With its third edition running this Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, ENK Vegas has become an increasingly important trade show on the Sin City schedule. Tightly edited, this showcase of men’s and women’s sportswear and denim, dresses, accessories, footwear and kidswear was created to be an intimate alternative to the large Vegas shows and a one-stop shop for better-store buyers. Now featuring 150 brands, including first-time exhibitors J. Lindeberg and Costume National along with returning labels such as J Brand, Hudson, Habitual, Lucky Brand and Postage, ENK Vegas will again take place at the super-luxurious Wynn hotel. Elyse Kroll, chairman of ENK International, the show’s producer, sat down for a Q&A in New York during the run of her menswear show The Collective/Blue last month to discuss the success of ENK Vegas, why the show is needed and what attendees can expect to find there.

How would you say ENK Vegas has evolved since its launch?
This is our one-year anniversary and this will be our third show. We started off with 72 lines and had about 60 booths. We are almost going to double [the size] this time, not from the first show, but from our continued growth. This show is what people are wanting.

There is no denying that Las Vegas is a really important marketplace. What happened recently, and maybe not recently for some, but certainly recently for us, is that it is more obvious that it is a women’s market as well. So it is serving men’s very well and it is growing strongly in the direction of women’s and we are providing all of that to our vendors. And with that show, we really are returning to our roots, where we are buyers for the buyers. We have put together a handpicked show of what we would want a shop to look like. We want something from all of those vendors, each one. I want to put a really good sweater next to maybe a more commercial jean and have some very important shoes or handbag or a belt from whomever it is that we have in the show. We have done a really good job of merchandising this show, for sure. The way the whole thing is laid out and looks is very comfortable for people to shop.

With all the other concurrent trade shows in Las Vegas, how does ENK Vegas stand out from the competition and draw an audience?
Well, for me it has always been “build it and they will come.” If you build an event that takes care of people, they’ll take care of you by coming. So you need to provide creature comforts, people need to be happy when they get through and you need to provide the right vendors. Because why else are they coming? And what’s interesting, I think, about what happens to vendors when they do Blue [in New York] or when they do ENK Vegas, is sometimes a more classic brand can look groovy and hip when put in a different setting.

Can you give an example of that?
We could look maybe at Lucky Brand. If you take a more commercial or classic brand and put them in the setting of ENK Vegas instantly the playing field changes. The buyers see it in a different light.

How so?
ENK Vegas sets up like a showroom. And people use it that way, which is very different than a typical show out there. And it is smaller. It’s much more manageable and you can see who you like. It is very handpicked and very strict about who’s in and who’s not in.

What else about the layout and location set it apart in your eyes?
There is nothing more glamorous than The Wynn. We fought hard to stay there [after moving the show there from The Venetian last season]. It wasn’t so easy to stay. We fought hard to come back because we believed in the venue and it made everybody feel good. We were afraid that we were pioneering an isolated location, when in fact really nothing in Vegas is isolated. It was private, it was a terrific environment that we could only create there, the food was amazing and plentiful and the whole vibe there was just a pleasure. And I didn’t feel like I was in another show in the middle of big melting pot of shows. We made a statement: This is where we are – come and get us!

How is the economy affecting the show and ENK International’s overall business?
OK, here is where we are. The people that we are doing business with, in all of our shows, many of them are the survivors who will continue. The people I am talking to here [at The Collective/Blue show] are doing well. People that aren’t doing well aren’t here. We have very strong brands in ENK Vegas. We have very strong brands here too, but most of these people aren’t going anywhere…. These are leaders who understand what’s going on. They know who the buyers are. The buyers are now coming and they are not playing around with their money. [These exhibitors] are not thinking, “Let me sit it out and stay in my showroom.” Because that’ll take care of one season for you, maybe, but where are you going to get the foot traffic in your showroom that can compare to the foot traffic I am going to provide with in the course of one day? It is not going to happen.

What else do you provide for ENK Vegas exhibitors?
They don’t have to move their custom booth out to our show. [Because of the set-up] all you need to do is walk in with a suitcase. We are providing everything for you, so we have made it very cost efficient for people.

How does the cost of exhibiting at ENK Vegas compare to the other Vegas shows?
I don’t know the exact price differential but I know that there is one and I know we provide a big bang for your buck.

What’s your advice for your exhibitors in these hard times?
I will say this: Now more than ever, it is incumbent on the designer to provoke sales. They need to push you to make you want what they produced. Now the collection could be good, maybe it’s not displayed well. Maybe it is displayed great nobody wants it. It goes a million ways. The bottom line is, you have to design the right product at the right price or what are we all doing here? Everybody has jeans, everybody’s got shoes. I have plenty, everybody has got, so what do you need new? Because I did a better color, because I did a better fit, because I did a new fit, because I did a better length, a better rise, a different rise… whatever. In accessories first it had to be small, now everything has to be big. It’s the fashion cycle. So everything was black, now everything is color. Whatever it is, you’d better have it. And that’s how we handpick people. We are giving the retailers the people who are making the best product.

How many applicants do you get for the show and how do you select them?
I would say that these last couple of seasons probably less people are applying because there are less people in business so you can’t help that. That’s just because there are less retailers in business. But let’s do numbers: if five people apply, maybe we’ll take three. We would definitely say no to that shirt company because you don’t want to wear it. It’s crunchy. You might say no to that leather company because that jacket smells like crazy. You may say no to that belt because it is just wrong. You might say no to that jean because, well, what is the point? So we look at all of it.

How would you describe the show’s overall vibe?
I think when you come you are entering a completely different environment, which is kind of like, “This is nice. This is nice.” Nothing is rigid. Everything is just what it is. And everybody is hanging and they are writing serious business. It is very comfortable.

And how many people do you expect to attend ENK Vegas?
I would say we are working up probably between three and five [thousand]. To get that amount of traffic for 150 brands you know you are delivering. And I think, based of the fact that I believe Las Vegas is a stronger show for the spring/summer market since it is a West Coast show and there are a lot of West Coasters, I think we are going to do very well.

Aside from just telling people to attend it, is there anything you would like to add about the show?
That’s what we want. We just want everybody to come.

—Interview: Christopher Blomquist