Showcase Ireland, the country’s premier expo for the craft and design sector, is rocking a whole new look this year. Covid-19 travel restrictions mean Showcase, which is held annually in Dublin’s RDS exhibition halls, is being hosted entirely online instead.
Showcase Ireland 2021, which takes place from 25th to 29th January, has been transformed into a full-service online trade fair, complete with B2B ecommerce-enabled virtual showrooms and meeting spaces.
Because success never goes out of style, it will continue to bring international buyers together with the cream of new and emerging Irish brands, just as it has always done.
“Showcase is now in its 45th year, which is some record of its success,” says Eddie Shanahan, Chair of the Council of Irish Fashion Designers, board member of Design & Crafts Council Ireland and Chair of Showcase Ireland.
The iconic event is supported by the Design Council of Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, as well as Ireland’s Local Enterprise Offices, Ireland’s micro-enterprise support agency, which uses it to showcase some of the country’s newest and most innovative emerging talent.
Another major part of the event’s appeal is the Design Ireland portfolio, a curated collection representing the cream of Irish craft and design.
Last year’s event delivered €26 million in sales across sectors such as home and gifts, fashion, jewellery and the new and fast-growing wellness niche.
“Buyers come to Showcase Ireland because they know they will find creativity and innovation”, says Shanahan, who points out that the luxury goods sector worldwide is predicted to bounce back sharply post Covid-19. “The DNA of luxury is good design, quality and craftsmanship, and sustainability. Those are the trademarks of Irish companies at Showcase,” says Shanahan.
Irish designers and makers are well positioned to meet changing consumer views about luxury too.
“Attitudes have changed. Luxury now is about supporting small artisans and crafts people as much as it is about supporting big flagship brands,” says Shanahan.
Buyers from around the world have signed up to participate in the online event, in which they can browse virtual shop windows and conduct online buying meetings.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. “International buyers come to Ireland for a point of difference, for innovation, craftsmanship, and the sustainable stories we have to tell about things like small production runs, lack of waste, and respect for the environment – all the qualities and requirements international buyers want”, accordingly to Shanahan.
Developing the platform has been challenging due to its international nature. “Scheduling meetings is a complicated process because as buyers in Japan are going to bed buyers in the US are getting up,” he explains.
As part of its digital transformation, the Showcase Ireland website has been repositioned as a B2B source facility, a valuable year-round resource.
While very many participants look forward to a return to the RDS next year, Showcase Ireland will continue to develop its online presence in a way that mirrors the changes taking place in retail, he points out.
“It’s not a question of bricks or clicks anymore, it’s both, plus a whole range of other digital tools,” says Shanahan.
Migrating the event online extends its reach, points out Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Director – North America, who is based in New York.
Some aspects of the show are however impossible to replicate online, he admits.
“Showcase Ireland has always been about delivering real value to buyers, and part of that has always been our Irish hospitality,” says Davis.
In the absence of Ireland’s famous hundred, thousand welcomes, organisers this year have decided to add value by commissioning an in-depth report from international research organisation Frost & Sullivan, entitled “Generating Global Growth Through Ecommerce”.
It will be launched at the show with live online analysis from the report’s authors, with copies distributed exclusively to participants.
Irish craft and design travels well. According to Davis, brands such giftware maker Connemara Marble, boot and shoemaker Dubarry, fashion label Carraig Donn and jewellery maker Solvar are much sought after.
Showcase Ireland 2021 provides a wider audience than ever with an opportunity to see why Ireland’s craft and design is so highly prized internationally.
For the organiser it has of course been a case of ‘cutting their cloth according to their measure’- the digital redesign only took place because of the pandemic. Like all good design innovation however, it has resulted in improvement.
Says Davis: “The steps we are taking in 2021 will help Showcase Ireland to grow and flourish for years to come.”
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