It’s been a couple nights now since Agenda Emerge NYC, and it’s given me some time to reflect on what transpired and what the event stood for – not just in relation to industry and marketplace, but the youth and entrepreneurial culture.
First of all, how crazy is it that something like this even exists? 800 attendees pay money for a ticket, brave freezing temperatures into the city, and sit through 4 hours of presenters to gain knowledge about brand building from Streetwear/apparel designers. This would have never existed a decade ago. For one, the brand owners weren’t as forthcoming with information and experience to the public. And secondly, the demand and audience weren’t there or nearly interested. “Branding” wasn’t always such a sexy hotbutton hashtag.
It was asked how many people in the building have their own brand or are seeking to launch one, and almost everyone raised their hand. Kids used to grow up and want to be pro basketball players or rockstars. Now they want to own clothing companies and be designers. Even the musicians and athletes wanna start their own Streetwear brands!
Why? Does it have to do with the dissolution of the music industry or the harsh reality that it’s almost impossible to succeed as a baseball player or movie star? Maybe it has to do with the lower barrier to entry for brand upstarts. Just come up with a name and a social media handle, print a T-shirt with the logo and now you can claim you own a “clothing brand.” Much harder to get studio time, write lyrics and produce beats, cut a record, and sell yourself as a musician. Or putting in two-a-days on the field, working out and maintaining a strict regimen to pursue a sports scholarship.
It excites and inspires me to see such a surge in eager Streetwear participants. But it also concerns me. The truth is that there haven’t been many new viable Streetwear brands in the past half-decade. And if there have been, they’ve blown out fast, fallen on their face, or been eclipsed by the older generation of designers. Yet, the number of new brands continues to multiply every day. To what point? At what moment do they all realize that this is a fool’s gold rush, that the pot at the end of the rainbow sits dry?
But there are more rainbows out there, pots of gold undiscovered down paths less traveled. To the next generation that stay inspired and aspire, you now have a responsibility to the culture. It’s up to you to respond and react to the senior class, instead of following and emulating it. I challenge you to take all this information, all your observations, and do it better, smarter, faster, than we could have ever dreamt. Learn from our mistakes and learn from our winnings. And blow us out of the water.
How many of you took the mic during the Q&A – not to ask questions – but to be heard? This was your failure. You weren’t listening, you were drumming up the next thing you wanted to say, and you cheated yourself from a valuable lesson. This was also your gain, because you were making it clear: You knew better than us. You didn’t care what we had to offer, because you had found an easier route.
I’ll leave you with this. None of the guys on this stage right here (Moderator and pro skateboarder Felix Arguelles, Jeff Ng of Staple, Marc Ecko, Johnny Cupcakes, myself, and Aaron Levant, founder of the Agenda Show) made it this far in our careers by mirroring what everyone else was doing or being “inspired” by Kanye or Hypebeast or our local boutique shelves. No. In fact, we did this by fighting against all that. We understood that trends are now, but they’re not forever, and we’re in this forever, so why heed trends? Disregard them. Ignore them. Break them.
You don’t have a brand. You have another black T-shirt with numbers on it. You don’t have a brand. You have a Tumblr in plastisol. You don’t have a brand. You’ve got a ReTweet.
When you have a brand, you’ve got something to say, you stand for something new and brave and unpopular. It makes sense to no one but yourself, but it’s the only answer you’ve got. That’s when you have a brand. That’s when you’re ready to change this world.
There’s plenty more room on this stage. We’ll be waiting for you.