Last Sat. July 15, the streets of Long Beach surrounding the convention center were saturated with people and skateboards rushing to get their spot in line for the much anticipated Agenda Festival. Agenda's creator Aaron Levant got in the industry as a graphic designer at various clothing companies in the '90s, but when he started his streetwear clothing line, he and his partner decided to stop attending trade shows and create their own and now he's been hosting the Agenda Trade Show for over 14 years with the thought of turning it into a festival for what seemed like forever. We caught up with Levant at Agenda Fest to ask him about the making of this inaugural fest and plans for the next one.
OC Weekly (Angel Grady): What is Agenda?
Aaron Levant: Essentially what we are is a platform to help brands grow their companies and gain more recognition and distribution. Usually done through a traditional trade show format, now instead of just doing that with the industry, were helping them do that with direct consumers as well. I think we're entering the experienced based economy and that's something I think we keep at the forefront of our thinking.
What's the purpose of the Agenda Festival?
I guess I wouldn't say necessarily the purpose, but Agenda is an event I have been holding for almost 15 years now. It started out as a fashion trade show that has evolved over the years and become a platform, a conference, a series of parties, merchandise, and I think a combination of that evolution is what you saw Saturday in Long Beach. Creating unique experiences around music, culture, brand, content, and is what we're trying to do with the Agenda Festival.
What are the main differences between this year's Agenda Fest and your past events?
We've done a bunch of iterations of things, but this is the first time we put together this assemblage of things and this was the first event totally open to the public. For the last 14 years it's been an invite only industry event, this is the first time we've opened the flood gates and let the consumers come in. That evolution is a direct reaction to what's been going on in the fashion industry and overall retail, where the internet and social media are disrupting the way things work, people have access to everything instantaneously. The traditional way we used to do business is changing and we want to be on the forefront of that evolution as opposed to sitting on the wrong side of it.
Did Agenda Festival meet your expectations?
When I think about something, I have different expectations. I have financial, attendance and different metrics that are more numeric based, things I could chart on a graph. But the thing I really try to focus on is the energy- which the thing you cant put your finger on and I feel really happy with it, we nailed it. The kids were lined up at six in the morning, super enthusiastic and came running in, they were excited because this was such a new experience for them. For me that is the main metric I would be happy with, you could have a show and make a ton of money, but if no one had good time, it doesn't mean anything. I'm beyond happy with the turnout of the energy and the feeling more so than the financial or attendance success.
Do you plan to host more events like this?
For sure we'll be doing this again at least on an annual basis in Long Beach, if not on a bi-annual basis, every January and summer.
What makes this festival different from others?
We called it a festival because that's a name that people recognize, but I wouldn't compare it to any music ones out there because that's only one component of what we're doing. This isn't just a field with a stage, right? There's so much more going on there, music is the background and the thing I think draws people in, but when you get there, there's so many other things to do- from the skate competition, to the pop-up shops, to the panels, to the food, it's really a multi-sensory experience.
How did you decide on the music lineup?
It was a matrix of who we wanted and it came down to budget and who was available. Tyler,the Creator was at the top of our list and initially we couldn't get him because of his European tour. But a month later I noticed a tweet saying he was canceling the tour, so we called his agent that day and it worked out perfect for us. We didn't know at the time that he was planning to come out with a new album, the deal with Converse, two new singles and the music videos- the timing couldn't have been more perfect.
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What do you think stood out most to attendees?
Probably the fact that it's a unique format combining the brands and the music, I don't think anyone's done it like that before.
What will you do differently next time?
It's gonna be a lot bigger and we're gonna try and possibly do two days next year, so we can people more time to be all to see all of it.
Have you thought about taking Agenda to other cities?
We're already looking at other cities like New York, Miami and so on, to bring this experience to. It was wildly successful, we had 15,000 people come out and so much good feedback. So yeah, we see a lot of potential for this event format to roll out.
Why change things up now, after 14 years?
Now is just the first time you've seen it manifest with the Agenda brand, in November of last year I co-produced ComplexCon, so we've been doing stuff like this for a while. In 2012 our company merged with ReedPOP at that point we recognized this opportunity and we wanted to join up with somebody who can help us achieve that level of consumer engagement. We've been thinking about it that far back but this is the first time we've been able to activate on it in the proper with the Agenda brand.