Aaron Levant is ready for a new challenge. Levant, who founded the Agenda trade show when he was 19, is retiring from the business.
“There wasn’t an exit plan. It wasn’t something that I’ve contemplated for a long time. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the past two or three months,” said Levant as he was arriving at the final Agenda Long Beach trade show that he will manage in California. “For me, it’s all about continuing to learn new stuff and take on new challenges, and as far as events and trade shows, I’ve learned everything that I can.”
Levant started Agenda, which is dedicated to the skate, surf and streetwear categories, in the back of a Thai restaurant in Long Beach in 2003. In 2013, Reed Exhibitions acquired the show for an undisclosed sum and Levant stayed on to help grow Agenda, oversee other shows and launch new ones.
For the past few years, Levant, who has said he believes the trade show category is dead, has transitioned Agenda from a business-to-business show to a more consumer-facing event. He introduced Agenda Festival last year, which included a two-day trade show followed by a one-day festival that was open to the public. In 2016, he worked with Marc Ecko, cofounder of Complex Networks, to launch ComplexCon, another consumer-facing festival that took place in Long Beach. Last year’s event, which included panels, live performances, food and product launches targeting Millennial, streetwear-loving consumers, generated $20 million to $25 million in product sales.
“I still stand by the statement I made about trade shows: The traditional B2B format is dying. That’s why I’ve been investing in these new formats,” Levant said. “The company is in good shape to move forward because we’ve been able to adapt to the market.”
Levant, who will officially leave Reed Exhibitions in February, will spend the next few months devising a succession plan. He said he plans to divide his job into several different positions. There will be internal promotions and he hopes to bring in new talent.
He couldn’t reveal what his next gig will be, but he says it will be a full-time position in a completely different industry and he will continue to consult for Reed Exhibitions and work on smaller investments and side projects — including Truff Hot Sauce, a truffle-infused hot sauce he started with Jon Buscemi.
Levant is leaving the streetwear category at an interesting time. On one hand, its popularity is generating a lot of money and interest from investment firms. On the other, veterans in the industry believe the commercialization of the category has taken it to a chaotic, unsustainable place.
“I find the criticism comical,” Levant said. “The biggest negative voices around ComplexCon came from people who aren’t getting a lot of attention. I think we have a few more years of street culture driving the messaging in fashion. But it all comes down to what is popular in music. That dictates where culture stands. So as long as artists like Travis Scott and Kanye West are top of mind, streetwear will continue to be popular.”