When the marvelous Ida Lewis-Polite of Ida's Idea in downtown D.C. first saw the Kupendiza bags, she said "You belong at Coterie!"
New to the industry, I'd never heard of this huge fashion trade show. But, ever coachable, I noted it in my little black book for future reference. When an icon of retail in the District of Columbia favors you with a recommendation, I figure you'd be an idiot not to listen.
That conversation took place well before Kupendiza officially launched in November 2015, when I was still traipsing around to BNI meetings (Business Networking International) showing the bags, assessing interest, and collecting feedback. That one line from Ida might have been the best advice I got out of all that networking.
Well, a year passed before we felt ready for New York, the fashion capital of the nation - but this year I got in the Hyundai and made the trip.
Coterie is held twice a year at the Javits Center, and the spring show was Feb 28-March 1. Quite the event! It is one of the biggest trade shows for fashion houses wanting to sell to retailers. It bills itself as "the premier global marketplace that connects women's apparel, accessories, and footwear designers with the international 'who’s who' of retailers."
For a first-timer it was awe-inspiring! In a city full of iconic buildings, the Jacob K. Javits Center at W. 34th & 11th Avenue holds its own. Right next to the Hudson River, on the New York side of the Lincoln Tunnel, it is a glimmering edifice of glass and steel.
The first day, I was silly enough to drive downtown, where I paid $50 to park. $50!!! One expects everything in NYC to cost twice as much as anywhere else in the country, but $50??? That was the "event rate." And that parking lot, the stacking kind, where they hoist your car up in the air, was a good half mile from the venue. (Uh-huh. Got that! Day two, I parked in Harlem and took the subway in. I may be naive, but I'm not stupid.)
The trip was a fact-finding mission. I went as a retailer, so did not pay to attend. What I learned is that the main show is for well-established fashion houses. But downstairs is where you'll find the up-and-comers - at a series of smaller shows - and where Kupendiza will aspire to exhibit in the next year or two.
This is a world unto itself, and is just as remarkable. There I talked to vendors at Edit ("curated luxury and ready-to-wear"), Sole Commerce (speaks for itself - footwear) -- and TMRW ("advanced contemporary lines and emerging designers with global perspective"), where Kupendiza's products will probably best fit in.
For two days I tooled around, studying beautiful, elaborate booth displays; envying a lot of classy collateral; and noting the racks, shelving, and the many varieties of hanging devices used by the professionals. I talked to people, took some pictures, and picked up glamorous "look books" that I know cost a pretty penny.
I watched how the vendors work with retail buyers, and while it all looks like a party, there is clearly serious commerce going on. The vendors came to show off their latest and greatest and, prayerfully, take orders. The buyers came to trend-spot and, most importantly, shop for the fall season.
There were definitely vendors that Kupendiza can work with immediately, and I learned that a "wholesale" order can be placed for as few as six pieces. Surrounded by so much wonderful design, I nevertheless had to keep in mind the Kupendiza brand - "hand-made by women." This gave a focus to my investigation, which no doubt saved me from sensory overwhelm. I was able to glide past rows and rows of beautiful things without stopping, untroubled by my usual FOMO (fear of missing out).
I saw vendors assess me and quickly size me up as a looky-loo. Which I was. LOL. I wore jeans, for goodness sake, and not designer jeans! And since I'd come to walkabout for the better part of two days, unlike the true fashionistas I had not paired my jeans with 3-inch heels.
I am so glad I went. It was worth it, so worth it, to see how the big girls and boys play. I came away with a bigger vision for Kupendiza's future, and a greater understanding of what it will take to get there.
Thank you, Ida!
Check out Ida's Idea at 1029 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005