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Keeping It Real

San Diego's action sports and streetwear shows strive for authenticity.

LOS ANGELES — San Diego’s two apparel trade shows, ASR Trade Expo and Agenda, are continuing to hone their repertoires to attract more buyers, who are drawn to their authentic surf, skate and swim merchandise and fresh artist-driven street looks.

For 26-year-old ASR, which already is perceived as a world-class event in the action sports industry, one of the newer challenges lies in attracting and retaining the increasing number of mass and specialty apparel retailers who are scouting the show for hot junior and contemporary looks.

Andy Tompkins, group show director since May, said the show still needs a “relaxed yet focused” buying area on the floor. “Retailers need to have an area to think about purchase options.” To date, the show floor has been a cacophony of activity, with the necessary merchandise demos, runway shows and music.

For its next show, Jan. 25 to 27, ASR has partnered with the Board Retailers Association to develop a retail resource center on the floor. “It is my hope that this will be the beginning of a more established program to help retail buyers utilize ASR to its maximum potential to shape a buying strategy,” Tompkins said.

Events such as the junior apparel and swimwear runway shows, with many of ASR’s 300 exhibitors participating, are intended to help buyers get the bigger picture.

Swimwear is stronger at the September show, and Tompkins said he’s looking to gear that section to retailers writing orders. The number of boutique and swim buyers at the September show increased by about 38 percent over the previous year.

The holiday show, entering its sophomore year, will be held in mid-May at the Orange County Fairgrounds, slightly earlier than last year, when many vendors and retailers complained that May 31 to June 1 was too late for holiday deadlines. “The new date should facilitate more manufacturing deadlines and allow both specialty and multiple-unit buyers to create a buying scheme for the holiday season,” said Tompkins.

ASR is also stepping up its green quotient. The vendor catalogue is printed on recycled paper, and show producers are using mostly recycled carpeting and have an aggressive program to encourage people to recycle cardboard and plastic during the show. The three-day show is completely powered by wind energy credits.

This story first appeared in the December 6, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

As surfing, snowboarding and the fashions they inspire grow more mainstream, ASR is looking to cultivate interest in the skate and motocross worlds that may yield the same diffusion effect in apparel. Supporting these two growing “counterculture” sports should help ASR maintain its roots in the relatively indie industries, much in the way Agenda, founded in 2003, has.

This January marks Agenda’s eighth installment. The show, which coincides with ASR, has grown from 50 exhibitors to 170, including Nike, Adidas, Paul Frank, Stussy and DC.

“We’ve pretty much established our dream team list of exhibitors; now we are just maintaining what we have,” said show founder Aaron Levant.

He credits the move to the San Diego Concourse in January 2005 with giving the show stability and room for growth, up to 240 brands. “More large brands have really taken notice since we have been at this location, and vendors remember you. It’s nice to stay in the same place.”

As for changes, instead of the small-scale art installations the show has been known for — many of the graphic artists whose designs adorn about 80 percent of the vendors’ T-shirt lines also do signature lines and displays at the show — this year there will be entire walls of art and three live painting stations. A splashy opening night party, video installations and an art show round out the activities.

The biggest indication of the show’s success is the growing number of mammoth booths among the rolling-rack-and-chair setups. Lines like Stussy are choosing to unveil their lifestyle collections at Agenda, and sneaker line Etnies will launch its clothing line there.

Said Levant, “Anything good we have done in the past, we are doing better now.”