In menswear, the hunt is constantly on for the new cool thing. Sometimes that involves rediscovering a classic; sometimes it’s about finding a futuristic design that no one has ever seen before. Either way, few people have their finger on the pulse of the emerging trends like Aaron Levant, founder of the Agenda trade shows.
At 19, Levant put on the first Agenda show at a Thai restaurant in Long Beach, California in 2003. Thirty brands showed up. In 2015, Agenda will host 20 shows internationally and work with more than 1,000 brands. The shows have become the place to discover new and emerging brands and trends that go on to dominate the men’s style landscape.
Levant continues to personally review each brand’s offerings before inviting them to participate in Agenda. (Two to three hundred brands get turned away and only 20-30 new brands are selected each season.) That made him the ideal person to talk to about brands that are set to blow up in the near future. We spoke with him at the recent Agenda show in New York City to get the scoop. So when your friends start talking about these labels you’ll already be up on them.
The basketball and athletic market is dominated by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. But upstart Brandblack is gunning for those big guys. Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawfod wears the brand’s shoes on court. “There hasn’t been anybody coming in and doing really technical, quality stuff, from an authentic fashion and style standpoint,” Levant says. “To me, that’s a noble effort. I like to see when someone says ‘I’m going to go after the big guys and try to get market share.’”
2. Dog Limited
People love dogs. But most dog-themed apparel has focused on cutesy attire more suited for your grandma. Dog Limited brings a streetwear aesthetic to its hats, T-shirts, and socks featuring everything from pitbulls to pomeranians. A portion of all profits are donated to dog shelters and rescues. “You’re seeing people spinning off that Toms [business] model of being socially conscious into less-likely product categories,” says Levant. “I like that stuff and feel like they have a little more substance.”
3. Barney Cools
“These guys have a really cool New York street meets Australia surf aesthetic,” Levant says. Started Down Under, Barney Cools is growing in the U.S. with fun sweatshirts, boardshorts, and button-down shirts. Whereas other lifestyle brands from Australia could get a little too bright and flashy, Levant thinks that’s what great about Barney Cools is that anyone can wear it regardless of where you sit on the street-surf spectrum.
4. Native Shoes
Native started off making shoes that were essentially Crocs but cooler. Now they’ve expanded their offerings to include the new Apollo shoe. “It’s so light. It’s so comfortable,” says Levant. “To me, this shoe changed the game. Before it launched everyone was either wearing Nikes or boots. Now I feel like a lot of those guys are transitioning into this shoe.” Footwear is a category dominated by Goliaths, but Native is coming in and playing the role of David.
“They were the first ones that really took off with the jogger pant,” Levant says, referring to the cuffed pants that have a sweatpants silhouette but are made from materials other than fleece. “This is the first thing that came and energized the bottoms market. Before that it was all graphic tees and tops and jackets and hats. No one was even thinking about below the waist.”