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Retail IRL

“Stop! Stop running!”

The command fell on deaf ears as the ComplexCon employee turned next to a colleague to state the obvious, “They let a few kids in early,” as another trickle of shoppers sped through the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, dodging cleaning crews and a forklift attempting last minute work on the show floor.

The running to be first in line for exclusive, limited edition merchandise had already begun 12 minutes before doors opened for the fourth annual event—a mash up of fashion, food, art, music and panels across Nov. 2-3—and reflective of streetwear’s paradigm of limited-edition drops and the need for speed to market now being mirrored across the broader fashion industry.

Orange County notable names in this year’s event included Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., Stance Inc. and Vans Inc., mixing with core streetwear brands such as Babylon, Joe Freshgoods, Carrots by Anwar Carrots and Union Los Angeles among others.

Internet in Real Life

If traditional retail is seen as too conventional for a new-wave consumer used to constant stimulation of ideas and visuals online and via social media, then ComplexCon is the future—and has grown into what many have dubbed “the internet in real life.”

Anyone scoffing at the concept as a niche phenomenon among hypebeasts need only look at the numbers.

Last year’s event drew more than 60,000 attendees with $25 million in retail sales generated during the two-day period.

That’s roughly a tenth of the annual sales at Santa Ana’s MainPlace Mall, OC’s No. 10 shopping center by sales (see list, page 24).

Numbers are still being tallied for this year’s event, but ComplexCon Event Director Neil Wright, a former marketing executive at Anaheim’s PacSun, said this year’s attendance was likely slightly off from last year as a result of increased ticket pricing.

Wright cited ComplexCon’s access to brands, celebrities, insights and networking as part of the reason for the event’s success saying, “It’s social networking, in real life.”

The event is also unique to streetwear, the executive pointed out.

“Streetwear has built a community on creativity and inclusion that is rare for other apparel segments. I don’t think what ComplexCon brings together could be replicated outside of streetwear,” he said.

PacSun’s Popularity

There are plenty of takeaways about the future of retail, when taking into account the event’s outdoor food court, called First We Feast, the marketplace floor, and the Pigeons & Planes stage where artists such as Lil’ Kim, Kid Cudi and Anderson Paak performed.

A line snaked around the PacSun booth for much of the weekend, something OC’s second-largest retailer by employee count has enjoyed every year of ComplexCon.

This year, it wooed consumers with its offering of Fear of God Essentials, Playboy and Vans merchandise.

Fear of God’s Long Beach-branded gold capsule collaboration, $90 fleece and $40 T-shirts, saw strong sell-through over the weekend.

“ComplexCon is a chance for our customers to grab limited-edition merch in a very unique environment,” said PacSun Chief Merchandising Officer Brieane Olson.

She added, “The event continues to evolve, and we are proud to be one of the busiest activations,” and said while PacSun did not have a buildout at this year’s inaugural ComplexCon Chicago, it’s up for consideration next year.

Sockmaker Collabs

What’s helped create buzz for ComplexCon are the brands on the show floor cross-pollinating with collaborations unique to the event.

“Everybody is collaborating these days and allies with different brands,” said Albie Rosario, Stance’s lifestyle senior marketing director. “That is part of collectability. Collaborations seem to be more scarce and that’s the cornerstone of ComplexCon. Collaborations, they drive that interest. Consumers are interested in multiple things and multiple brand partnerships makes things more appetizing to those consumers.”

San Clemente-based Stance participated in the inaugural edition of ComplexCon in 2016, debuting collections at the time with Rihanna and Gucci Mane. It returned this year for a collaboration with Takashi Murakami for a $50 boxed set of athletic socks bearing the artist’s flower illustration, which sold out. Stance also collaborated with Los Angeles artist Gregory Siff, Brooklyn label Fool’s Gold Records, Las Vegas sneaker retailer Feature and Japanese brand 24karats.

OC Brand to Watch

ComplexCon continues to pivot and refine itself. While the concept was still new in its first two years, last year saw the inclusion of corporations far outside of the streetwear space, such as McDonald’s, that had some scratching their heads. This year saw a pullback in that, more collaborations and less of the monstrous mono-brand buildouts and the inclusion of more beauty brands aimed at the female consumer.

“It really felt less big business and bringing it back to smaller brands that come from the [streetwear] culture, so I’m excited to see what comes next,” Rosario said.

Costa Mesa-based Basketcase LLC was among a group of four fashion labels selected as a “brand to watch” by Complex magazine and given exhibitor space on the show floor. The exposure helped Basketcase founder and creative director Zach Kinninger, who currently sells direct to consumer.

“This show has been really good,” Kinninger said from the show floor. “This is an opportunity to put a face to a name and shake hands, tell people the story behind the pieces. So that’s been really cool.”

Kinninger’s $70 work shirts, $120 work jackets and dog graphic shirts retailing for $70 all did well during the weekend. The designer, who grew up in Pine Valley, moved to Costa Mesa five years ago to attend Vanguard University.

He started Basketcase while still in school, but focused on it full time a year-and-a-half ago selling through his online shop and pop-ups in places such as New York City, Chicago, San Clemente, San Diego and next month China.

“We really love not being in retail because it gives us total control over branding,” the designer said. “Retail is something we’re interested in, but we want it to feel like we’re dating up, if that makes sense. There’s kind of a shrinking retail space anyways in the mid-tier men’s wear, streetwear or skate shops. That kind of space that used to be really popping around the 2000s and even going into 2010. It’s going away, so we want [a retail partner] to feel like a true co-sign of a higher entity.”

Kinninger also said he would consider an office for Basketcase where a portion of the space would be open to the public for limited hours to sell samples as another form of a physical distribution channel, but his final thought is perhaps most telling of where many brands’ and consumers’ headspace currently sit: “By no means are we sprinting into the retail space.”

For more news and art from this year’s ComplexCon event, see the Marketing & Retail column, on page 12.

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