For aspiring fashion and lifestyle designers and entrepreneurs hustling to get their brand off the ground, the chance to travel to the Agenda Show and showcase their work is a dream come true. The trade show event is one of the most creative and diverse in the industry, and it’s considered the premiere destination for investors, retailers, and creatives to meet, mingle, and grow their businesses. That’s why Skillshare worked with Jeff Staple to choose six lucky, talented teams from his recent workshop, Build Your Brand, and gave them an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas so that they could showcase their student projects, mingle with Staple and other industry professionals, and compete for $10,000 in seed funding to help propel them to the next level.
Just how much did the winners take home? Before Staple named his top picks, we left it to the competitors to decide how they wanted the award distributed. True to the event’s supportive spirit, Skillshare students voted unanimously to split the pot among the top three teams of Staple’s choosing: $1,000 for third place, $2,000 for second place, and $7,000 for the big winner.
Now that all the brands are back home, we touched base with the top three to chat about their experience at Agenda Show, the future of their work, and how their professional (and in one special case, personal!) lives have been changed by the class trip of a lifetime.
Below is part one of our interview. Looking for part two? Check it out here.
Third Place: M A N A L L
Tyler Bowman developed M A N A L L as a response to a sense of competitiveness he says he sees within the streetwear industry. He said that he wanted a brand that would “embrace people’s stories and figure out exactly what drives them and inspires them.” For him,
M A N A L L ’s brand brings people together by celebrating individual creativity.
Hi Tyler! Congratulations on placing third out of more than 800 competitors! What do you believe is the thing that set your brand apart?
We believe we have an authentic story. Each piece we design has a unique design feature that ties into the brand’s overall identity: the collection can be worn together, as an outfit, to signify "unity," and you can also wear pieces separately, as a nod to our brand’s emphasis on “individualism” too. All of our products incorporate our thumbprint logo, which ties back to our both individualism and unity, too.
You've been working on this brand since 2017?
Yep! We launched our brand in a Pop-Up Shop on December 2, 2017 in Charleston, SC. We released a small capsule collection of three pieces and basically sold out of everything. That was definitely our first high point with the brand. Since then, there's been times where we haven't received product until the day before an event and had to piece everything together last minute, but I've come to realize that is just part of the business.
Winning the Skillshare/Staple/Agenda contest was a huge highlight this year. I'll never forget the feeling when we read the announcement of the finalists and realized we were headed to Vegas.
Were you a fan of Jeff Staple’s before you began taking Skillshare’s workshop?
I've been a fan of Jeff Staple and Staple Pigeon for as long as I can remember. I think I was in middle school when I was first introduced to the brand, and I heard about the contest when Jeff posted the competition flyer on his Instagram. I decided to check out the Skillshare app and realized I was missing out on a great opportunity to learn more about better developing our brand.
How would you describe your experience in the workshop and the later, at the Agenda Show? What did you learn through the process?
In the workshop, I learned the importance of small details. Jeff explained the importance of good product packaging, and that was probably the most beneficial. We're still trying to master that aspect our brand. When I submitted our brand to the contest, I felt like I had given Jeff what he had asked for, but it was still a crazy couple of weeks, watching our brand narrowed down to the Top Six. It was definitely a surreal feeling. I've wanted to attend the Agenda Show ever since I started developing brands four or five years ago.
What I liked most about the experience at Agenda was being able to explain our story and brand in person to so many people. Jeff is a really cool guy. It was a lot of fun being around him and gaining some insight from someone who has so much experience in this industry. It was also a lot of fun to be around the other Top Six brands for those three days. It's great being in a setting with such creative people and able to bounce ideas around.
Of course, being recognized as a finalist out of 800 designers was huge, but being placed in the Top three was definitely a milestone for our brand. The response has been crazy since the show. I feel like we can do something very special and influence a lot of people.
Last but not least...I heard that you and your collaborator, Daiana, got engaged on your way to Agenda. What a big trip this must have been for you!
[Laughs] The proposal was something that had been on my mind for awhile. Daiana's really been an inspiration behind the brand. She’s helped me hone in on the importance of embracing individuality, and she knows what it takes to never give up. I had been brainstorming about how I was going to propose and when we won the contest, it felt perfect.
SECOND PLACE: Grits Co.
Reuben and Toya Levi’s brand, Grits Co., celebrates the culture of the American South with a relatable, vintage look. Their popular slogan, No Grits, No Glory, has resonated with fans across the U.S., but it took them some time to find the success they now enjoy. “I’ve always admired clothing, streetwear specifically, Toya has more of a knack for branding. We always say ‘Teamwork makes the dream work’...working together feels effortless,” Reuben says.
Hi Reuben! So great to speak with you today. Let’s talk a little bit about your brand. It is all about the Southern experience. What is it about the American South that is such a source of inspiration for you?
My wife and I both have backgrounds in the South. We love the South. We see the region’s impact on music, art, and food, and it inspires us to create something that we can be proud of. We want to represent our culture in a sophisticated way through Grits Co.
Our designs are simple and classic. We take inspiration from vintage styles to make the look and feel of our products timeless. Our fans, the “Grits Gang,” are unique group of people. We think they love the brand so much because it is relatable, and we hope that they feel proud of themselves when they wear our clothes. We live this mantra of No Grits No Glory; it’s in our blood, passed down from our ancestors. We know how to work hard to accomplish our goals and we take pride in that hard work. We try to capture that in every thread and image we produce, too.
I understand that you were a part of another Skillshare and Jeff Staple competition a few years ago, but didn’t place in the finals. What did you learn from that experience, and how did it help you build the brand you have today?
A few years ago, when we were relaunching the brand, we applied for Jeff Staples competition. We received a lot of great feedback from other students and made it pretty far in the competition. We were still growing and getting our vision clearer, and the opportunity helped us develop our ideas and grow our following on social media. It ended up being a great opportunity to shine a light on Black Americana in fashion.Since then, I have used Skillshare to take design courses from Marc Ecko, Aaron Draplin, Simon Walker and Christopher Delorenzo, just to name a few.
What was your experience like taking Jeff Staple’s workshop this time around? And how did you feel about the opportunity to show your work at the Agenda Show?
The experience in Jeff’s workshop was straightforward.I knew the items that he would ask for and I had already begun producing those items. I learned [the first time around] that it is important to make sure your brand is included in your design element all the way to the inside tag.
We were very excited for the opportunity to be at Agenda. Being able to exhibit put us on a different level. The show was great. It was exciting to meet people who follow our brand, hearing their love for what we are doing and seeing their support was amazing. It was more than we expected.
Congratulations on placing Second! What’s next for Grits Co.?
The money [that we won] is “seed money,” so we will us it to grow in a few areas: we are going to set up wholesale accounts across the US and beyond, we plan to release a few new items and collaborations, and we’re going to invest in a trip to New York City to gather more knowledge and inspiration.
Our goal is to stay true to the Grits Co. brand. To keep it classic, gritty, and good. “No grits, no glory!”
Interested in taking your own Skillshare workshop? Check out this list to see all of the classes that we are offering this fall.