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Edwina Kulego of Informa Markets Fashion on the value of trade shows and championing diversity in fashion

By Jennifer Mason

24 Jan 2022

People

Edwina Kulego. Image courtesy of Informa Markets

In 2021, Edwina Kulego returned to Informa Markets, the host of international fashion trade and sourcing events including Project, Magic, and Coterie, to take on a new position managing sponsorships, new business opportunities, and international development. In recent days, we spoke with her about the important role that trade shows can play amid the challenges of the pandemic, picking the brains of Gen Z interns, and her enthusiasm for exploring new markets, showcasing talent that isn’t often seen, and using her own experience as a woman of color to advance diversity and representation in business.

What are your plans for the role in this challenging time for both events and the fashion industry? 

Edwina Kulego: In my role as Vice President of International and Business Development, I am focusing on discovering new and innovative ways for our customers to make meaningful connections by diversifying our current business model and figuring out strategic partnerships. We'll be creating new digital products by adding more mobile app and digital sponsorship opportunities that provide new ways for customers to connect with retailers. We're also enhancing our global footprint by exploring new markets and territories, which I am super excited about. We’re looking at South America more than we have before, there’s great talent coming out of South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana. We’re in talks with Lagos Fashion Week. We’re figuring out how to expand in a way that makes sense for our community right now. 

Do you see the shows playing a role in helping businesses to resolve supply chain issues or omnichannel challenges?

Yes, huge aspirations there. Omnichannel can be very complicated and so at our shows we are having those conversations: We’re partnering with Highsnobiety, we’re partnering with WGSN, we’re discussing insights and trends and figuring out how to provide solutions for our customers in this very complicated time. Sourcing at Magic is a great solution for the supply part of it. We have amazing manufacturers from all over the world and we’re trying to find new international partners with new technologies and bring them to the shows so that we are providing more opportunities for brands to do things differently—to create differently, to ship differently. There’s also an educational component at Sourcing at Magic so, together as a company, we’re really looking to share as much information as possible to solve some of these challenges and educate our community on new advancements. 

For those who may not be able to attend in person this year, will there be digital aids to help enhance the online experience of a show? 

Thankfully our shows are proceeding and we’re so grateful that we have the health and safety measures in place to continue. We have a lot of international and domestic customers that are coming out. Our mobile app is great for anyone attending but also for anyone that isn’t able to come. We do offer Sourcing at Magic online. Suppliers who are unable to physically attend the event are able to feature physical samples within a dedicated shared space on the event floor with an opportunity for buyers to directly connect with the supplier via video conferencing. So, it’s a bridge, it’s a hybrid approach that allows inventive ways to engage with the onsite community and amplify it online.

Are there insights you can share from your own experience that could help companies seeking to engage more with their employees who may feel less connected to their work and their colleagues while working remotely? 

It is a challenge—we have our town hall meetings at Informa. We try to find ways to connect, but obviously a lot of it is virtual. I actually have a big part of my team here in Brooklyn and so we’re doing meetups outside when it's not too cold. I think for companies, figuring out ways to connect is going to be a challenge going forward. We are on Zooms, we’re on Google Meets constantly. For us, the shows are a great way to come together. We have all really missed out on seeing each other and seeing what’s new in person so, we’re super excited about Magic and Coterie and being able to reconvene. But, with everything going on, we’re going to be continuing virtually for a while. 

As someone who has excelled in business as a woman of color, do you have advice for other women who may wish to follow a similar path? 

Yes, I mean being a woman in business is one thing, being a woman of color is a different scenario. I always lead with knowledge—trusting my abilities is something that has helped me a lot. Sometimes women are disregarded or discounted. We have to show up in a different way. Especially when I travel, I find that being a woman of color can be challenging when having certain conversations or walking into a meeting when people are not expecting to see someone who looks like me. Lead with your knowledge. Trust your abilities and have that confidence. I’m also learning to listen more than I speak. Being able to just sit back and have a good dialogue is important. I also think that women of color, we deal with so many microaggressions. There are still conversations to be had about diversity—not just in fashion—but in business in general, in many different industries. I think Informa Markets has done a great job with diversifying the company and it’s something that I’m passionate about. We also have the IMFC, (Informa Markets Fashion for Change), which is an amazing initiative for creators of color and for the diverse community. We’re constantly looking at ways to highlight underrepresented communities within our company and at our events and showcasing talent that isn’t often seen. So, I’m proud to be able to work at this executive level at Informa Markets Fashion. I started as an intern in 2010 at Project actually and so, being able to look back at my journey and see some of the challenges I’ve overcome and still realize that things aren’t perfect, but I continue to grow and learn. 

How can interns excel in their role and stand out while working remotely?

When I started as an intern I was just super happy to get in the door and work with amazing people and I took on so many different things, which was great. But I think if you’re coming into an organization, knowing your strengths coming in can really help an organization place you accordingly. Being a sponge is super important as an intern. I definitely encourage companies to embrace internships, even if it’s virtual. We’re all trying to wrap our heads around the behaviors of Gen Z and Millennials so, when you have this group of young and hungry people coming into an organization that want to learn I think it’s equally important to pour into them and to make sure that you’re spending time developing talent, figuring out what their strengths are, how they can grow within your company, what they can add to it. Pick their brains, bring them into your meetings don’t just have them sit outside and wait for tasks but interact with them. I think that’s one of the biggest blessings is when I came into the organization, I really had a great team that was invested in my growth and really wanted to see me soar. 

Good advice. In your mind, what is the key to connect with Gen Z?

That is the million dollar question. Listen to them. Look at where they are spending most of their time—their behaviors are key. I just had a conversation about the metaverse and how we tie that conversation into our events. It’s important that we’re forward thinking and paying attention.

Is sustainability going to be a focus?

Absolutely. We have an incredible sustainability initiative. Andreu (David) who heads up our sourcing was one of the founding members of this initiative and I know we will be continuing it at Coterie in February. We have established criteria to identify the true sustainable brands in our marketplace and we’re informing our retailers, our press, and our attendees on who they are and where they can find them and educating the rest of our community on how they can get there. Having that educational component at the show is super important. I’m learning so much about sustainability and what it takes to do the right thing. I think it's a great initiative and I had a conversation with Andreu about how we grow this in many of our other marketplaces because it’s so important.

Hopefully we’ll see some advancements on sustainability in the industry this year. What event is coming up that has you most excited right now? 

We have our two main events, Magic and Coterie—they are a huge undertaking. The world is a challenge right now and so getting there is the first step. But when we do get there we want it to be meaningful. We are working really hard on our retail engagement. We are having Nordstrom, for example, who hasn’t come to the show in a really long time. We are making sure that we have the right retailers in place and that we have emerging and new brands so that the element of discovery is there. We’re really excited about Sourcing and having our international partners back. We definitely love to network and have a good time as much as we like to work and so we’re having our opening night events at both shows. There’s a lot of focus on education, so we have some awesome panels. Last season, although we were in the thick of the pandemic and vaccines hadn’t been rolled out yet, we were still able to execute a really strong show and so now that we have those, I’m really excited about what’s to come. 

When it comes to fashion trends, is there anything you’re anticipating?

Yeah, I mean I feel like it's been a whirlwind over these past couple of weeks but I’m looking forward to seeing color. In menswear, I am seeing a lot of color, a lot of patterns. Brands are being more bold in how they express themselves. We’ve all been inside, we need brightness.

Looking forward to that. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Magic Las Vegas will return to the Las Vegas Convention Center on February 14–16, including the Sourcing at Magic event which will start a day earlier on February 13. These shows will be followed by Magic New York and Coterie on February 27–March 1 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.