Examining basketball’s influence on streetwear with Agenda founder Aaron Levant.
by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
“Basketball culture is a huge part of this.”
Protect ya neck.
That’s the best advice I can give you about the Agenda tradeshow. With so much sneaker heat cruising through the curated aisles, it’s critical to stretch your neck and access some massage therapy before attending. At the recent Agenda in Las Vegas, SLAM was in attendance for an exclusive look at the hottest tradeshow going with founder Aaron Levant. In its 10th year of existence, the Agenda show is the crown jewel of the apparel and accessory industry, featuring the coolest brands in streetwear.
A high school dropout, Levant began his career in the streetwear industry when he interned at a SoCal label called Gat when he was kicked out of his high school. He worked his way up in the business and saw an opportunity after attending his first tradeshow. Levant noticed the industry was dominated by huge brands and little start ups had no platform under the setup. He came up with an idea to start his own show to give the little brands some shine.
“We started 10 years ago this year with 30 brands in a Thai restaurant,” Levant says. “I wasn’t trying to make money; I was with my peers, all the up-and-coming guys. I organized it, it was $500 and it worked. And the next season it was 50 brands. Then 70 brands. It kept growing. Now Agenda has six shows a year in three different cities with about 700 brands that we do business with.”
Walking the show floor, it’s easy to see the influence of basketball in the sneakers and the way brands promote action sports athletes. Levant believes the influence of basketball sneakers created a huge lane for streetwear.
“Basketball sneakers are what really drove sneaker culture which became streetwear culture—the clothes that you wear with your sneakers,” Levant explains. “Still today, some of the most anticipated releases are basketball sneakers. It all has driven from that. It’s definitely the foundation and a big part of it. A huge part. You see a lot of players now investing in brands. Nike is a huge part, they own streetwear and street culture and basketball has been one of the cornerstones of their brand.”
The pull of footwear is strong—consumers gravitate toward their favorite brands and some refuse to mix it up. “But with the clothes you wear and the stuff you wear with your shoes, there is an opening there,” Levant says.
Skateboarding is now a mainstream sport and its influence is also heavy at Agenda. Levant credits some of the rise to the way the sport has marketed their top athletes, remixing the formula that built stars in basketball.
“Let’s go back to the athletic footwear companies that had set out to make basketball shoes,” Levant says. “Nike and adidas—they are now investing millions of dollars to promote these athletes in the same way as you would Kobe. Look at what Nike has done for P-Rod (skateboarder Paul Rodriguez Jr) and the way it has propelled him. He even did a commercial with Kobe! You go to China and there’s a billboard with P-Rod and Kobe. That’s unparalleled—the heights that they are putting skateboarding in the marketplace, those companies have a voice between their media and their buying power. Their social communication can propel a sport.”
Agenda’s focus is to operate as an optimal business platform for companies to write orders—a typical business-oriented tradeshow. But it does not feel that way. There is so much action going on, a unique energy when you enter the experience. Within my first 30 minutes, I checked out rapper Jim Jones interviewed at the G-Pen booth, picked up a t-shirt and signed print from tattoo artist Tim Hendricks at the Hurley booth and peeped the new fire coming from Stance socks at their sweet setup.
“We want to grow the show but we don’t want to get s o big where people have a negative connotation like they do about the Magic show, where it got so big and overblown that it didn’t lack personal flavor and community,” Levant says.
Agenda is closed to the public and for brands, there is a formula to making the cut. “The number one thing is authenticity and originality,” Levant says. “We don’t want someone who is blatantly robbing or stealing someone’s style. I really try to make sure that everyone here has something to say, not just because something is hot right now. That’s where it started from. When Ed Hardy was hot, they were begging to be in the show but I didn’t want anything to do with them. It didn’t fit in this community.”
Many brands begin their rise by using rappers or athletes to promote their products. “When consumers see someone that they idolize wearing it, it’s huge for the brands,” Levant says. “As much as it’s important for a rapper to be wearing it, if Kobe is wearing it, or Kevin Durant is wearing it, that helps these brands immensely.”
Similar to sneaker companies searching for the next hot basketball star to pitch their products, Levant is on the constant hunt for new brands while staying in line with the latest trends in the marketplace. “Ninety percent of my free time is spent staying on top of it, I probably read over 20 blogs a week and go to the mall when I can,” he says. “My friend’s little brothers, I always ask them what brands the kids are wearing at school, what they are checking for. I’ve got to know what’s next, I need to know what they think is cool before it’s obvious. I need to stay on top of it and if I’m not, someone is going to come and eat my lunch.”
The next Agenda Show will be held in Long Beach, CA, in January of 2014.
Images courtesy of Agenda