By David Gill
Trade shows, like people, do a lot of growing up in their first 25 years, and that’s what Surtex has done.
The trade show marks its first quarter century this month. In that time, it has grown from a small show featuring European artists and designers to—as GLM, its owner and manager expressed it—“the only business-to-business marketplace in North America devoted to the sale and licensing of original art for a range of products across all product categories.”
According to Penny Sikalis, the show’s manager and vice president of GLM, “There are lots of differences between the first Surtex and the show as it is now, but there’s always been the same focus: to bring design more to the forefront in the U.S. market.”
Surtex was launched in 1986 “because manufacturers needed great art,” Sikalis said. “You could find good design only in Europe then, but U.S. manufacturers had a desire for better product. So the concept was to bring designers to the forefront in the U.S. market.”
The first Surtex had roughly 100 exhibitors, many of which were from Europe. These designers exhibited so that they could sell their art outright to manufacturers, primarily in the home textiles industry. This year’s Surtex will feature some 300 exhibitors, representing the work of more than 1,000 artists and designers (many exhibitors are studios and agents that represent multiple designers). The global makeup of the exhibitors has also changed; 70 percent of the exhibiting artists at this month’s show are from the United States, while 30 percent are from abroad.
Licensing is an area which has become increasingly important to the show. “There was very little licensing going on” when Surtex started, Sikalis said. “Ralph Lauren and Raymond Waites were the pioneers then, but the show itself was just selling designs. Now two-thirds of the exhibitors are licensing.”
So important has licensing become to Surtex, in fact, that since 1997, the show has had a specific area dedicated to licensing.
Another way in which Surtex has developed over the years is in the product categories represented by the attendees. From being a textiles-oriented show, it now welcomes product-development and creative executives from manufacturers of apparel, contract furnishings such as wall covering and floor covering, fabrics, decorative accessories, greeting cards, stationery, housewares, many categories of juvenile merchandise, tabletop products, toys and games.
The attendee mix has changed as well. Among the 5,000 to 6,000 estimated number of attendees at this month’s show will be retailers.
In the past few years, GLM has made changes to keep the show in its forefront position of the design world. Three years ago, the company repositioned it so that it was all on the main floor of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, its long-time home, as opposed to having it split between two floors—thus creating a contiguous floor plan.
In recent years, Surtex has also been positioned alongside the National Stationery Show, and one floor above the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, both also GLM shows.
“Having these shows together makes the whole experience fascinating, three shows of artwork plus finished product,” Sikalis said.
Placing these shows together will make the Javits Center, once again, a virtual museum of modern art in home furnishings from May 15-17.