Creative Expo will be international launchpad for fashion, craft and design companies
Later this month, some of Ireland's leading exponents of fashion, craft and design will display their wares at Showcase - Ireland's International Creative Expo in the RDS.
It will be the 41st year of the trade-only fair, which attracts retail buyers from Ireland and more than 20 other countries, including the UK, USA, mainland Europe and the Far East.
The fair, which was founded by the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland (DCCoI), is an international launch pad for Irish designers, manufacturers and craftspeople who unveil their new-season collections in fashion, jewellery, home and giftware.
Alas, it is a buyer-only event and not open to general public. But that shouldn't deflect from its importance in Ireland's economic landscape. It is promoted by Enterprise Ireland's market advisers internationally, who work to attract buyers to the event and help them build strong relationships with Irish companies.
Previews in Brussels, London and New York in late 2016 were very positive, so expectations are high for this year's event. Showcase enjoyed strong growth in 2016 with the number of buyers attending up 7pc to 5,300, and orders placed at the fair increasing by 17pc to nearly €22m, equating to a full-year sales value of over €121m.
The international reputation of the Irish design and craft sector has been growing in recent years, particularly as a result of Irish Design 2015 (ID2015), a year-long programme of events promoting the wider Irish design sector globally.
There was a strong national and international response to ID2015, with 28.5 million people engaged through exhibitions and events. It attracted media coverage in world-renowned outlets and in countries as far afield as Japan, Finland and Mexico. The design and craft sector has been capitalising on this interest and Karen Hennessy, Chief Executive of DCCoI said Ireland's creative sector is now engaging at a much higher international level as a result of ID2015.
Showcase is continually evolving. This year sees the launch of Design Ireland, a new initiative featuring 90 Irish brands.
Also new for Showcase 2017 is TextISLE, featuring fashion and homeware collaborations between some of the country's most acclaimed designers and producers. A panel of six experts including John Redmond of Brown Thomas; Karen Fleming, Ulster University; and Angela O'Kelly, National College of Art and Design selected the work to be unveiled. Participants include acclaimed designers such as Peter O'Brien, Mariad Whisker, Helen Steele and Emma Manley; and factories such as Avoca, Emblem Weavers, Cushendale, Mourne Textiles, Magee and Wild Cocoon among others. The annual event has been a critical route to winning export orders for numerous exhibitors. But Showcase is far from being all about big names. Emerging Irish businesses abound. The Local Enterprise Showcase involves over 100 exhibitors supported by Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) around Ireland, displaying everything from art, ceramics and giftware to knitwear, jewellery and skincare.
This is part of the work carried out by LEOs all year round and is of particular importance for jobs regionally because in the wider design sector - which includes architecture, product design and digital - 70pc of businesses are classified as craft, with a better geographical spread of jobs than most sectors. Attributing economic value from craft and design is difficult. Official figures put employment at over 10,000 in 2014 and exports at over €80m in 2013, but these figures are an underestimation due to the high amount of micro enterprises in the sector.
But the promotional value of Showcase for brand Ireland is also substantial. While the international profile of Irish entertainment and sport ebbs and flows, shelves and hangers globally promote the progressive and creative culture of this country year in, year out - in every corner of the world.
Hannah Webb is Enterprise Ireland Market Advisor with responsibility for the agency's role in Showcase 2017
Sunday Indo Business