Formex report: How to use the trade show as a pattern designer


Formex is the Swedish trade show for interior design that takes place twice a year (January and August) at Älvsjömässan just south of Stockholm. This is an article about how Formex and other trade shows like it can be of value for pattern designers. 


I've been to Formex as a visitor for a few years now and since the very first time I have pondered whether I should exhibit myself or not. At the moment the answer is no, I shouldn’t. Why is that?

Well, in my opinion, Formex and other trade shows with the same concept is not for pattern designers . I will explain what I mean by that in a moment.

This year though, I was a part of the exhibition though, as Gemstone was a shown in the booth of Svanefors. And that type of participation is exactly what I'm aiming for :-). I made a short separate post about this if you're curious:

<< Gemstone in the Svanefors booth at Formex August 2018 >>



First, I’d like to clarify who Formex and trade shows like it is for - from a pattern designers point of view.


1) The number one and largest group is retailers, such as interior design boutiques and web shops.

They come here for inspiration and to purchase products to sell during the coming season (in January they’re planning their spring/summer products and in August it’s all about fall/winter and Christmas).

So for a pattern designer visiting, this is not really a target audience that you will interact with yourself during the exhibition or as a pattern designer in general. But they can be very valuable still and I’ll give you my tips on how later. 

2) The second group of visitors to consider is the press. For every trade show there will be journalists visiting, wanting to find something newsworthy to write about for their newspaper, magazine, site or even blog. In general it’s about the current trends, news and newcomers.

3 ) Other designers, just like you and me. We’re a small group of course, but still a considerable group of visitors. 

Now there are probably more, and sub groups, but these are the main ones to consider.

Ok, now let’s turn to the exhibitors.


Formex is focused on retailers and shops as I mentioned above. And therefor the exhibitors are focused on taking orders and selling stuff to them. In general, they are producers or wholesalers of physical products. And even though Formex is labeled as an interior products from furniture, to lamps, to decor, to all kinds of home textiles, there is also a fair amount of accessories, jewels, clothes, shoes, paper & packaging, stationery, greeting cards - and more. Let’s pack it all up as anything a shop or boutique would find interesting to offer their customers.

But, there are also a large number of surface pattern designers, artists, photographers and illustrators exhibiting. If you would like to be an exhibitor at Formex or other trade shows like it, there are some very important circumstances to consider first. 



As mentioned, Formex is the type of trade show that targets retailers and shops, mainly. So unless you have your own product line, it’s most likely not going to be a return of investment to exhibit there as a pattern designer. 

As you probably already know, there are other trade shows that are also or mainly targeting print and design buyers. For example Heimtex in Frankfurt, Surtex and Blueprint in NY, Premiere Vision in Paris, Mood / Indigo in Brussels and several shows in London like London Design Fair and The London Print Design Fair.

But if you’re curious about exhibiting at Formex here’s what you need to consider:


To really squeeze the best out of Formex as an exhibiting pattern designer you need to have stuff for the retailers to buy from you. They want physical products for their shops, not pattern designs. You need to have at least a prototype of your product to show (or rather a line up of products) that they can touch and feel and order from you. And they will want to know when you can deliver it to them and what it will cost.

This means you need to have an existing, functioning and tested production in place in case you get a large order. You need to know the production cost, your profit/margin and from that set a whole sale price.

You also need to have some kind of shipping in place to be able to deliver on time to a reasonable cost.

There is another purpose for exhibiting at a trade show. Note that this is besides selling stuff, not instead of.


If you’re not into selling physical products yourself, at least not on a large scale level (that's me), you can still get some great value from exhibiting: PR.

Getting press coverage is always good and can lead to new opportunities. The more eyes on you and the great things you do the better. 

The important thing is to offer the journalist or bloggers something newsworthy; a story, a concept, something very specific or unique and easy to grasp and relate to - that they can create a story out of.

Example: Pattern me bright

A great example of something (that I consider truly newsworthy) is my friend Gina aka @patternmebright, who is a pattern designer who exhibits at Formex this year for the first time. Her booth is in the section called ”Design Talents” and this is something that the press are interested in, newness always has a potential story. She has a concept for her designs that is really exciting, interesting, unique and soooo right timing wise. All her patterns are created around the fact that the way history has been written and documented isn't very equal. Every design is based on a story of women who’s lifes and actions had important impact for women’s rights and value in our society, but never acknowledged the same way she would have if they were men. The motifs in every pattern relates to that story which creates a depth to the pattern and also something to talk about - simply put, it's storytelling through design at it's best. You can read more about Gina and view her work here and also on Instagram.

My point is that this type of concept and storytelling is very interesting and newsworthy and hence valuable for the press to create a story from - which their job is about.

Gina displays products with her patterns as well, a small and exclusive selection of shawls, beauty bags and notebooks and has gained great results and collaborations because of it.

Now to the very interesting part. If you, like me, feel that producing your own products, in large or small scale isn’t for you (it takes a lot of work, investment and keeping a stock), if you want to focus on designing and licensing your patterns and artwork to companies, Formex and trade shows like it can still be of great value. As a visitor:


The type of trade shows Another way to get something out of trade shows such as Formex as a pattern designer is to gather inspiration and ideas. But I’m not talkin about inspiration to new patterns.

Why I say that is because the things you see and view at the fair is what designers have already created, it’s the trends right now, it’s already done and produced.

Here are 7 tips on how to use trades shows as a source of inspiration and new ideas:



1) Spot and predict a direction of future trends. This is difficult and something to regard as a piece of the profetic puzzle. What path are the current trends pointing to? What could be the next logical step and development trend wise? What is the opposite, the anti-trend to the current one? If you want to be first with a new trend, or contributing to start a new one, this is how you should think.

2) Research. Listen in on the visiting retailers and shops conversations to find out what they are checking out as a part of a retailer research. For example - What type of patterns do they think is on trend right now? What seems to capture their attention and interest? What do they consider customer appealing? For retailers it's important to find products that will appeal to their customer - the consumer, the shopper of interior goods. A bit difficult angle to approach, I know, but instead of thinking of this group as (pretty much) useless at the show, I just wanted to give you an idea of how they actually can be of value.

3) Just walking around, in this atmosphere, for this business can make you feel like you actually belong there, that you are a part of this business. In case you weren’t so sure before. Especially if you are at the beginning of your creative journey, you might not even have formed your own business yet, even calling yourself a pattern designer may make you feel like a fraud. But visiting a trade show like this, within a niche where you want to work, is a great start. If not, see it as research for your coming plans. Research is crucial for a good business plan, so if you do that you can definitely pat yourself on the shoulder and consider yourself on a very professional level.

4) Check out the exhibiting companies and their styles. Make a list of the companies that you like and that you think would like your designs. What companies could be a great match to your work? These are the ones that would be best for you to start approaching. If you think and even know that you would be a good match to a specific company, your confidence will be much higher approaching them than with a company that seems far away from what you do. Also, doing your research on your dream company to work with will give you a leg up when contacting them with your portfolio.

5) Talk to the exhibiting companies. This is your target group. But, the fair is not the perfect timing for pitching your designs to them. It’s definitely doable, but their focus then and there is to meet their customers, the retailers and take orders. But, what you can do is to say hi, present yourself, ask them about how they work with the patterns that they use on their products. Where do they get them? Do they have in-house designers or purchase via an agency, pattern banks or do they do collaborations with freelance designers and so on. Feel their pulse, and let them talk. Listen in and see if you can ask more questions about their process. What problems do they encounter when it comes to finding patterns and prints? If you can, find their pain points, need for help and service. Ask who to contact at their company for showing your portfolio. Sometimes the right person is there and you can talk to them directly. If so, it’s good to have something to show. Bring your portfolio, just in case. Or perhaps a bunch of postcards, or coasters with your patterns on. To make an impression. Let them know you’ll contact them when things have settled for them after the show.

6) Study the booths and their products. What categories of products have patterns and prints? Are there any that don’t? And then note how the prints are scaled, big, small? Actually study anything that can give you some more info on how these companies work with prints on their products and what type of patterns and prints are suitable for different product categories. 

7) And also, if you are producing printed products yourself to sell in your webshop for example, here you can get some intelligence about what sells and also ideas for new products that you could make and sell. Or just get ideas for new product mockups.

8) Spy on the press, to see what they seem to think is newsworthy and interesting. Note that most of them will appear on the first day and you will have to spot them out yourself. A tip is someone with a big camera ;-).

9) If you have the opportunity to connect and meet up with some other designers and discuss what you see at the fair, it can be a truly rewarding experience. You do have colleagues in them, not competitors. Colleagues with the same challenges and struggles and being able to gather and discuss the world of pattern design together is great and very helpful.

So what’s my reason not to exhibit at Formex?

Time and money is the short answer to that.

To develop physical products takes a lot of time and money. Time to research materials, suppliers, production chains, quality, ethics, environmentally circumstances, shipping, calculating costs. Then investing money in the production, shipping, customs, where to keep it and at last marketing. Which includes the cost for a booth at the trade show. 

I have tried to have a product line-up, actually I still have a small selection in my web shop. But to be honest, I’m not ready for it yet.  

At the moment I want to focus on designing and teaching. Developing products, marketing and selling them at the same time as designing and teaching is more than a one-woman show. And out of these three, designing and teaching are at the top of what I find exciting and fun to do. 

So making the right prioritizing. That’s the long answer.

All right, I hope this shed some light over Formex and other trade shows like it, and provided you with some decision making information for yourself, if you’re considering attending on yourself or not - as exhibitor or visitor.