Photo by Theo DouglasLike the Sundance Film Festival or the South by Southwest music festival before it, the Action Sports Retailer expo in San Diego has generated a spin-off, something called an Agenda. It's probably ironic. The "agenda," actually, turns out to be the relative lack of anything resembling one—a marketing instructor's nightmare. He can teach the failure of the 1976 Ford Maverick, the success of Apple computers (except the Newton), but how does this fit? Ask Toyota; its Scion is a galloping success. Agenda is a scion in Scion's lo-fi mold.
Where ASR still sets the board-sport swag standard—a half-pipe with demos, aging Z-boy Nathan Pratt (selling Z-Boy-brand T-shirts screened with young Jay Adams pics), Volcom girls in Catholic schoolgirl-plaid skirts making peanut butter sandwiches you know you can never have—Agenda studiously avoids it. For starters, it's actually warm inside the San Diego Convention Center. And they'll sell you food. There's no eats at Agenda; it takes 30 seconds and your business card to get a wristband and entrance to what will obviously become an empty warehouse again come Sunday; and it's Arctic base camp, bone-chilling cold in there. A dank, really.
"The only thing wrong with this place—it was so cold this morning," everyone complains, including the cute Soundgirl reps from New York who know from cold. No one complains about anything else—why would you? This is DIY-label nirvana, so of course I'm snatched away from the Tankfarm people by the Cardboard Robot people. They're everywhere; it's gotta be the robotics. Or their side gig, making recyclable Frank Gehry-esque cardboard chairs.
I'm reeling from the lack of scene and food here. It's pretty dark, the booths are teeny, you can actually see the clothes (which aren't too different from ASR—T-shirts and jeans, not space suits) and—big difference—you can walk right up and talk to someone about their line.
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No appointments needed; no exclusive, center-hinged laminate door like at Modern Amusement. There are Agenda success stories—the folks at new Tokidoki T-shirts sold their old line to, I think they say, Louis Vuitton—and for some reason, a white stretch limo is out front when I leave. But that's the extent of it.
At Agenda, no one will tell you breathlessly that art is playing a much bigger part in their fall line (686 at ASR) or that black is going to be really big this fall (Quiksilver, ASR). And if anyone should say that black is the new blood—or whatever—it'll be part of their own personal design philosophy, and you'll accept that because it makes sense. Like the people in the Livity Outernational booth at Agenda, selling clothing made mostly from hemp and recyclables: they're doing what they believe, not just hawking a meal ticket.
Or RVCA (pronounced RUCA), which brought down fencing panels and had the guys in its Artists Network Program (who also do RVCA graphics) paint a fence like Huck Finn. Big scary skulls floating above dreamy cityscapes—done by George Thompson, a RVCA art guy so moved by his art he had to move out here with his family—now this was a lounge area. You could kick back in Mason Brown's cardboard chairs and just watch George paint. No hassle, no crowds of 20 sweeping by—there were maybe 30 booths in here total—and no hard sell. They make what they like; you buy it if you want.
Big pimpin' PR types must be set adrift on memory blips; this is how they used to do it—selling stuff they believed in 'cause it was theirs or a friend's. A few of them had booths at Agenda—Nike, Reebok, Adidas—but they weren't mobbed. The white limo outside was prescient, though: The best-selling Nordstrom's T-shirt recently was by Tankfarm, and Tokidoki's cute little anime-esque designs were profiled in Women's Wear Daily. Someday, Agenda will have its own spin-off, too, and they'll sell . . . space suits. And we'll all live in cities on the moon.