For the first time since its launch 10 years ago, the action-sports apparel trade show Agenda is headed for Las Vegas. Since the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says more than 21,615 shows hit the Strip every year, Agenda’s arrival would seem fairly unremarkable if it weren’t for its totally un-Vegas-like rep.
The multimillion-dollar show to be held August 19-21 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center is known for its subtle, bare-bones approach to trade-showing and for handpicking independent and big-time niche clothing brands to feature—brands worn like a uniform by the fans and athletes of street-skate-surf-snow sports. And where most shows are about glamming up booths to attract buyers, Agenda’s rule of no bikinied babes, music or swag—and its bargain-basement booth fees—have helped brands on the verge of making it big get their products seen by distributors, brands such as Shaun Neff’s Neff Headwear.
“[Agenda] aligned perfectly with our brand … and with where I wanted to take the brand,” says Neff, founder, CEO and creative director of the surf, skate and snow clothing line Neff Headwear that has collections with Deadmau5, Snoop Dogg, Mac Miller and Damian Marley, among others.
From 2002-09, Neff schlepped his company’s beanies, T-shirts and the like at trade shows across the country. Frustrated that too often he’d be stuck in an aisle amid a mish-mosh of 50 different brands selling to different age groups because of a lack of proper vendor curation, he moved his business to Agenda.
“[Agenda] represents [Neff Headwear’s] lifestyle and culture,” he says. “It’s exciting to know you’re going to sit and be in the right place at the right show.”
With biannual stops in New York City and Long Beach, California, Agenda never aspired to join the Las Vegas fray until there was good reason, and for the show’s 30-year-old founder, Aaron Levant, 2013 was the year to hit the desert.
“Even though [Agenda] is very successful financially, I’m a big believer in you have to do something for the right reasons, and the financial reward will come afterward,” Levant says. “A lot of my customers were coming to me saying, ‘Hey, we really need a show [in Las Vegas]; we’re not happy with the existing show.’ It wasn’t until it reached critical mass where everyone needed it and wanted it [that] it became a necessity.”
Levant founded Agenda at 19 after a few entrepreneurial starts and stops, one of which was launching his own streetwear brand, Matador, while working at Gypsies and Thieves (later renamed Green Apple Tree, or GAT). The company pioneered pulling graffiti off the streets and turning it into wearable art by hiring well-known graffiti artists to make clothes.
Tasked with setting up GAT booths at ASR and MAGIC (the latter is a gargantuan men’s fashion tradeshow with 5,000-plus brands), Levant knew the shows were the biggest in the business—but saw them for what they were: a requisite cattle call for startup and established brands to pay their dues (and handsomely) so buyers could learn about new products. Booth fees could hit $3,500. Disparate brands would be lumped together, and there was undue flash and not always enough deal-closing. That’s why he launched Agenda.
“We’re bringing a different curated experience from other shows,” says Levant, who handpicks every brand.
“Even though our show is getting big, we’re still one-tenth the size of some of the other shows that come into town like MAGIC. So we’re bringing a really catered, specialty experience. It’s the difference between going to a buffet or a really high-end restaurant.”
Agenda’s Las Vegas debut will be as part of Modern Assembly, a collaboration of fashion trade shows that typically run independently. There will be six concurrent shows, including Agenda, AccessoriesTheShow, Capsule, Liberty, MRket and Stitch. A few surprises, too. “We’re bringing a lot of different brands that actually stopped showing [or never did] in the Vegas marketplace, because they didn’t actually like the scene,” Levant says. The Hundreds, Obey and Stussy will show in Las Vegas for the first time in a few years, because of Agenda’s appearance.
Levant has a hand in everything, but the show didn’t grow by itself. In 2006, Levant hired Tal Cooperman for his street cred as an L.A. graffiti artist, but maybe more so for his charisma and ties to other artists and designers like Shaun Neff. Levant and Cooperman met when they were 11 and then interned at GAT together. Cooperman would later help greatly increase the show’s number of exhibitors and its overall profile.
Cooperman estimates that Agenda and the other five Modern Assembly shows will attract some 100,000 customers.
Cooperman now works for Neff Headwear as creative entertainment director and signs new projects, including Deadmau5’s “Neffmau5 Collection,” and contracts with Austin Carlile, Brody Jenner and Pete Wentz. His own line CRSL (sounds like “carousel”) will launch August 19.
“People need something new here,” says Cooperman of Agenda’s move to the Valley, claiming that in his experience, buyers are “over” MAGIC. “They didn’t care about how to make their customer happy anymore. [Agenda] is going to bring a little bit of coolness over to Vegas.”