The Clothes Show: Trying on a new City

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Since 1990, Birmingham’s NEC has hosted the Clothes Show Live, an event at the heart of the city’s popular culture calendar, which attracts over 125,000 fashion tourists every year. However, in an attempt to “refresh” the show and “represent a new era and visitor experience”, next year the fashion event moves to Liverpool. What does this mean for Birmingham?

The Clothes Show Live was founded in 1989 as a spin-out of a popular BBC fashion show. It is famous for showcasing the hottest fashion and beauty trends through its catwalks, 400+ exhibitors, educational seminars and demonstrations. It is branded as a “leading fashion exhibition”, which presents the opportunity for shoppers to become immersed within the glamourous fashion world and even be ‘spotted’ by modelling scouts. It is identified as a ‘key contributory event’ to Birmingham’s tourism calendar and when it first moved to the NEC in 1990, was the only venue able to cope with the show’s demand. Nevertheless, Liverpool’s 2017 offer of a “world class” exhibition and a “city full of people who live and breathe fashion” has meant, that after 27 years, the show has finally ‘runaway’ from the second city.

So does Birmingham need to be worried? Hosted by the NEC group (a Birmingham venue management company), the Clothes Show Live has been an important contributor to the West Midlands economy. However, it is only one of 73 public flagship events that the NEC group hosts every year and is responsible for only a small proportion of the £2bn (per annum) and 29,000 full-time equivalent jobs that the group has created for the region. In 2015/16 the NEC alone hosted a total of 522 events (there are additional events held at the ICC, Barclaycard Arena and Genting Arena) and attracts new shows every year. For example, the Insomnia Gaming Festival has just signed up for 10 shows over the next three years. These figures suggest that the NEC group will be able to recover the loss, but will the city?

In lots of ways, the Clothes Show is much more than just one of the NEC’s annual events. As part of the £13 billion UK Fashion Tourism industry, the show attracts nationwide audiences and has the largest footfall of any event of its kind. The fact that it aligns with fashion tourism is valuable for promoting Birmingham, since fashion is such a socially pervasive sector and thus, information on the city’s event is frequently disseminated internationally via social media platforms. Additionally, its popular date in December has meant it had become a ‘pre-Christmas shopping ritual’ for fashion tourists, who often visit Birmingham’s retail stores as part of their experience. It also attracts a strong local audience, keeping a proportion of pre-Christmas shopping spend within the city. Furthermore, events such as the Clothes Show contribute to place marketing (image formation and destination branding), as well as a catalyst for other forms of development. It has shaped the image of Birmingham and become emblematic of its identity. Thus, the organiser’s (Haymarket) decision to rebrand Clothes Show Live as the “British Style Collective” and relocate to Liverpool would have undoubtedly been a blow for Birmingham. The show’s manager explained that they were “moving with the times” and “wanted to be able to give our audience something different and new”. So as a key item moves off the city rail, how should and will Birmingham respond?

1 thought on “The Clothes Show: Trying on a new City”

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