Bread & Butter, the rapidly growing fashion fair, which held its latest session in Berlin a few days ago, is still being regarded more as a regional niche event for brand-building and the establishment of new trends in young fashion than as an international fair intended to do business. However, the demand from the suppliers will cause it to expand again by 20,000 square meters for next summer’s session, due to be held on July 16-18, and the organizers have taken steps to build it up to more than 110,000 sqm. in the distant future, with better services. They also hope to get enough small suppliers to join in a multi-city road show through Germany. They had hoped to do so already this month, but they could not get enough brands on board.

With exhibitors ranging from large sporting goods companies to offbeat designers, the latest show covered about 40,000 square meters in the former Siemens Kabelwerke of Berlin, a protected industrial site. It was a big success in terms of attendance as it drew a total of 21,557 people over 3 days, equivalent to 31, 897 visitor entries, up more than 77 percent compared with the previous edition. About 42 percent of the visitors were not German - 36 percent of them European and 6 percent from other continents – but some foreign visitors who sought contacts left the fair with a tinge of disappointment, because many of the stands were staffed solely with German employees or distributors.

Anyhow, the huge crowd caused big logistical problems, with nerve-wrecking traffic jams around the fairgrounds and a breakdown in telephone lines, but it ensured a vibrant atmosphere inside the halls. The on-going expansion of event and the need to ensure decent infrastructures has led its organizers to set up a new real estate company to acquire a 20,000-sqm. portion of the same industrial complex known as the Siemens Kabelhalle, which has already been converted and utilized fully during previous shows. The organizers have invested also on the renovation of the adjacent Pirelli hall.

Led by Karl-Heinz Müller, German agent for Le Coq Sportif, the organizers of Bread & Butter hope that their investments in the halls, which may be rented out for other events in the near future, will encourage the local authorities to upgrade the infrastructures around the former Siemens cable factory. On the other hand, visitors voiced concern about the enlarged scale of the fair, which threatens to undermine its selective touch. Some companies already chose to display their most upmarket products at Premium, another more exclusive show that was held in Berlin at the same time. For example, the Puma stand at Bread & Butter featured its latest sports lifestyle ranges but its Rudolf Dassler and Nuala lines were shown at Premium.

Although shoe companies were meant to be more strongly represented in this edition of the fair, there were still just a handful of exhibitors selling casual shoes, like Base London. Most of the footwear was to be found in the sports section, where leading suppliers like Adidas, Puma and Nike showed their most fashion-oriented and retro sneakers, along with upcoming players like Quick and Gola, as well as skate and surf-related footwear suppliers. Although the retro trend is still very much alive in Europe, sporting goods companies indicate that their non-athletic offering has shifted toward more fashion-forward lines.

One of the most prominent examples is Metro De Luxe, an apparel range launched by the Adidas Heritage division, that is completely unrelated to sports. This comprises items that could be fitted with any upmarket fashion label, such as classic black leather pants and city anoraks, to be distributed in the Germanic countries only for the first season. The last time Adidas went down this road nearly 3 decades ago, producing huge ranges of brown shoes, women’s pumps and nondescript shirts, it struggled for many years to regain its credibility. However, the exclusive pricing of Metro De Luxe, with jackets due to retail at about €600, should prevent a similar dilution of the Adidas brand this time around.

In spite of Bread & Butter’s unbridled expansion, the fair’s clubby feel remains one of its main attractions. Many exhibitors confirmed that they registered very few orders at the fair but that they mainly used it to build up contacts and to showcase some of their most directional products.

Despite the upbeat atmosphere, the poor market situation in Germany generated some gloomy conversations at the Berlin event. Companies selling branded goods were aghast to see German department stores like Karstadt starting their close-out sales before Christmas, as authorized by the country’s relatively new trading regulations. Worried about the damage of such actions in terms of margins and brand reputation, the healthiest suppliers have responded by keeping their wholesale prices unchanged, instead of sharing some of the benefits of the weak dollar with the retailers, but some observers feel that this may change soon.

As indicated at a meeting organized by the GDS fair at Expo Riva Schuh and led by Hermann Fuchslocher, the German consultant, the prices that European consumers are prepared to pay for shoes are declining everywhere, with the exception of the athletic brands (specific figures have been published on this in Sporting Goods Intelligence Europe).

The strong development of the Central and Eastern European markets was another subject of animated discussions in the Bread & Butter alleys. While mainstream shoe and sporting goods brand have long invested in countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic, more offbeat suppliers in segments like skating and surfing feel that the youth culture is changing fast in these markets, and that some of them are ripe for more streety styles (we'll discuss this in detail soon).