Photographer: Dorthy Hong at dorthyhong.com
The Fashion Industry Veteran Offers Something Fresh
Sam Ben-Avraham is a visionary in the fashion trade show industry, having been in retail for 24 years and adroitly holding the reigns of his barrier-breaking, genre-mashing, high-fashion, denim-dealing emporium Atrium, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in August, 2013. He also founded the wildly successful trade show Project in 2003, and two years later he made off quite well when he sold his business to industry giant Advanstar.
When I meet Ben-Avraham at his office, he’s dressed in jeans, an immaculately white T-shirt, and a distressed indigo fedora. His fourth floor Broadway workspace is roomy and sparse with minimal décor, aside from the large pinball machine jutting into the middle of the room. As soon as I saw the mechanical game, I understood just how real this guy might be.
Ben-Avraham is one of those cats who’s positively stoked to be doing what he’s doing, with an inspiration derived straight from his passion for the industry. This year, following the recent expiration of a non-compete agreement held with Advanstar, Sam launched a new show bearing the title Liberty Fairs. “Ten years ago I happened to find a void in a market after everybody complained that there was a new wave of brands coming into the market that didn’t have a home,” Ben-Avraham says. “Three seasons ago, when I was working the shows in New York and Las Vegas, I had the same exact feeling that I did ten years ago.”
Liberty accomplishes something that Ben-Avraham believes no other contemporary trade show does: It presents buyers with a specific perspective founded in reality, and embraces the continually blurring lines among styles. “The message in this trade show is really reflecting what’s happening in today’s world…” In line with the name of the show, he adds, “We don’t want to be part of corporate America dictating things to us.” A big part of Liberty is Ben-Avraham’s firm grip on the ways in which genres have shifted and evolved. “There are a lot of different elements that have combined in the last couple of years that really changed the landscape of fashion.”
We see styles transmogrify on the streets of New York all the time. Yuppies change to ultra-chic skaters, hipsters dress like ninja-goths, and punk rock is off frolicking in a meadow wearing a pink Sunday dress. “It’s a constantly moving trade...some people wish, and say, ‘Oh, let’s get comfortable,’ but no, it’s not happening.”
Feeling frustrated as a buyer, coupled with insightful notions regarding the fashion world, has led Ben-Avraham to engage in his most recent undertaking. Speaking gently, with his hand slapping his palm for emphasis, he spiritedly reveals the impetus for the inception of the show. “People are not on top of the game when it comes to new, fresh brands.” While many trade shows are essentially a gathering of brands and products for buyers to peruse, the focus of Liberty is more thoughtful and distinct. For example, at his brick-and-mortar shop there are certain brands he would not mix together. The same principal holds true for the floor at his trade show. The way he tells it, one would swear that the idea of meaningful composition has all but been abandoned.
Liberty, described simply, is the amalgamation of an industry veteran’s decades of experience. “This really summarizes everything that I would have loved to experience as a buyer and a brand,” says Ben-Avraham with deep sincerity. The show is designed to be an ideal balance of work and play, with social elements seamlessly intertwined with the business at hand. “We think about everything,” he says. His face beams with pride as he goes down the list of minutia that he and his team have painstaking addressed.
In July, Liberty debuted for two days in NYC, featuring about 125 brands, and a second show in Las Vegas with 260 brands, focused primarily on “menswear...contemporary mixed with denim, mixed with street elements.” The show was very successful according to Ben-Avraham, with many buyers exclaiming, “This is exactly what we needed.”