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VISIT reports the word from Micam in Milan

Tom Bottomley
23 September 2022

This week, from 18-20 September, saw footwear trade fair Micam in Milan – under the banner of ‘Finally Together’ - get back to a more ‘normal’ pre-pandemic feel, with buyers from the domestic Italian market back in force, as well as visitors from farther afield including the US, Canada, Japan and Australia.

Hundreds of Italian brands showing their SS23 collections were joined by separate areas dedicated to brands from Germany and Turkey, but what was perhaps surprising was the lack of brands and buyers from the UK. Here’s what those exhibitors who did make it from these shores had to say.

Victoria André, Founder and Designer, Vandrelaar

Victoria André, Founder and Designer, Vandrelaar

Vandrelaar is a new slow fashion women’s brand from London, designed with integrity and in small quantities. We’re exhibiting here at Micam for the first time in the ‘Emerging Designers’ section, which is really exciting – putting us in touch with buyers and distributors from all over the world. My whole background is shoes - I studied shoemaking at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion and have worked in the industry ever since. Bar Covid, I’ve been coming to Micam twice a year every year so it made sense to give it a go for my own brand.

The likes of Church’s and Cheaney – who I used to work for as a sales assistant when I was a student – have been regularly showing here in the past, but they are not here now, which is a shame. A lot of businesses in the fashion and shoe industry have been hit hard by the pandemic, especially in regard to factories and production. Micam used to be a lot busier with a lot more suppliers and booths, however it seems people are slowly and tentatively coming back.

It's been great to see who is interested in Vandrelaar. There’s been a lot of buyers from Italy, but there’s also been buyers from the Far East - Japan and China in particular, and also from the US. It’s a real mix. We’ve not seen any British buyers as yet, but hopefully soon! I definitely think it’s a show that more British brands should look at doing, and more British buyers should attend. Because of Brexit, it’s a great opportunity to enter, or re-enter, the European market and meet new buyers.

Our main model so far – since December 2021 - has been selling direct-to-consumer from our website and on social media, but we’re looking to partner with the right boutiques on the wholesale side and this is a great opportunity to see if we can find the right partners, wherever they may be. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback so far.

Agnes Cushnie, Co-founder and Marketing Director, and Shola Asante, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Sante + Wade

Agnes Cushnie, Co-founder and Marketing Director, and Shola Asante, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Sante + Wade

Cushnie: This is our first time showing at Micam. We’ve previously just been a direct-to-consumer brand, and particularly during Covid that made perfect sense. Now entering wholesale, we wanted to go for one of the most established shows with a European presence, hence we’re at Micam.

We previously showed in the UK at Pure, but this has more of an international crowd. As well as our main collection, we’re also showing our first collection as part of our licensing agreement with French Connection, which is for one year. We’re handling wholesale sales for it and it’s drawing a lot of interest. It’s a bit more classic, but with some pop colours. It’s for the woman who wants something elegant, but also that has something different about it.

Originally selling direct-to-consumer was the best way for us to test the suitability of our product for our target audience. We could see where our customers were coming from online, and if they were not happy about something they would tell us on an email! It enabled us to own the process and fine tune the direction of the collection. In terms of product development, we also learnt what sells best. What we now need to do is scale up that know-how and make us more accessible to a wider audience, because the bottom line is not everybody shops online.

Taking a wholesale route obviously means it has an impact on our margins, so our prices have to rise to some extent, but I really believe in having an omni-channel approach. People like to see the product in-store, and it’s sometimes important for people to be able to try product on.

Asante: We don’t try to do anything too avant garde. The whole business idea came from our frustration at not being able to find styles we wanted in our size. I’ve got wide feet and I couldn’t find anything I wanted. The things I enjoy the most with footwear are colour and texture, and it’s the mixing of the two where our designs are strong. Not overly glam, but not too simplistic either. It’s not for a complete fashionista, but it is for the woman who wants to look stylish, and be comfortable.

For the SS23 collection, I went to Miami for inspiration and loved it – especially all the colours – so it was about bringing a lit bit of that Miami beach flavour to the collection. There’s a bit of gold and luxe to it, but it’s not bling. We use a lot of the same silhouettes and our mid-heels and printed sneakers are really popular.

Adam Green, General Manager, Caleres Europe, showing Vionic and Naturalizer

Adam Green, General Manager, Caleres Europe, showing Vionic and Naturalizer

We carry these two brands for the UK and Europe with offices and a warehouse in Milton Keynes, as well as a new warehouse in Belgium to service the European business. Brexit was definitely a significant contributing factor for us making that move. We started showing at Micam five years ago, though we did pause when the pandemic struck. This is our first show back. We understand that footfall is better this time than the last couple of shows. It’s improving show by show, though it’s not properly back on its feet yet.

The parent company Caleres was a re-brand from The Brown Shoe Company, based in St. Louis, Missouri in the US. They have offices on the east coast and west coast as well. It’s a very strong domestic North America business worth around $3 billion, and is also on the stock exchange. A very big player in the industry.

From a total group perspective, Naturalizer is the biggest brand. In fact, it’s one of the biggest contemporary comfort casual brands in the US. It’s a potential rival to Clarks in the UK and Europe, but not so well known or with the same brand awareness yet. It’s our role to now drive it in our territories.

Vionic was originally created in Australia by a well renowned podiatrist called Phillip Vasyli. He started with podiatry clinics and then turned his attention to making orthotic insoles that promote natural alignment. Vionic shoes therefore have a very genuine benefit and USP. Caleres acquired the brand approximately two years ago and there are multi categories, including sneakers and sandals – for which it’s most famous for - and the collection is 90% women’s and 10% men’s.

I don’t know why there are not so few exhibitors here from the UK, though I have heard that there’s been implications surrounding Brexit. From our perspective, just getting samples here was difficult. We try to step up to those challenges and we made it happen, but there’s an awful lot of bureaucracy, paper work and hoops you have to jump through to get here now.

So much so that I know a lot of people who pulled out, including people from the service and support industries such as the haulers and the stand builders. Having said that, our Italian contact tells us that he’s got twice as many exhibitors here as he had a couple of seasons ago, so he expects more next time.

In term of buyers, so far we’ve seen a lot of Italians, as well as buyers from the US, Asia and the Middle East. We’ve seen some buyers from across Europe too, though so far none from the UK.

Carl Barratt, Sales Agent and Distributor, Start Agency, showing Mou

Carl Barratt, Sales Agent and Distributor, Start Agency, showing Mou

I’ve just taken on sales for Mou through distributor 33 Joints in the UK. It’s a British brand with an Italian licensee called Artcrafts which has it for Europe, and that’s why it’s here – along with about eight other brands they distribute. Globally, Mou been massive, but in the UK it’s been a bit stop/start with a few different distributors and agencies over the years. The owner, Shelley Tichborne, has a shop in Burlington Arcade in London. It’s all women’s and kid’s footwear, using sustainable fabrics, and it’s what is called the Eskimo stitch detail which is what the brand is renowned for. I will actually be launching it properly for AW23, though I’ve been showing it to quite a few customers already and I’ll open between six and 10 accounts for SS23 to kick things off.

I was previously the Sales Director for Luke and Alpha Industries in the UK, but I set up my own agency just before Covid hit. Great timing! On the menswear side, I’m now looking after BALR., Blauer, Backside Club, Pressio, and on footwear I have P448 and now Mou.

My customers are Harrods, END., Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Tessuti, Choice, Zee & Co. and so on, and I’ll be looking to position this around that sort of customer base, as well as key independent boutiques. So far, there’s been a good reaction.

I’m here in Milan because I look after Italian brands, and I’ve got appointments tomorrow with Blauer and P448. I didn’t come to Micam on the Mou stand expecting to see UK buyers, though, as it happens, I do have two or three UK customers who said they would come to see me today. I know the guy from Schuberts Footwear in Barnes is here, and so is the owner of Pampas in Glasgow.

How they can find anything at this show though I don’t know! It’s such a vast show, I genuinely wouldn’t know where to start, though Hall 2 where we are located is very busy – miles busier than I expected. Obviously, there are a lot of locals from the Italian market here, but we’ve had quite a few buyers from Benelux and Germany too.

For me, this is a great specialist footwear show, and people are starting to travel again. Unfortunately, from my understanding, most people in the UK seem very hesitant to exhibit at shows, which is a disappointment for me.

I believe strongly in shows, but they are not being supported by customers, so I understand their hesitancy. At the moment, with everything that’s going on in the industry, I think people are looking to cut back. But, if I was a brand owner and looking to get into the European market, I would definitely consider showing here. It’s the one to be at for footwear - you’ve only got to look at how busy it is.

Gautam Mehra, Managing Director, Leiner Shoes, showing Vanilla Moon and JVAM

Gautam Mehra, Managing Director, Leiner Shoes, showing Vanilla Moon and JVAM

Vanilla Moon has been established since 2010. The holding company and manufacturers, Leiner Shoes, is from India, but we have a base in London where we distribute the brand. The company also does private label, and that’s mainly why we are here.

Vanilla Moon is trend driven with retail prices between £90 - £200. Unfortunately, we are not currently selling it in the UK market, though previously we had been selling to a lot of independents. The business was shrinking and it was increasingly difficult to get payments, even pre-Covid. We are, however, selling JVAM as a small sub-brand in the UK and we have a few stores that are stocking it.

JVAM launched in Japan four years ago. We have distribution there and it was designed for the Japanese market. We only started selling it in the UK last spring/summer.

We’ve been doing Micam for more than 20 years, always in the same spot in Hall 2. It’s a great show for us, as we meet Americans, Japanese, Koreans, Australians, everyone. It’s mostly international buyers, very few English. We used to see some Irish buyers coming here, but for us this is really more of a factory show for private label. Customers can put their own brand on our products, if they’ve got the volume.

I would recommend for UK brands to show here, but the problem that has come around after Brexit is shipping. As a distributor, you now need a European company to do it, where as previously we could easily ship to the likes of Italy, Portugal, Spain and so on. It’s now got a little complicated. You have to have a shipping agent who has got the VAT registration. It’s not easy or smooth, and it can be a big problem when selling to independents in Europe.

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