It's not that Complex
Last weekend I experienced the internet in real life. Or more specifically, a walking, talking Instagram. I had the privaledge of attending ComplexCon in Long Beach and joined 30k+ others on this whirlwind of a weekend.
The purpose of ComplexCon is to bring culture, commerce and conversation to life with some of the leading designers, brands and innovators in the world. This trade show is nothing like other trade shows; following the Comic Con road to success, the dream is to have lineups outside waiting to get inside, and lineups inside waiting to cop the next exclusive drop. And this was a clear theme of the weekend. Lineups to get in were staggering, with kids camping out days to be the first ones in the venue to grab the latest shoes, and then likely the first to resell them online for 4x the price.
When I think of a trade show I think of brands showcasing not only product, but their overall brand image, hoping to build community. Many brands fought for their spot in this space, building out their 8x10 booth to be noticed and ideally, Instagramed. It wasn't just about being at ComplexCon, it was about showing the internet you were there.
Seeing this culture come together in a windowless space was slightly overwhelming, especially at 5'2". With thousands of people trying to do, see and get everything in only a few hours each day there were lineups for everything from just entering a booth to exclusive drops to hearing a talk.
The biggest focus wasn't on culture but rather on commerce, being the first to get that exclusive piece, whether you wanted it or not. I had to wonder if every person waiting in line actually wanted what they were waiting for, or if they joined the hype with fear of missing out. Likely they wanted to be seen in 1 of 1000 Nike X Off White AF1 released at ComplexCon, but were they really into the design?
Another huge theme was how almost nothing was an experience. The weekend as a whole was an experience for sure, but the brands didn't focus on experiences but rather dollar signs. With brands being able to bring so many people together it was a surprise they didn't do more than just offer an exclusive.
There was one experience that was extremely exciting and memorable, which was the Nike Air Force space that offered customizable AF1 lows. The fact that you were able to customize and basically design such an iconic shoe is exactly what brands should be doing to build the culture. This was one line-up that offered more than the chance to spend $200+ at the end. Anyone who was able to design a shoe, got a free pair of AF1's, likely the only free thing at ComplexCon. With options of dip dyeing, adding leather bands, elastics, colour laces and swooshes among other design details, everyone who entered left with their very own 1 of 1 sneaker.
Inside the Nike space was also a court, that offered conversations led by Virgil Abloh on Saturday and Kobe Bryant and Kendrick Lamar on Sunday. The opportunity to hear these powerhouses speak about design, art, music and sport was something I'll never forget. Not only was it amazing to be in the presence of such talent, hearing their words of wisdom was beyond inspirational.
Going back to the theme of ComplexCon - culture, commerce and conversation - it was clear this year was heavy on commerce and consumer culture, a more narrow aspect of the culture.
After decompressing from the whirlwind weekend I'm left with a few heavy thoughts and questions on what I saw, experienced and heard. My questions aren't that complex and yet, I still have them.
Brands that focused on experiences stood out, their focus wasn't solely on making money but rather building their community and culture. As a brand myself, I think that is a key thing to remember when growing; dollars are important but building something that offers an intangible value will live longer.
Where were the women? Where were brands that appealed to women? I noted a handful of brands that targeted women and of course, staying true to the culture - formed by men often with the male gaze - these brands were only targeted to the 'hypebaes' of the world. I did see women there but with most drops only going as low as a mens size 7 there was no question if they were shopping for themselves or someone else. Aside from brands not offering exclusives in sizes that most women can wear, I asked myself why women weren't there, and I realized, it's because we didn't insist on being there. Women have shown they have a place at the table, or in this case, in the booths, on the names of exclusives - a la Aleali May - and in conversations, and yet, they were few and far between. As a female who associates with this culture, the discussions around art, sport, music and fashion, I will not be passive about where I belong. To my fellow women who feel the same, I ask that you stand up and insist we belong there too, together we can ensure a change in this culture.
Lastly, what was the take away message from this weekend? With 30k+ young people there absorbing everything they saw, heard and bought, what did they learn? Other than an exclusive or the profit from their resale, what did they get? On Sunday the news of the shooting in Sutherland Springs started to trickle in via some pretty weak wifi. I looked around and very few seemed fazed by the news, let alone affected. I saw kids running, lining up, fighting and rushing to get something, to gain more brands to flex for their friends and on social media. Their lack of regard for what was happening in the world shook me. What was happening across the country shook me and yet we didn't stop to acknowledge it. Nor did we acknowledge any of the other devastating events that took place earlier this year. With this audience ready to absorb anything and everything fed to them by ComplexCon, why wasn't there a space dedicated to raising funds, or even awareness for those that don't have the luxury of multiple outfits or even three meals a day. Imagine if a percentage of tickets sales or any sales went to organizations making a difference in their own country, or to enter you had to donate an article of clothing? I wonder if these teens and young adults would start to be as passionate about changing their country as they were about coping the next exclusive sneaker.
Images c/o Nilly