Denim trade show in Amsterdam

Olah is the man behind the Kingpins Show, a trade fair for the $55bn global denim industry that runs in New York, LA, and Hong Kong. The European show is not in London, Paris or Milan, but in Amsterdam. “There were many reasons to select Amsterdam as our location,” he says. “The most salient reason was the chance to collaborate with the House of Denim and share Amsterdam’s energy towards blue jeans.”

The House of Denim Project is an initiative for sustainable denim. Based in Amsterdam, it includes a ‘jean school’ to train people up for the denim industry, a ‘blue lab’ research centre looking at issues to do with water, chemicals and recycling in denim production, and a denim museum. It is part of the city’s expanding denim hub, which includes the HQ of high-street giant G-Star Raw, famed for its unwashed, untreated denim.“Amsterdam is a brilliant place to set up, because there is a culture for jeans like in no other place and a jeans school to supply a long term flow of educated jeans lovers,” explains Olah.

He was born into the trade, being the second generation of the family to run Olah Inc, a textile-marketing firm that began life in 1959. He started the Kingpins show in 2004 in an art gallery in Soho, New York. As the Olah Inc legend goes: “we opened a bar from 10am, had a salami and cheese party at 7pm and Kingpins was born.”

The show remains deliberately selective in its exhibitors, and collegiate in atmosphere. Its relatively small size belies its global influence at a time when the denim industry is changing. “The industry is bubbling along with small growth rates in consumption in the USA, EU and Japan,” says Olah, but ‘fast fashion’ – the trend for shifting styles swiftly from catwalk to high street – “has taken over a significant amount of branded business, allowing consumers to treat denim as disposable fashion. This has given jeans a wider reach in consumers’ closets and made ‘traditional jeans’ more significant and special. At the same time, it seems the industry is beginning to get serious about its negative impact on the environment.” 

He also sees more significant changes ahead for a trade that has not yet felt the full impact of the digital economy. “I see huge change coming. Years ago, we all read magazines and news on paper, whereas now we read digits. We see movies on our computers. We buy more and more online. The world is changing and our industry has yet to make the changes. The changes are coming and I see customisation as being important, sustainable and transparent production as being important, and online delivery of merchandise as the new way to get our goods, or at least many of them. Stores, the good ones, will exist, the rest will be showrooms for online buying.”

However, it’s a world he remains deeply positive about for the future. “The fashion industry is a wonderful place in which to work and live,” he says. “The jeans business in particular grants huge opportunities on many levels: creative, managerial, manufacturing and most importantly socially, where people can impact the environment and social responsibility. Amsterdam’s House of Denim is an inspiring entity that has taken on these challenges.”