How did this crazy trade show in the desert ever start?
Here’s how the first Desert and Denim came to be: It’s Oakland, California, in the early fall of 2014. An Indian summer evening in a nice restaurant, and three very drunk men seated at a table: myself and someone else from Juniper Ridge, and our friend Mats, the founder of Indigofera Jeans, based in Stockholm. We were pounding the table and saying how much we really hated big trade shows, saying: “Yeah, fuck those New York trade shows at the Javitz Center, with their endless, airless giant rooms, aisles full of crap and plastic name tags.” What we all wanted to see was a trade show that was as beautiful and soulful as the things we were making.
We said: “Let’s put on our own thing, get the best makers in the world together and have campfires under the desert sky. We’ll make it beautiful and fun. What we make has so much heart, can’t there be a trade show with some heart? Something with some spirit and guts? If we get the best brands in the world together, the stores and buyers and magazines will have show up. It’ll be too good to resist!” Now we were definitely being loud, shouting ideas over each other.
We’ve all had drunken ideas like this before, the ones that seem so clearly brilliant in the moment and then the next day, well, let’s just say they lose a little bit of their luster. But by the next morning we were already texting each other about this again. Everyone was fully committed and we got busy making it happen, which we had no idea how to do. It was only four months before we wanted to have the thing and we had no clue where to start, but we just threw ourselves into it. One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is when you see something that’s broken, like the tradeshow industry, you feel compelled to fix it, do your own thing, and make it better. So we thought, “Cool, we’ll just rent a hotel, invite a few of our favorite brands, play some music and see what happens.”
It ended up being huge. We had hundreds of people show up, including 25 of the best brands in the world for rustic, heritage men’s clothing. Brands like Topo Designs, Tellason Jeans, Iron and Resin Clothing, and Indigofera Jeans. We got tons of press, large groups making the trek out from Japan and Northern Europe. I couldn’t believe it! I felt like getting up on stage at one point and saying, “Folks, this isn’t a real trade show. We just made this shit up four months ago, you should all go home!” But, of course that’s the beauty about doing stuff like this—make it and they will come. Suddenly, the whole thing was real. It was amazing.
Why does a fragrance brand organize a denim trade show?
We’re not a fragrance brand! Ugh, it makes me cringe to hear that. I just can’t stand regular petrochemical perfume, the kind of stuff they sell at department store perfume counters. We go out to the mountains, harvest plants, and put it all in bottles. We’re the cologne and beard oil that someone who wears nice Selvedge denim jeans would want to put on. The young bearded dude who buys those jeans isn’t gonna wear nasty plastic French style men’s cologne. Who wears that stuff anymore? My grandpa did, but he died ten years ago. Young guys with money, they don’t want the old version of “luxury goods”, expensive stuff designed in Europe but made in huge factories in massive quantities with questionable quality standards in China. Hell no.
We run this trade show not for denim or for fashion, but for the folks who make soulful, artisanal stuff. That’s what we do, that’s what everyone at that show does. Those big brands are telling us with their pervasive advertising and movie stars on billboards that their stuff is fancy, but I’m not buying it, are you? Real fancy has always meant the same thing, beauty itself. A family-owned knife shop in Tokyo that sells expensive hand made knives but has florescent, drugstore style lighting and no advertising is luxury. So is buying your chicken at the farmers market from the farmer who raised it. Real fancy is in the substance of the thing you’re buying, not in the external trappings, things like advertising and packaging. What we make is beautiful and so is everything else at this trade show. There isn’t a single company there that spends huge budgets on advertising. All their money is tied up in making the stuff they make as beautifully as possible.
What is it you wanted to achieve with Desert & Denim?
My goal is to create a community, a pack of like-minded maker freaks like myself who want to make something truly gorgeous—whether it’s a hat, a pair of jeans, a belt, a camping chair, boots or cologne that really captures the smell of Big Sur in spring. Those are the only “brands” that are allowed to be there.
And fuck that word, “brand.” Brands are companies started by people sitting around trying to think of ways to make money. I don’t like “brands,” I like people who make stuff because they can’t help themselves and want, no NEED, to make something beautiful. That creativity has to spring from a sickness in their souls, a personality defect, a compulsive need to make something beautiful. That might sound romantic, but the fact is that me and all the other passion entrepreneurs I know who start businesses, we all spend time banging our heads against the walls, burning through relationships and bankruptcies. It’s really not always pretty or a pleasant life being a “passsionpreneur,” but you don’t get to choose it—it’s just who you are and you can’t help yourself. I know that’s who I am, haaaaaaa!!!
Your crowd of visitors was pretty international. Can you say something about buyers/countries? I understand D&D was not set up as a traditional show so I don’t expect numbers. But it would be nice to read something about which stores traveled to the LA desert for this show.
Well let’s see here. We had a lot of people fly over from Japan, a bunch of magazines and folks from the U.K. / Scandinavia / Northern Europe. Lots of folks from the east coast, but I guess you can’t really count that as a foreign country, haaaaaa. I have no idea how many people came from overseas, but it was a lot. This is only the second time we’ve done this show and wow, yeah, it’s really starting to go. We didn’t even put much emphasis on inviting lots of stores and magazine / blog types, but they showed up in force. If the flowers are blooming, the bees will come.
What were some stand-out moments for your team?
My favorite moment was the Gnome Life records showcase at the Art Gallery in Joshua Tree. Shay Roselip and Range of Light Wilderness played that night, two of my favorite bands / musicians right now, and I was just in heaven. Plus the vibe of that night was so beautiful, everyone dancing, the warm air with hints of spring, tee shirt weather. God, it was just pure magic. And that’s really what I live for. People either do things for money or love in life–I always do things for love. The feeling of creating something beautiful is a kind of magic, it’s just the best feeling in the world.