Highsnobiety Salon LA | Numbers Are Everything And Nothing
Wednesday night, I tracked to neuehouse, in Hollywood, to sip free drinks and converse over dinner with like-minded individuals. We all came together to learn from Highsnobiety's Salon LA "The Entrepreneur Generation" panel and hear their take on the new DIY, the strength of personal branding, and my favorite phrase of the night, authenticity. Here’s a what I learned.
We are the DIY Generation. The "Do It Yourself" because no one else can or will do it for you kids of the future. Thanks to a distrust for establishment, politics and normalcy, we created our own system in an effort to fix society into our perfect utopia. We didn't want to be our parents, working extremely hard for little to nothing, so we all packed up our dreams, quit our day jobs and became entrepreneurs.
Millennials have changed the game. Instagram has birthed heritage brands with the click of a follow button and a link to a Paypal account. Everyone has the opportunity to be entrepreneurs but with freedom comes fire. According to Rhude designer, Rhuigi Villasenor, "consumers are becoming the producers." The internet has "enabled people to bring to life any type of concept,” says Sami Miro of Sami Miro Vintage. Brands are creating cult followings off of ideology. If I buy this, my life will be like that. It's a mind game with similar products. At one time, designer Rachael Finley of Hot Lava, says all streetwear designers were screen printing on All Style 1301 T-shirt blanks but attempting to still stand out from each other.
Rhuigi makes a point to make a separation from heritage brands and in his words "garage brands." Garage brands are just going with the flow, trying things out, following trends for monetary gain. Heritage brands have marketing/PR agencies as well as individuals on the team with the training to create full garments. It’s an art form that takes skill and dedication. They aren't relying on 2nd hand silhouettes or an agency to figure out their next collection for them. They are putting in the work.
This is where the panel gets interesting.
Throughout the night I heard countless stories about why people started brands or authenticity being their business model yet they were not practicing what they were preaching. Because of this rapid fire DIY generation, entrepreneurship means "people fuck with your shit." Simply put. No need to sugar coat it.
Appropriating other brands concepts or creating a culture off of the back of subcultures is a "Lifestyle." Reupholstering designs or upcycling is considered designing. It's not a fake persona or a get rich quick scheme if you think your being authentic. Right? This must be because the conversation jumped to collaboration and not knowledge or education.
I was reminded by Fadia Kader, of Instagram music partnerships, that collaborations are happening on such a larger scale now because we have went from 6 degrees of separation to 1 degree of association. We can find individuals and brands that share values and the same sensibilities to create mind blowing collaborative work.
In the last 10 minutes of the panel, Highsnobiety Managing Director, Jeff Carvalho, asked for crowd questions. I look around and I don't see anyone too eager to raise their hand, so I decide that I need to be that person because we haven't learned anything that we already do not know. I'm an entrepreneur. I'm a hustler. I'm open to ideas, but you guys are lying.
"Hi My name is Asha. I agree with most of what you are saying but I think you are missing a key part of entrepreneurship in this generation. You aren't talking about numbers. How do we get to these positions even if our shit is poppin. Even if our content or product is good. How do we get around the number game and the algorithms to become a Emily Oberg or higher? How do we get around needing famous friends and cosigns to make it?"
I was met with a mix between confusions, slight annoyance and needless to say some bull shit answers.
Kader expressed that there was no algorithm and then proceeded to tell me that algorithm was in the users favor. "Numbers shouldn't matter." Well if that was the case why do your followers see your content more when you pay for promotion? Why do you have an option to turn on post notifications to be "reminded" that a person you are following has posted something new? Why is that if I am not following a person but 3 of my friends are following them, I see them on my explorer page?
And Mike Cherman. I respect his drive, his business model and can say I agree with most the things he said on the panel, but saying "work harder and do not look for instant gratification" doesn't answer my questions. Numbers are not instant gratification. This is how people get jobs now a days. Most jobs in the fashion, media and entertainment business require you to have a certain number of followers, engagements, etc. before you can even put in your resume. I could work until my hands bleed and still not be getting the same opportunities as a person throwing a bootleg Nike logo on a plastic bag with a catchy slogan. Authenticity and integrity aren’t rewarded in this business, numbers are.
Here's a meme for an authentic t-shirt for the garage brands out there working on brand loyalty and protecting the culture.
"I'm good love, enjoy." - Future
Here are some questions I think all of us would have loved to have answers for:
- If numbers aren’t a thing than why are mediocre brands and influencers getting deals but individuals that have the skillset, ideas and talent others aren’t?
- If authenticity is the goal, what would most of these new brands be without repurposing, thrifting or bootleg another brands concepts?
- What is a brands personal identity if they are just “stealing like an artist?”
- If numbers do not matter why is everyone using the same photographers and models when there are 1000s others?
- Since algorithms aren’t a thing, why is my Instagram never in chronological order?
In conclusion, numbers always matter. To say that they don't is naive and irresponsible. That's like telling kids that they will never use the math that they learned in school when they get older. Numbers are more than followers. They are demographics, stats, populations, geography, clicks, RSS subscribers, traffic sources, capital, likes, viewers, engagement, friends in high places, phone numbers, etc. Numbers equate to potential job opportunities. It’s more than instant gratification.
There is no right answer and I am not knocking anyone's hustle. If you found a way to make your dreams come true I applaud you to the fullest and I wish you many more successful years. I'm only talking for the ones that didn't come from the celebrity inner circle. The people that go to events because they love the culture and products not the clout. The people that would rather spend their money on equipment rather than likes and followers. Those of us working towards creative director and creator titles after years of college and internships only to be beat out by attractive influencers. I'm asking these questions for those trying to be considered for a seat at the table.
This game doesn’t work if you just “keep your head down and grind because there's so much bull shit in LA,” as some would say. It’s all money, power and respect.