Sofie Dolva on her new responsibilities as director of CIFF and the fair's upcoming 60th edition
From February 1 to 3, the Danish fashion and accessories fair will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a new edition taking place at the Bella Center in Copenhagen. The trade show has established itself as one of the leading professional events in the Scandinavian fashion industry. Like its last editions, the CIFF fair will be held in parallel with the capital's fashion week and the Revolver fair. This will be the last time that the two fairs will be organised separately as, following the recent acquisition of Revolver by CIFF, the two trade shows will be organised as one from this summer onwards.
FashionNetwork.com met up with the newly appointed director of CIFF, Sofie Dolva, who took over from Christina Neustrup after the last edition of the fair. The interview covered topics such as the event's upcoming 60th edition, her new responsibilities as director of the fair, the merger of the Danish fairs, the evolution of the sector and new concepts, including a first foray into the beauty sector, which is not surprising considering Dolva's professional background. She has notably held senior positions at L'Oréal and Lulab, two leading companies in the beauty industry.
FashionNetwork.com: You took over as director of the CIFF fair last summer. How have your first months in this new position been going and what responsibilities does your role involve?
Sofie Dolva: I spent the first few months getting to know the team, as well as most of the brands and buyers we work with, so that I could understand their needs and where we need to improve in the midst of inflation. Once we had gathered all the feedback, we were able to identify what we needed to change for this anniversary edition and what direction we should take in the long term.
In addition, we have added new members to our team, especially in the digital and sales departments. It's not only about growing our team, but also about having the right mindset and skills in order to do better working with brands. One of our main areas of work has been studying marketing strategies to really understand if brands can count on a satisfactory ROI (return on investment) when they invest large resources into their participation at the fair.
FNW: What new features will this anniversary edition have?
S.D: Our exhibition surface area is huge, so we have enough room to diversify our offer. One comment that came up a lot in the feedback we received from our exhibitors was a general interest in not only presenting brands that participate in fashion week and have a premium positioning, but also in integrating companies that are less high-end but that are capable of generating a good volume of turnover. Both buyers and customers are all looking for this mix.
That's why we offer a unique consumer-focused experience, staging a number of shows at the Bella Arena before the official start of Fashion Week, hosting more than 12,000 people and bringing together 60 women's, men's and children's fashion brands, most of which are not part of the official fashion week calendar. We even have accessory and footwear brands. It is an important way of creating a showcase that introduces brands to Scandinavian and international customers and buyers, as well as to the press and VIP guests.
CIFF's main objective is to generate business. We are going to have a new, highly curated space to showcase Danish fashion brands. We have realised that the fair puts a lot of emphasis on international brands, and that local brands are slightly neglected. We want to promote local talent with a set-up that resembles a small flat, displaying the collections in a different way than usual. We will also dedicate a corner to emerging talents and another one to established brands or slow-fashion brands.
We will also inaugurate a new lifestyle area where we will showcase a carefully selected range of Nordic beauty brands. There will only be labels that fit into the attendees' lifestyles. In other words, we will present indie lifestyle brands.
"Fashion can create many synergies with beauty and lifestyle"
FNW: Does this initiative have anything to do with your background in the beauty industry?
S.D: In a way, yes. It was actually very surprising when we first started talking about this project, but it's something that's been missing in the beauty industry for a long time. There are beauty fairs that are very much aimed at salons and hairdressers, and professional clients. But there is also a niche in terms of Scandinavian fashion that diversifies into the beauty segment. It's a whole lifestyle that should have its own space at CIFF. I think we will be able to create a lot of synergies and learn a lot together, as fashion brands nowadays tend to fall into this category, while retail stores are gravitating towards a more concept-store style. CIFF will be able to offer many small beauty brands access to the biggest international retailers. We have made a very careful selection of 80 brands, where the best Nordic cosmetic brands will be on display.
FNW: How have all these new developments been received?
S.D: I think with a lot of optimism. Moreover, Nordic cosmetic brands are very well-known abroad and are already well positioned. So I think this will have a very positive impact on the brands present.
FNW: What are exhibitors expecting from this edition after last summer's recovery?
S.D: The feedback we receive is always very different. But many participants agreed that working days are very limited, so it is very difficult to do business by just being present at the fair, waiting for buyers to come to the brands' stands. As a trade fair, when we provide this professional service, we also have to work with the brands to set realistic expectations, define a concrete expansion strategy by market, by channel, etc. In order to be sure that the buyers we invite match their needs and their target market. The main challenge for trade fairs is to connect brands and buyers. And our team works hard to ensure that the buyers we invite are able to sign interesting business deals.
On the other hand, we need to help brands identify their target audience and to collaborate with them and provide a lookbook so that they can present themselves in a different way. We need to deliver interesting and short presentations of the brands so that buyers can understand their story and positioning. It is important that we communicate well to avoid wasted time and to establish the right connections.
We also organise follow-up meetings with the brands to support and guide them so that they can make the most of all the opportunities the trade fair has to offer. For example, each day we organise a 'social hour' during which brands can connect with all the buyers. Brands have to do research beforehand and prepare themselves to meet the buyers so that these meetings can be useful and productive. In short, we are taking small steps towards simplifying and facilitating encounters that lead to sales.
FNW: What about the smaller brands?
S.D: Smaller brands have to work on their public relations, which is sometimes even more important than closing deals at the fair. This is why we launched the 'Apartment' area, so that the first impression they make is more appealing.
FNW: How would you define the current period and what are your main challenges as the event's new director?
S.D: We are in a period of transition. There are some things we won't be able to change quickly from one edition to the next, but if we implement a trial-and-error strategy we can progressively improve. My priority is to make our approach more and more structured to better collaborate with brands and help them do business. At the end of the day, that's the main reason we're here.
FNW: The role of trade fairs was very much questioned during the pandemic. How do you think this industry will evolve?
S.D: I think most brands reacted very positively after the pandemic and it was clear to all of them that they had to come back. Of course, they all adapted to digitalization at an accelerated pace, but the physical part remains fundamental. A trade fair also functions as a community, a meeting point for professionals coming from all over the world. It is also a clear source of inspiration. I don't think trade shows are going to be less relevant in the future, but I am aware that we need to adapt and improve in order to provide services that are consistent with what brands are looking for.
Scandinavian fashion in the limelight
FNW: Have the characteristics of the participating brands changed?
S.D: After the pandemic, we saw a large number of returning exhibitors. And we noticed a large increase in the number of Scandinavian buyers, as we are the only major fair in the region. I think that progressively we will focus on getting the four Scandinavian countries to work together on bringing back buyers from the region. If the buyers return, we will encourage brands that currently present their collections through showrooms to participate in the fair. We need to join forces to be competitive.
FNW: What about brands from other parts of Europe, specifically those from southern European countries for whom the summer calendar is not exactly favourable?
S.D: I think that, since the merger between CIFF and Revolver, it will be much easier for these brands to come and participate in the only Scandinavian fair on the market. Logistically it will be much easier for them. Of course, we are aware that the summer edition is not the most convenient for them, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to meet the demands of brands and buyers. We have to continue working along these lines in the future, without a doubt, in order to increase the number of exhibitors and visitors.
FNW: How do you expect this year's edition to go?
S.D: We are expecting a 10% growth compared to last August's edition. Registration rates are, for the moment, very optimistic. However, for me, there is a big difference between figures and quality. I prefer to prioritise quality, even if forecasts for the moment are satisfactory and encouraging. We will evaluate this at the end of the fair, but we have high expectations.
FNW: How do you create synergies with Copenhagen Fashion Week, which takes place at the same time as the fairs?
S.D: We work very closely together and agree on the calendar. In addition, CIFF even hosts some of the shows at the Bella Center. We would love to host more shows in the future, and in order to do that we need to work hard on simplifying logistics. We are also working together on invitations as well as sustainability criteria. The goal is to make this week as grand as possible and we hope that, in the future, we will have an even closer partnership.
FNW: Revolver has been working with Pitti Uomo for years. Does CIFF have any other international projects lined up?
S.D.: For the moment, our focus is to establish our presence in Copenhagen and, of course, to continue collaborating with Pitti Uomo. If we continue to grow in the future, it will probably make the most sense to collaborate with Pitti Bimbo. Once we have achieved that here, perhaps, we can then come up with other projects. But for the moment, new projects are not among our current objectives.
FNW: CIFF is known for being a leader in sustainability. What are some of your commitments to sustainability?
S.D: Of course, we have to keep thinking about how we can do better. It is a very complex subject and one that we constantly talk about and work on in close collaboration with Copenhagen Fashion Week. For me, imposing a lot of criteria and requirements on brands is not enough to do better. I believe that we have to help them and try to ensure that, at each edition of the fair, we offer a platform where specialists can provide them with the tools and know-how they need to develop.
Many small or emerging brands do not have the capacity or the resources to be at the forefront of this area and we should not stop because of this, but rather help them along this journey to help them move forward and improve. We do not want to push brands aside but to work together towards this goal by creating spaces where brands can also share their knowledge and their ways of succeeding in the field of sustainability. Obviously, we will always highlight and support brands that are already ahead of the game, but we are aware that it is a process that requires time and money. That's why I personally think we need to create opportunities and incentives for brands to improve.
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