We are back from our annual pilgrimage to Autumn Fair, where hundreds of exhibitors pulled out the stops to create beautiful stands for their new product launches. These ranged from eco-friendly, locally made gifts and cards to major home interiors brands and a great selection of clothing, fashion accessories and jewellery at MODA.
We were especially taken with the gorgeous home fragrance collections launched by Little Karma Co. and Zesty Lemons. The super-friendly Little Karma Co. offers handcrafted refillable, clean burning candles made from 100% pure essential oils which will fill a room with a delicious scent, even before you light them. This great British company also offers a fully customisable white label service with low minimum order values, meaning that shops can customise their own range of branded, refillable essential oil candles.
Hertfordshire-based Zesty Lemons is also delightful, with ten collections of candles and reed diffusers that range from rustic styles such as St Ives or Marrakesh to more contemporary options such as Scandi and Magma. All Zesty Lemon products are hand poured in the U.K. and the company will plant a tree for every purchase made. These candles come in very attractive and unusual pots and glasses, with a lot of variation between styles, making them ideal for gifting and offering fabulous merchandise displays.
We were also charmed all over again by Irish wellbeing brand, Inis, Energy of the Sea, whose bath, beauty and body products have the most wonderful fresh scent.
As is so often the case with an event taking place in Britain, the weather had an impact on the show, with the sudden arrival of an Indian summer that kept some casual visitors away. Nevertheless, it was busy and buzzing when we arrived on the Monday, especially in the core gift and greetings halls, where retailers were in search of that all-important newness and stocking up ahead of Christmas.
One of the highlights of any big trade event is always the seminar content and we were keen to see what trend forecasting agency, TrendBible, saw on the horizon for the coming seasons.
Two very contrasting concepts were presented for the 2024 Gifting and Celebration Trends presented at the Inspiring Retail stage, where a number of cultural macro trends spotted by presenter, Naomi Pollard, included ‘Anti-Sameness Celebration’ and a move to ‘push the boundaries of traditional celebrations and revolt against societal norms, with a quest for newness and individuality.”
Modern Love: Rockers & Rebels
Whilst a motivating factor in this movement was described as a desire to ‘reject homogenity’, we couldn’t help thinking that it rather herded a lot of young to middle aged urban dwellers and hipsters into a somewhat nihilistic box, as the hedonistic Modern Love gifting trend showed. This trend highlighted one of the tendencies we like least in sentiment-driven industries, which is quite trashy and sees a lot of profanity on the front of cards and (in our humble opinion!) is the anti-thesis of what gifting is about!
Nevertheless, I do think that the gothic and grungy aspects of this trend bode well for Halloween, which Naomi agreed is a trend that’s growing in the UK, along with cosy autumn home styling which is evocative of American Thanksgiving. So, whilst the dark side of ‘Modern Love’ was not to our taste, local retailers understand their shoppers best and know how far they can push the boundaries. Shops in parts of inner city London can push them pretty far and there are plenty of consumers out there with dark ‘humour’, who might appreciate being insulted on their birthdays.
The hedonistic aspect of the Modern Love trend speaks to a wealthy and decadent consumer with money to burn on luxuries and a low empathy threshold. Theatrical, exotic, dark and indulgent, this one is for the Kardashian lovers out there.
The softer side of the Modern Love trend pointed to a rebellious spirit which is evocative of our own (misspent!) partying youth and the wanderlust spirit. We also appreciate the idea of ‘re-writing the ageing narrative’, as 50 becomes the new 40 and the desire to have irreverent fun carries on long into old age. Tattoo art was another noteworthy takeway which will translate well onto greetings cards and gift motifs.
Sustainability does of course remain very high on the agenda, with the latest raft of products showing that an article does not have to look green and rustic in order to be sustainable. Plastic packaging is very much a no-no, of course, whilst the appetite for locally made products with an artisan touch can only get stronger.
Retracing Roots: Culture & Heritage
This brings us towards the second trend, which really WAS to our liking, as it focused on deep rooted cultural and family traditions, with a folkloric twist and hand-crafted ethos that really appeals to us. Woodland creatures, wildflowers and mushrooms; hand-carved wood and embroidered velvet; luscious florals and foliage; pixies, gnomes and Dala horses with an Eastern European spirit that’s partly inspired by the war in Ukraine and solidarity for our suffering neighbours.
The Retracing Roots trend is mooted to be big for the Christmas 2024 season, alongside Peaceful Light, Sunshine Spirit and Chaotic Wonder. This could not be more different from the Selfish Gene evoked by Modern Love, where the devil is in the detail compared to the Orthodox Christian and other traditional forms of inspiration behind Retracing Roots. Philosophical, natural, intelligent, intuitive, bold and brave, this is the trend for those who want to foster community spirit, family relationships and love for one’s neighbours.
The rocking horses and dala horses brought a nostalgic twist and heightened the folklore feel of this trend, where wooden toys and trinkets, homespun crafts, intricate embroidery and quality production values prevail. (The colour palette for this trend is the last image in the feature.)
Connecting with Nicola Meadows
I was delighted at the opportunity to catch up with the lovely Nicola Meadows, who is Divisional Managing Director of the retail portfolio. Nicola talked me through the Connect meetings programme that made its debut at Autumn Fair. The primary benefit to Connect is that it gives buyers more time to plan. “It’s good to come to a show knowing you have several really important meetings set up already – a solid plan of action – which enables you to shop the show in a more organised way, whilst also allowing time to browse more freely,” she said.
More than 3,000 of the predicted buyers signed up to the curated meetings programme, which Nicola hopes will enable larger buying teams to attend the show for longer, having demonstrated to senior managers how their time will be spent at the show. Anecdotal feedback from some international buyers also showed that they really appreciated the organisational support which facilitated their experience of attending an overseas event.
Whilst the idea of planning a show with precision has undoubted benefits, not everyone was convinced and Nicola did acknowledge that there had been some teething problems with the new system.
On the last day of the show around 100 exhibitors staged a protest about Connect, which they found to be expensive. In response to the demonstration, Nicola said: “I really appreciated speaking to the group of exhibitors this morning who shared their thoughts and feelings about the onsite experience, the delivery, and outcomes of Connect and the general feel across the show floor.
“We have listened and were able to have a constructive conversation and would like to reassure all our exhibitors that while we evaluate the overall show, gain further feedback, and follow up with each of them, their location and rates will not change. In the meantime, will not be increasing rates and the onsite offer will be frozen for the next 28 days”.
Industry observers are naturally very interested to see how the situation develops, given the crucial importance of Autumn Fair, Spring Fair, Glee and Pure to the retail trade.