Held approximately three weeks later than usual due to scheduling conflicts and venue availability, the World Shoe Association, or WSA, show (wsashow.com) in Las Vegas saw reduced traffic and attendance but still served as an outstanding and varied showcase of footwear and accessories styles from around the globe.

Featuring thousands of exhibitors and brands, WSA ran February 21 to 23 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center and the Sands Expo and, as usual, also included the luxury and designer “show within a show,” The Collections at WSA (thecollectionsatwsa.com), at the Venetian Hotel from February 21 to 24. The event drew 28,700 participants, a significant drop from the 36,200 who were at WSA’s February 2007 edition.

While the show’s producers, exhibitors and attending buyers were not surprised by the reduced traffic – which most acknowledged was the direct result of the show taking place so late into the buying season this time – most tried to put a positive spin on the situation. “WSA focused on attendance promotion outreach where we could make a difference, with independent specialty retailers and boutiques, and saw a 31% increase in new buyers to the show. We anticipated some buying teams would be reduced or absent due to their individual needs because our retail relations team is in constant contact with them,” said Diane Stone, WSA’s chief operating officer, in a post-show statement.

“The late dates impacted many companies’ planning processes on both the brand and retailer side of the aisle,” Stone added.

Todd Lemere, president of Carpinteria, California—based B&L Distribution LLC, which launched the Gant (gant.com) footwear brand in the U.S. at the show, said, “We were disappointed with the overall traffic. From a buyers’ standpoint, it was noticeably quite slow.” But, he added, Gant instead used its presence there for numerous media appointments. “We were happy [with those] and had a favorable reaction to the line from fashion people,” he said.

Likewise, Jennifer Macfarland, PR director of K-Swiss (kswiss.com), said, “We were busy at K-Swiss. We were busy every half hour, and sales were really good.”

The fair was marked by several new arrivals. Materials at WSA (materialsatwsa.com), a showcase of more than 100 design, product development and supply-chain manufacturers, debuted on February 19 for a three-day run and The Box, a new special section for contemporary footwear and accessories, was introduced at Mandalay Bay.

Among the show’s many notable first-time exhibitors were two new women’s contemporary lines, Velvet Angels (velvetangels.com) and Chocolat Blu (chocolatblu.com), and the wholesale debut of shoes by standalone retailer Te Casan (tecasan.com). Established designers Mike & Chris (mikeandchris.com) also showed their directional new footwear collection while James Vacarro and M Coleman Horn, formerly of the brand Medium, revealed their new men’s line, The Vael Project (vaelproject.com), which includes several very original casual styles, including the one pictured above.

Key stylistic trends included an abundance of purple and rich wine tones both as a primary and accent color, sneakers inspired by rugged hiking boots or safari boots, booties and ankle boots for women and the ongoing use of patent leathers, fur or shearling. Zippers, especially those placed on the side of the shoe, were the most popular form of hardware/decoration for f/w 2008-09.

According to its producers, WSA drew buyers from 79 countries all across the world, and, thanks to its ongoing in-house global retail recruitment, attracted a greater buyer attendance from Aruba, Costa Rica, Turkey, France, Chile, Poland, Ecuador, Peru and Russia this time. The show expects to grow its contingent of international attendees even more for the July 2008 edition because of its recent acceptance into the U.S. Department of Commerce’s prestigious International Buyer Program. As a result, Department of Commerce field offices around the world will help with recruitment efforts for the next show.

Unlike February’s edition, the next WSA will be held about a week earlier than normal, a development that has already raised the hopes of those who may have been somewhat disappointed by the lateness of this last edition. That show will run July 28 to 30 at the Las Vegas Convention Center while the Collections at WSA will continue to be held at The Venetian.

— Christopher Blomquist | north american bureau chief