2017 Newsmaker: Agenda Seeks New Format for Trade Shows

The fashion business has gone through major changes, but the basic model for fashion trade shows has not budged, said Aaron Levant, founder of the Agenda trade show and senior vice president of trade-show producer Reed Exhibitions.

In July, he changed the format of the 15-year-old trade show by introducing a consumer day at Agenda in Long Beach, Calif. It may be the only major consumer day produced by a trade show in North America.

At the consumer day, called Agenda Festival, 15,000 people spent $45 for advance tickets to shop at more than 500 booths, to dine at food trucks and to listen to a hip-hop concert headlined by Tyler, the Creator and Ludacris at the Long Beach Convention Center.

For fashion, attendees were treated to exclusive items such as airbrushed socks from Stance, a brand that popularized the sock as a fashion item at action-sports shops; monogrammed windbreakers and bags from accessories brand Herschel; and sterling-silver jewelry from the lifestyle line of the athletic brand Champion.

The event was deemed a success, and a sophomore run of Agenda Festival will be produced in Summer 2018.

The consumer day was inspired by the success of ComplexCon. Like Agenda Festival, it is a unique mix of a consumer-style trade show, hip-hop musical performances, art galleries and a mecca for high-end sneaker obsessives.

Reed built the show with media platform Complex, which is helmed by urban style pioneer Marc Ecko. When the sophomore ComplexCon ran in November 2017, 50,000 people attended the event. Tickets cost $75 to $100, with VIP passes priced up to $400.

After ComplexCon’s inaugural event in 2016, Bobby Hundreds, born Bobby Kim, founder of leading streetwear brand The Hundreds, enthusiastically endorsed the idea of producing a trade show–like market for fans.

“Why are the trade shows restricted from the kids? Why insulate brands from the community that supports them?” he wrote in a 2016 blog.

After the 2017 show, he confessed mixed feelings on the event. “On one hand, the festival was an undeniable success,” he wrote. “I used to describe ComplexCon like an Agenda meets Comic Con. But now, I’d say it’s a massive rave or Disneyland on a blackout day. Rivers of people drifting around aimlessly, stupefied.”

Levant and his colleagues are looking for other ways to offer alternative programming at other trade shows. During the February run of Agenda in Las Vegas, Agenda will produce the Assembly Conference with two other trade shows: Capsule and Liberty Fashion & Lifestyle Fairs. A brand statement described it as a conference for retailers and brands that will feature educational seminars, networking opportunities and keynote speakers.