• Home
  • News
  • Fairs
  • CIFF director Sofie Dolva: ‘We need to see ourselves as a startup’

CIFF director Sofie Dolva: ‘We need to see ourselves as a startup’

By Rachel Douglass


Scroll down to read more

Fairs |Interview

Credits: CIFF. Sofie Dolva, CIFF director.

Trade show season is well underway, with brands looking to show their latest wares for the SS24 season. Similarly, trade shows also look to develop their offering with each season, a quality that particularly runs true for Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF), which this year spans August 9 to 11, simultaneous to Copenhagen Fashion Week.

Held in its traditional location of the Bella Center, this edition of CIFF will be the first to have fully integrated its former competitor Revolver into its operations after acquiring the trade show in January this year. It was one of the first substantial moves made under CIFF’s newest director Sofie Dolva, who was appointed to the position in August 2022 and came with a mission of helping the fair turn its head in new directions.

Ahead of the upcoming season, FashionUnited sat down with Dolva to discuss the acquisition itself, what it will mean for the fair and the current status of the Scandinavian market.

The biggest news regarding the upcoming edition is that it will be the first time Revolver will be fully integrated into CIFF. How has that process gone so far?

It exceeded my expectations. It’s always difficult when you merge two cultures and two competitors, but we were quite prepared, both the organisations’ teams have blended in well. We’ve spent some time trying to really get to know each other. This has lots to do with bringing together two different visions and paths. We had to very quickly find a common one while getting to know each other. The markets have also been very dynamic since October last year, but I think overall the merger has gone pretty well, even with all the challenges we anticipated.

What kind of challenges did you face while incorporating the two?

There have, of course, been a lot of practical challenges. Now we have so many brands that we had to rethink the entire concept and the floor plan segmentation of CIFF, which is easier said than done. While it was once spread over three to four different venues, we now gather everything in one. So the challenge was to still make the event a small and cosy place in a 45,000 square metre space.

Credits: CIFF January 2023 edition.

What was it about Revolver that attracted you into merging the two events?

The big strength of Revolver that had been CIFF’s weakness was that they have constantly acted as a startup – very agile, good at brand relations and the sales path, especially for Scandinavian brands. The team itself knows the market and the brands very well, they have a deep understanding of their journeys. Meanwhile, we were quite good at supporting the international brands and bringing in international buyers.

More time has also been spent on the educational and inspirational part of the event, because we can make room for talks and panel discussions. When I started at the company, we were in the process of trying to think more like a startup rather than a big corporation. That accelerated alongside the Revolver team, who fuelled that engine.

Some physical aspects of Revolver will also remain. During the pandemic they found a way to build up stands in a more productive and cheaper way for the brands. We are now also facing a new crisis where resources are a little low, so that’s something we will be carrying over. We make sure that when the brand is spending money, it’s on something that creates value and not just something that will be thrown away after the fair. We try to make the brand think in a more sustainable way, using things they can reuse so they can focus more on the collection.

Last year gave a little glimpse into what people could expect. What was the response like from both exhibitors and visitors of the event?

It’s been really positive. What was really important for me to see was that the energy was coming back. There was optimism again. We could also see more international buyers and press coming back after the pandemic, and there was just a sense that people were happy to be together physically.

And what are you expecting from the next edition?

We will have around 700 to 800 different brands, 60 percent of which are Scandinavian brands and the rest will be international. We will also have more guests. The figure is changing everyday, but right now it seems that we’ll have more guests coming from Asia or North America, so that’s positive. It’s particularly nice to see that again with Asia, now that it has opened up more.

Credits: CIFF January 2023 edition.

The previous edition also saw the introduction of beauty to the fair. What was the thinking behind the decision to add this section?

For me, coming from the beauty industry, I saw there was potential and a gap because more and more retailers have already opened up for beauty and lifestyle. There’s a lot of brands that already have that synergy and others are looking to expand into beauty. I thought it would make sense to have its own area. On top of that, Scandinavia and the North are really excelling in beauty and ‘clean beauty’.

Coming back to the educational aspect, I think fashion and beauty brands could learn from each other in their way of thinking, both with the products but also how they run a business. If you look at the beauty industry, they don’t really have the platform that you do in fashion. It’s not that levelled up. That’s why we started having this curated area where it was, at first, only Scandinavian brands that could show their purpose, their ingredients, their products, their thoughts on sustainability. For August, we will expand a little bit with a few international brands, but keeping it quite small because fashion of course is still the core.

Did you also get feedback from the previously participating beauty brands?

The brands were so happy. They were extremely lucky that a lot of them actually got some orders during the event. It doesn’t often happen when you’re attending a fair for the first time that you get a new retailer. They also established their network with other retailers that they’re working on. What was really important for me to see is that they leveraged each other and started up a community. I still hear that they continue meeting up and are helping each other like retailers or supply chain players do.

Are there any other new elements we can expect to see at CIFF this year?

We have really tried to shake things up a bit and do it in a different way than we have in the past, because now all the Revolver brands are coming here, so we are trying to showcase more with this edition, and hopefully even more with the next. This time we will have a collaboration with Fos, who is a modern installation artist and had previously worked with Celine on a show. He will do a different installation in each hall which will consider our thinking around sustainability. He will be using fabric that he used from the Celine show and reimagine it in another way.

We are also introducing small pop-ups and installations this season. For example, Maria Black, a Danish jewellery designer, will have a piercing wagon. And then, for our central hall, we’ll do food pop-ups with Danish restaurants, as well as wine and cocktails bars. There will also be more natural areas to make the event feel more inspirational, and get that community feel.

Credits: CIFF January 2023 edition.

On Monday, we will also open up with our Big CIFF Fashion experience, where we will represent a lot of the exhibitors but directed towards consumers to showcase them in a different way than you would usually see them.

In terms of the wider Danish fashion scene as a whole, Copenhagen has become known for its ability to represent ‘true inclusivity’ among its industry. Is this something that you have also attempted to exhibit within and throughout CIFF?

Inclusivity is really grounded in the way we think and work, and has been for a while. We don’t think about it in depth or have different criteria to help enforce it, it’s just a part of us. It’s ingrained in our culture.

Are there any other themes you have noticed dictating or emerging in the Danish fashion industry at the moment?

We have been good at educating new designers in regards to circular fashion, and now we see many of these designers starting more established companies. We also see more popular Scandinavian brands thinking less about seasonal collections, and instead thinking in new ways. They are getting better at trying to educate their community about things like how to treat fabric and clothing to get more life out of them.

What kind of challenges do you see brands and retailers currently facing in the fashion industry?

This not only applies to the Danish fashion industry, but we see a lot of the brands are struggling because retailers are buying half as much as they used to. They're really cutting down on their stock. More and more retailers are also trying to just be resale platforms, pushing their stock issues over onto the brand, which is creating a big problem for them in terms of their cash flow.

As a fairly new face to the company, what is your vision for CIFF and the industry as a whole?

For the organisation, my first wish was to really reset it. What we’ve done in the past, during the pandemic, it’s been tough to erase that but now we start from the beginning. Even though we are also owned by a big corporation, we really need to see ourselves as a startup because in the industry you need to be very agile.

Secondly, we need to start envisioning what the future of the trade fair is. The core is of course the ordering platform, but we need to add more in order to be a better partner for our two customers; the brand and the buyer. We need to be a 360 business partner, not only twice a year for fashion week, but throughout the whole year. I’ve started putting in place different competencies in the organisation, trying with very small pushes to start up the community field and be more of a media partner, using our own network.

In terms of the industry, I think from the very beginning I’ve been direct about what I am looking for. Coming from the outside, it is really clear that the industry is not very inclusive. It’s hard for new brands or even more established ones that are not a part of the inner circle to come through. That is one of my biggest priorities, to try and be more inclusive for the industry, with both the community feel and saying you need to treat each other more like colleagues and help each other out. That’s also why, with my first edition, I launched the CIFF Fashion Experience show, to showcase all the amazing brands out there that have fantastic revenue but aren’t mentioned much in the media. They are loved by the majority of the consumer market, so it makes sense to highlight them even more. I really want to foster this mindset.

Credits: CIFF January 2023 edition.