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In Search of the Coolest THREADs

Hip young adults are embracing new methods to shop and discover emerging trends. In America, one such way is the traveling THREAD Show, which brings local designers directly to the people.

Coastal youth and young adults are flocking to a hip traveling design and fashion show that promotes itself as “a curated showcase of the best emerging, trend forecasting, style breaking, genre bending fashion designers, and the music and art that rock their world.”

The THREAD Show makes stops in various American cities and has been attended by tens of thousands of young adults. It is a top event in California cities like San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and is now making its way into other areas.

Founded in 2003, THREAD has showcased more than 3,000 up-and-coming designers.

“My friend, Lara Matthews, founded the event eight years ago after moving to San Diego from the U.K. where she grew up,” says Danielle Gano, a THREAD Show partner.

“She had a lot of artistic friends and saw that they didn’t have an outlet to sell their clothes, art, etc. The first THREAD Show took place in her backyard and, well, the rest is history. Now we’re in eight markets and see thousands of shoppers at each show.”

Each area’s THREAD event is limited to 100 independent designers. Along with shopping opportunities and a bar, attendees are treated to freebies like music, live art creation, food and beverage samples, fashion shows, hair and cosmetic makeovers and manicures. An addition this year is a furniture and home accessories category.

“When I come here, I get to pamper myself and get some retail therapy at the same time,” says Michelle King. Standing in sky-high platform sandals and skinny jeans at the Orange County, California show, with a long mane of beachy blonde hair, King then slings her “swag bag” over one arm. The organizers offer perks like the bags, filled with promotional freebies, to those who purchase early VIP admission to the show.

Men who attend with their girlfriends and wives have their own entertainment option if they don’t want to shop at the menswear booths: a “Man Cave” replete with magazines and activities like a putting green and dartboard.

Another much-loved component is the DIY lounge, an area to give and take clothing and other donated items. Attendees are also given the option to make something new with their recycled finds, such as embellishing a shirt or screen printing a design on it.

Finding followers
With so many options and opportunities bombarding their senses every day through e-mail, social media and print and television advertising, American youth can be hard to reach.

Gano says THREAD Show organizers have made wide-reaching marketing endeavors in order to reach what many say can be a fickle demographic. To make their job even harder, fashion is perhaps the most unpredictable of all markets, with tastes changing by the year, month or even day.

“Social media is a huge part of it, but our team also implements media relations, e-mail marketing and a lot of grassroots marketing efforts,” says Gano. “We do street campaigns, but also work a lot through word of mouth. We reach out to a lot of influencers, from the media to fashion school attendees to local business owners, to make sure that everyone knows about the shows.”

Prices are comparable to or better than those found at traditional stores, as THREAD cuts out the middleman from the transaction and lets designers sell directly to the public. An added benefit for designers is that they can meet their clientele in person and receive constructive criticism and feedback, valuable tools which often cost large companies thousands of dollars in fees for focus groups and online surveys.

Green fashion
Gano says the structure of the show also makes it a naturally green option for consumers.“The three reasons we think it’s important to shop local is because by doing so you reduce your carbon footprint, support your local economy and save money,” she says. “Additionally, we try and offer increased support for those designers who have eco-friendly lines. At each of our shows, we typically see about 30 percent of our designers are green. There are also an increasingly large number of humanitarian brands, such as Jedidiah clothing, whose...sales support nonprofit organizations.”

THREAD suits the current desire to purchase handmade or hard-to-find items, as seen by the popularity of sites like etsy.com. THREAD also fills the void between couture fashion and the common offerings at shopping malls and chain stores, organizers say.

“The draws are different depending on the individual—we try and cater to a wide variety of tastes and preferences,” says Gano. “There are a wide range of attendees, but we tend to separate them into two groups. The first are people who know and understand the importance of shopping local and supporting their community. These people are seeking out opportunities like THREAD Show. The second group of people are trendsetters who may or may not know or care about shopping local, but they’re social and like to get out in their city and have a good time. We curate an event that includes live music, food, loads of free stuff, entertainment and a fun, social atmosphere—so that people may come for a completely different reason, but through the process, they discover these designers and may or may not even realize that they’re doing something good by shopping local.”

“I don’t like it when someone can look at me and say, ‘Oh, she bought that at Gap,’ ” attendee King says. “I can find stuff here that I can’t find anywhere else.”

Future plans include the development of a new online business model, which organizers say they hope to announce later this year.


Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.