I thought to myself, “if I can sell two pairs of jeans at my first trunk show, imagine how many I could sell with the proper exposure and marketing.”
So, I went to trunk show after trunk show after trunk show, promoting Sonas and selling jeans. I would have gone to the “opening of an envelope” if it got me some exposure. I went anywhere and everywhere that I could, from the How Weird Festival in San Francisco to Jewish networking events.
I met great people nearly everywhere I went. At the How Weird Festival in SF, we met a cool guy called “Naphtali Rodriguez” who offered to help us with our branding for free, no strings attached, just a great guy who wanted to help us succeed.
Another time, I went to a meetup called “The JFE Network” which stands for “Jews for Entrepreneurship.” It was held at the Press Club in San Francisco - a pretty nice lounge off Market Street. On the way in the door, they asked me for my ID to make sure I was on their list. First, I had to explain to them that it was under my wife’s name “Christine Garcia” but my name’s “Gerry Kelly” so I showed them my ID and her credit card which I had used to buy the ticket with.
They never actually asked me if I was Jewish, but I’m sure they wondered as “Gerry Kelly” (nor does Christine Garcia) doesn't sound very Jewish and I don’t think the cross around my neck helped. Anyway, I went in and mingled about. Most people at the event knew each other. They were all suited up. It was as the usual Techie Guys, Real Estate Agents and Recruiters. I was in my original boot cut blue patchwork, burning man style jeans. Yet again, I got some weird looks, but I ended up meeting one cool girl called Esther who I am still in contact with and we have done some great events together.
I then enrolled in a five week fashion business class at the “Renaissance Entrepreneurial Center” in downtown San Francisco. I was in a class with ten girls, who all were out to start a fashion line. It was run by a women called Julie Arvan. Julie was one of the original employees at Gymboree way back when. She was full of great advice and told us some amazing success stories of people that she and her husband had worked with in the past. She was very encouraging.
Then, after that class, I took a fourteen week business planning course also in the Renaissance Entrepreneurial center.
It was a class full of Entrepreneurs, it was perfect. I loved it. You know, sometimes I have to stop myself from talking about jeans and my dreams around my friends as I’m sure they're sick of hearing about them, as I never shut up about them. But in a class full of Entrepreneurs, everyone is happy to hear your story and everyone is so encouraging. I’m still in contact with some great people from that class. We even hired “Laticia Headings” from the class to help us with our Indiegogo campaign. She’s amazing. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more work with Laticia as things progress.
After the entrepreneur course, I decided to sign up for a trade and trunk show in Los Angeles. The trunk show was on the Sunday and the trade show was Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the LA fashion week. It was called the Focus Trade Show and was held at the Los Angeles Fashion Mart in downtown Los Angeles in the fashion district.
My wife and I drove to LA with a car stuffed full with jeans, a big table and a male mannequin we called Larry after one of our friends Lawrence who modeled for us in the early days of Sonas. (Lawrence went on to model for the ipad and BMW after us, we like to think we had a role in his success!) We did the trunk show on Sunday, which was ok, but a bit disappointing to tell the truth. I don’t think people were ready for patchwork there.
Because we did the show on Sunday, we missed the deadline for the Trade Show setup and instead had to set up early on the Monday morning. We arrived at the Fashion Mart with boxes of jeans after spending about an hour in the LA traffic with no air conditioning. I had never been to a trade show before and thought it was the same as a trunk show but for wholesale. Oh Boy we had no idea. We had no line sheets (description of jeans, pricing, delivery date etc), no look books (photos of our jeans on models etc..) and hang tags that actually had “San Francisco” misspelled (but we didn't want to waste the paper). People didn't notice it spelled San Franciso.
We just had two styles of jeans and about fifty of each of them. I was wearing our blue flares, which was also on the Mannequin and on the table and hanging behind us. Christine was wearing one of our skirts which was the same color and fabric as my jeans, but a skirt. Thinking about it now, I can only imagine what the other fashion folks around us thought.
We wrestled the jeans, table and mannequin up to the top floor. Sweat was lashing off both of us. I was stressed out and as usual, my amazing loving supportive wife was so patient and positive.
There were about thirty other brands and multi line showrooms all sharing the same floor. This was the read deal. Every other brand had one or two professional models wearing their clothing. They also had amazing booths set up, beautiful look books and clean branding etc, etc….
Yet again, I tried everything to get people over to our booth, but buyers and store owners are a different kettle of fish. They gave us some nasty looks as if to say, “what the fuck are you doing here, stay away.” I remember one girl in particular from a store in the Newport Beach area, she gave a look as if there was a bad smell in the room and then said “eh….I don’t think so.” Yet again, I had that sick to my stomach feeling. Christine wanted to punch her out after I told her about it.
It was pretty depressing. Our first trade show, we spent a few grand to be there and we didn't get any orders or good feedback whatsoever. However, at about 4pm on the last day, Christine and I ended up in a conversation with a woman who was walking around the event. It turned out, we were getting married on the same day as her birthday and she also used to live in SF and was super friendly. She asked me what I thought of the show, so I told her it wasn't great for us…
Christine jumped in and said, it’s fine, it’s all about exposure anyway. Then she pulled out a camera and asked me to hold up a pair of jeans and she took a photo of me with our jeans in hand. She then told us that she was a writer for the “California Apparel News” and might write a small article about Sonas in their next issue……………… And she did!
Lessons I learned from our first trade show ever:
1. Get there the day before to avoid the stress of setting up the morning of.
2. Be prepared! Presentation is everything. If you are in the arena of fashion in particular, make sure you arrive with proper Look Books, Line Sheets, and a press packet…. Marketing materials.
3. Peer support helps. So attend lots of Entrepreneurial events. Other Entrepreneurs love to talk, listen and support other entrepreneurs.
4. A partner who supports your dreams is crucial and mandatory for any successful Entrepreneur.