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Desert & Denim: A New Kind of Fairytale

When talking to a lot of small denim brands you’ll almost always get the same opinion regarding trade shows. It’s too expensive, hardly any orders are written, the vibe is loosing its luster… they’re not what they used to be.

When huge change happens in the industry, the people who succeed are the people who see another route forward; a different way of looking at things. They tread their own path and when you tread your own path and do it right then people tend to follow.

So infectious is the energy of Hall Newbegin, that in the third year of his Desert and Denim (D&D) show, set up with a few like-minded mavericks such as the Indigofera team, Obi Kaufmann, and more recently, Newbegin’s right hand man/surrogate younger brother, Tobias Hayduk, the D&D family has grown, prospered and come of age. Now it is the show everybody is talking about.

It’s apt that these pioneers in the trade show business choose actual Pioneertown in California’s Yukka Valley as the venue for D&D3. The expanse of tents that sprawled out for two days in the desert housed a community of 101 brands. According to Hayduk, “If you add in all the different outdoor companies that donated tents for The Way Out, the portable hot tubs and fire pits and Caravan Outpost’s AirStreams we were close to 125 unique companies.” That’s a big deal for a show that started with just twenty vendors.

For the first time since its inception in 2015, day two was open to the public and boy was it popular, with close to 1,000 attendees making it through the gates, giving vendors the chance to interact with their customers and actually sling some product, creating a return on investment so rarely quantified at any other fair.

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At first the D&D concept was tricky for brands to get their heads around because it is not the kind of show that you’re going to meet the buyer at Barneys New York. But what it does give brands is a network, a family of like-minded denim dudes who help each other, share contacts, knowledge and ideas, take part in impromptu photo shoots in the stunning landscape and generally roll their sleeves up and get involved. People make and cement lifelong friends at this show, and the contacts they make lead to real business. This year the expansion meant there were creative workshops and demos, symposiums and panels with industry leaders, a gallery show, a campfire dinner and plenty of live music meaning everyone took away great memories as well as a bunch of new buddies.

There’s been a ton of talk in the fashion world about the future of trade shows, retail, e-tail and fashion seasons, and the industry is indeed in a state of flux. Of course D&D is a very niche show and it only has the power to work because it is niche, but the whole concept aligns with the direction the industry is going.

Consumers want to become a part of a brand’s image, they want to soak up the lifestyle, interact with the founders, shoot themselves in the product and share it on social media. They don’t just want ‘storytelling.’ They want to be a part of the story.

Gone are the days when, to get a name in the industry you’d have to find the right agent, the right showroom, the right press representation and the right distribution network. Now you need a platform and a community of like-minded souls, some kick-ass imagery and direct contact with your customers. Why spend your dollars on a PR person who tells you they can get your jeans on the right butts when you can hand-pick those butts around a campfire whilst drinking whisky? Peer-to-peer is more valuable and D&D was so peer-to-peer it was almost incestuous.

This isn’t to say Desert & Denim is a fairytale event for everyone. It works because it is small and because Hall and his team make sure the right people are involved. For those who were in Yukka Valley that weekend, I think we all lived a little fairytale. And with the right curation, any niche community of brands can do the same. I think D&D might just have become the pioneers who started a new movement.

Photo credit: Ethan Harrison