is getting longer. Buoyed by its success over eight seasons, the two-day womenswear event in the Yorkshire spa town will add a third day next season, running from Sunday to Tuesday, 30 July to 1 August.
Co-founders Sarah Moody and Wendy Adams believe the extra day will allow them to add more exhibitors and give more time for buyers to travel from the south of England. Existing exhibitors are split over the move, with some expressing concern about the expected increased costs.
Launched in July 2018 with about 50 exhibitors, the show attracted around 170 exhibitors for the autumn-winter 23 edition on Sunday and Monday and again delivered a good turnout of independent fashion boutique owners from, primarily, the north of England, Scotland, the Midlands and both sides of the Irish border.
Footfall was steady and buyers were generally in cautiously confident mood despite erratic trading in the run up to Christmas and ongoing concerns about the media’s promotion of cost-of-living worries.
“We always planned to go to three days when we got bigger,” explained Adams. “We see plenty of potential to add collections to expand our appeal.”
“We need to go to three days to be regarded as a national show,” added Moody. “Although we do attract some buyers from the south, we are still regarded by some as a northern show. We can see it’s hard for someone from, say, the south coast to get up here for just a Sunday and Monday. We have extended our third hall by about 1,000 square metres of stands this season and added about 30 new exhibitors across the show. If we go to four halls buyers could not get round everyone in two days.”
The long history of Harrogate as a location for successful womenswear, lingerie and bridalwear fairs supports Moody and Adams’ theory. They have benefited from the shrinking of Moda at the NEC and Pure in London. The appearance of more footwear stands this season, plus a sprinkling of lingerie exhibitors, indicates possible areas for relatively easy growth.
The pair would also like to attract more contemporary Scandinavian brands and general fashion ranges to complement its strong reputation for mother-of-the-bride and special occasion suppliers.
Womenswear brand Sahara, which returned to Harrogate after a gap of a few seasons, was very pleased with the reaction to its bright collection, with dresses retailing at around £135.
“It’s been really good for us, not manic, but steady,” said UK sales manager Victoria Watson. “We showed in January 2020, then the fair didn’t happen because of the lockdown. We didn’t come back in 2022 because we were concerned about it being too much about occasionwear, but we heard good feedback from stockists of ours who visited last year. We have been very pleased. It’s much more of a blend (of fashion styles) than its reputation suggests.
“We have seen existing stockists, we’ve had new interest and we have reconnected with people who we have supplied in the past. The bigger shows have stopped working for us but this is very good.”
Also pleased was first-time exhibitor Chris Williams of Amazing Woman, who was showing bright garment-dyed knitwear and casual trousers for immediate delivery. “It’s not been busy-busy, but we found eight or nine new customers on the Sunday. We have seen Irish customers and a lot of people from the north, who can do the show and go home the same day. We have already re-booked for next season.”
Looking for immediate stock were mother and daughter Ann and Debra Howes from The Clothes Shop in Newbury, Berkshire. Said Debra: “It is a long journey for us to Harrogate but there are several good brands we work with here. We had a lousy winter season. Our customers were not buying unless they really had to, so we are here mainly looking for spring-summer fill-ins rather than forward ordering. We always liked coming to Harrogate in the old days. It was always a bit more civilised and you can still drive here. You can’t do that to the London shows anymore.”
A large part of the third hall was occupied by 10 collections shown by Robert de Keyser’s Jonny Drama Group. His colleague Julian Sterck reported that his independent customers were ordering, but in “realistic” quantities.
“For most people the autumn-winter season was OK, but it’s a short season and for those selling online it was disrupted by the postal strikes. That in turn benefited, nearer Christmas, physical shops as consumers avoided buying online. But existing independent boutiques ought to be doing well as it’s a case of ‘last man standing’ for them in many places.
“We were also at INDX Woman last week and that also attracted a good turnout of buyers. I am pleased to say we have held prices for next season.”
Robert de Keyser, who has supported Moody and Adams since the start, confirmed Sunday in Harrogate had been “a phenomenal day”, with orders up 76% on the show a year ago, in large part due to the sell-through success of his Canadian collection Alison Sheri.
He is against an enlargement and extension of the event: “Sarah and Wendy have done a great job building this show, attracting good brands and loyal visitors, but a third day will add another £10,000 to my costs of being here and I don’t see how I am going to get the extra business to justify that, especially if more of my competitors start showing.”
On the Pomodoro stand, another long-time supporter of the event, Hemant Puri gave a partial welcome to the extension plans: “Retailers like this location. Some of us can think back to the mid-1980s when Harrogate was the UK’s largest womenswear show. I could see the reason for adding a third day in the July show (for the longer spring-summer season), but we only need two days for this February edition.”
Moody and Adams confirm they are ready to listen to views from the industry. “We’ll be big enough to admit if three days doesn’t work. We can always go back to two days,” said Moody.
Photography by Eric Musgrave