Fashion Weeks tends to get all the attention, but this week's MAGIC Market Week has a much greater impact on the fashion business, on what consumers will buy next season--and on the growing trend of the democratization of fashion.

Here's another in my series where I pick a topic and connect with someone a lot smarter than me. (There's a list of previous installments at the end of this article.)

This time I talked with Tom Florio, the CEO of Advanstar Fashion Group. Prior to that Tom was the senior VP and publishing director of Condé Nast, the VP and publisher of GQ, and the VP and publishing director of Vogue.

So yeah, he knows a little about the fashion industry.

The average person--me definitely included--thinks New York, Paris, Milan, etc. are the key drivers of the fashion industry. 
Fashion Weeks do get a lot of press, and rightfully so, but with roughly 3,700 brands and 35,000 buyers in attendance--including 85 percent of the top retailers--more business is done at MAGIC Market Week than at any other fashion event.

Say you're an independent retailer and you want to take a buying trip. Traveling to see vendors in the U.S. and Europe would take weeks and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Here, in three days, you can spend a lot more time with a lot more brands in a highly curated way.

We've built the event around the needs of buyers and in the process created an outstanding event for designers as well.

MAGIC also drives a lot of collaboration between designers and retailers.
We're especially proud of that. In the past collaborations tended to be driven by large retailers, like Lagerfeld with H&M or Isaac Mizrahi with Target. THE TENTS makes it possible for designers to build their own collaborations with a much broader range of buyers.

That brings up an interesting point. How does a brand stay "upscale" while going "down market?" (My words, not yours.) Certainly a move like that opens a brand up to a much broader audience and larger opportunities, but what about backlash from the higher-end customers?

That question is not as relevant as it was 10 years ago. It's no longer about elitism. Popular price is the new classification. It's no longer mass vs. luxury. Popularly priced products that are well designed not only attract their target audience, they reach a much broader audience. Popular price and great design matters--not perceived value or "status."

If a designer or a brand does not want to move into a popular price space, they will have to deliver tangible product benefits that exceed the value of lower price and that can be tough to do.

For example, take Target's collaboration with Missoni. It sold out and was incredibly successful. Not only did it sell to the traditional Target customer, it sold to people who would normally buy designer clothing--because it was well made, popularly priced, and fun.

The collaboration brought a whole new customer to Target. I was in a Target in Pennsylvania and saw Missoni in Aisle 3 and lawn mowers in Aisle 7. I think that's great. Well-designed products at popular prices can transcend old-school paradigms about status or "luxury."

Then that means brands don't have to identify a customer niche and fight to stay there.
Take Tory Burch: luxury, contemporary, but really it's designed for someone who's not buying designer goods. It's that place before designer--but really nicely made and great looking--for a professional, cool, contemporary young woman with her own point of view.

Because of that, the designer customer dips down into Tory and the broader customer comes up to Tory.

The combination of well-designed and popular price can transcend a core audience and deliver value to a much broader customer base.

Speaking of transcending, you've also launched an online buying platform. But doesn't that take away from the "event" aspect of what you do?
We see ShopTheFloor as a necessity. Not to be critical or too obvious, but sites like Craigslist and daily deal sites have almost put newspapers out of business. Think if newspapers had embraced online classifieds and coupons first.

Technology creates greater access, shorter supply chains, and global sourcing, so for us it's a natural extension. What we do is offer buyers and sellers the opportunity to come together and do business, in person and now on ShopTheFloor. Plus it allows buyers to literally shop the floor before they come to the event.

For brands it creates what is literally the largest social network for fashion in the digital space. We're launching with 4,000 products and 60,000 buyers. Online enhances the buying and selling experience and helps both sides develop stronger relationships.

The goal is to reinvent the trade show space, both in person and in a multi-channel way, and to extend the buying season through the entire cycle.

Fashion shows are a great way to spot new trends; what do you see on the fashion and retail horizon?
What's most interesting is the move towards what I call the democratization of fashion. We've gone from a world where it was all about designers and the high end to collaborations and partnerships that would have never existed 10 years ago. Now we see high-end, well-designed products in mass market distribution channels.

Baby boomers were more willing to pay a premium for perceived product benefits; today's consumer wants functionality and a solid price-value relationship. They live in a world that is more social and more about inclusion, not exclusion.

That will continue to have a tremendous impact on the fashion space and on business in general.

Check out other articles in this series: