The World of Agenda: Global Lifestyle Trade Show Calls Long Beach Home

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Photo by Jeffrey Smallwood

Standing in the front door of Outfitters, the lifestyle retail store he manages on the corner of Pine Ave. and 3rd St., Zeid “Z” Arar knew he had to be on point.

It was last Tuesday morning and for the next 48 hours, nearly 15,000 of his industry’s elite—from owners to artists to buyers, all with connections to the biggest surf, skate, sneaker and streetwear brands in the world, including the 50 or so that Outfitters carries—would be within a half-mile of his shop.

The twice-annual Agenda show had again taken over the Long Beach Convention Center, this time for its largest show to date. Bringing more than 700 companies as diverse as The Hundreds, New Balance, Quiksilver and Emerica together under one invite-only roof, Agenda is where buyers in charge of stocking these brands (at major chains and mom-and-pops alike) peruse and place orders for the new season’s designs.

DSC 1118“It’s important for us to be able to see the material in person so we can feel it right there,” says Arar, who often accompanies his owner as they walk Agenda’s floor, buying the latest from brands like Diamond, Obey, LRG, Neff and GDK. “They can send a catalog, but we can’t always see what the actual color or texture is. Going to Agenda much better than emailing back and forth for orders. And for us, it’s right down the street.”

But after 11 years in business, Agenda has become much more than just a place where youth culture brands come to make sales in sunny SoCal.

It has expanded to become an all-encompassing celebration of the California lifestyle with live art, daytime drinking, a food truck court and celebrity sightings from Famous Stars and Straps owner (and Blink 182 drummer) Travis Barker to Long Beach luminary Snoop Dogg, who this year had no less than three collaborations with different brands featured across Agenda.

“We teamed up with Snoop Lion for a collaboration piece not only because of our Long Beach roots, but because our logo is a lion and it fit perfectly with his name change,” says Lexi Amparan of three-year-old Long Beach-based accessories company, Rastaclat.

Originally known for African-inspired braided bracelets made from high-quality shoelaces, the brand debuted its expanded line of durable belts, hats and shoelaces at last summer’s Agenda show.

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Rastaclat bracelets (including a Snoop Lion collaboration) on display at Agenda. Photo by Sarah Bennett

“We’re doing our own thing in our own way and people seem to understand that here,” Amparan says, noting that the brand got its start in the sneaker community, but is quickly branching out to other streetwear segments. “We are a niche product and we don’t want to water down our message, so Agenda is perfect for us.”

The secret to Agenda’s success is not so much that it caters to one lifestyle niche, but instead has grown to, authentically and organically, coalesce a combination of niches—streetwear, fashion, action sports, sneakers, surf and hardgoods, among others—that though increasingly related in the real world were never before put under one roof at a trade show.

Accessibility to multiple hand-picked brands makes Agenda a one-stop shop for many retailers, with stores as plentiful as Outfitters and selective as the East Village’s Proper (the decade-old sneaker and apparel store that stocks around a dozen elite names) getting the majority of their buying for the season done during Agenda’s two-day rampage.

And because young companies like Rastaclat are now using Agenda to introduce themselves to the industry at large, the custom-curated show is also known as not just a place, but the place where buyers of all interests come to discover up-and-coming brands.

“There have been brands that their whole career has been launched here,” says Agenda founder Aaron Levant, who personally chooses which brands get invited to buy booths each year. “The retailers and buyers they met with and the press they got from this event has literally changed and made their brand and that’s a really cool thing to be a part of—these entrepreneurs fulfilling their dreams and chasing their passions.”

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Founder Aaron Levant at the entrance to Agenda: Long Beach. Photo by Sarah Bennett

Levant himself is an entrepreneur who in January 2003 turned his own passion for street culture and art into the first Agenda show, held in the now-razed Naga Thai Restaurant on the Long Beach waterfront. The setup was small and Levant says he only provided chairs and a sign for each participant. But the energy was there and a precedent was set.

For the next few years, Agenda grew as it moved between Long Beach and San Diego so that it could directly compete with the formerly-reigning-but-now-defunct Action Sports Retailer convention. Agenda’s meticulous selection and thoughtful planning continued to draw in both buyers and brands who appreciated the exclusivity that ensured every brand showing was in the top of their class. Levant even began hosting smaller, more directed versions of Agenda in other parts of the country, including Las Vegas and New York, but Long Beach remains the flagship.

DSC 1062“It could be bigger if I wanted it to be, but that’s not the whole thing with Agenda,” Levant says. “Our whole thing is controlling the growth. Every month, we hear from hundreds and hundreds of brands that we just choose not to do business with. If we wanted to let the reigns loose, we could make this thing twice as big, but we don’t want to do that—it would ruin it.”

According to Levant, this year’s Agenda attendees came from 48 countries and 49 states with more than 30% of people coming from more than 1000 miles away. The combined economic impact of Agenda’s January and July shows is one of the largest of any event the city hosts.

More than just a financially viable conference, though, Agenda is a Long Beach institution that remains as important a designator of youth culture as it does for the city’s independent retailers.

“Long Beach is perfect for me because look at what our audience is. It’s a lot of action sports, which is very Orange County, and it’s a lot of streetwear and sneakers, which is very L.A. so really Long Beach is the perfect point,” Levant says. “The city is big enough to house us, but not so big where we can’t feel like we can’t take it over. You can go to the bars and restaurants while we’re here and you feel the Agenda presence on the street.”

Gallery photos by Jeffrey Smallwood

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Sarah Bennett is a contributor to the Hi-lo and the editor-at-large at the Long Beach Post. She is also a professor at Santa Ana College where she was once a student before transferring to USC to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Sarah has written about music, art, food and beer in local, national and international publications for over a decade. An L.A. native and longtime resident of Long Beach, she is the co-founder of Long Beach Zine Fest and managing editor at theLAnd magazine. She never sleeps.
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