Levi’s 501 Day & Youth Festivals

I’ll like to say hello to everyone who came in here from Levi’s 501 Day Stay True event. I hope you had a good time at the event, and with our booth in particular. A personal account of the day can be found at my friend Patricia’s blog (she helped me the whole day) and photos can be found at Dustyhawk’s website.

Being at the 501 Day was interesting, to say the least. There were plenty of youths there with their own passions and interests – an upcoming singer/songwriter (his booth was next to ours and he’s the most sincere person I’ve ever seen), illustrators, a young fashion designer who stopped school just before the SPM to start his own line (his booth was a work of art), and extreme sports enthusiasts – even the Juventus fan club. There were also plenty of local bands and some displays of local fashion designers.

The reception to The Educated Deviants were mainly neutral – our booth wasn’t quite as flashy, mainly due to a lack of decorative elements (I had transported all our materials from Johor and didn’t have a large budget or a lot of space, so we didn’t put up things like signs and displays which would have helped a lot) and admittedly we also didn’t have a lot of focus, seeing as our booth was on a more abstract topic.

Patricia’s brother Phillip came up with the genius idea to put all our “Being Educated Deviants” booklets in the goodybags, which made me wish I had printed more (there were 501 bags and only 200 booklets) and our idea of letting people draw on the jeans – an idea discovered by accident while sewing on patches the night before – was a hit. Patricia was also an excellent salesperson, and she managed to market the concept very well.

Some people from TV3 and SISTERS magazine came to our booth, and gave us some good ideas and tips; TV3 seemed interested to feature us on their new TV show “Flow”, which is all about getting youths to think outside the box. Thank you to the both of you, and hopefully something works out very well!

It did feel a bit odd to be there. Our booth wasn’t “cool” by comparsion, and I almost got the feeling that we were somewhat unwanted. Even before the event, while in the application stages, the event company had told us that Levi’s might have felt that our concept was “boring”. It didn’t help that there were glitches during the day that majorly affected us – the audio on the DVD players went out, so I ended up having to talk over the DVD (and basically babble like a fool), there by losing the whole point of the DVD.

We were also passed over for an interview by Adam (8TV, Hitz.TV) during the second session due to a “lack of time”. This seemed very unprofessional, as during the first session there were plenty of glitches that delayed Emir – a young upcoming MC who is also a dear friend of mine – from interviewing all the booths, but he managed to get all the booths in and still have an hour to spare.

Overall this was definitely a learning experience, and I did manage to meet very interesting and passionate people and also get a few ideas. The Stay True event seemed a bit like a great idea that slightly lacked in execution, though, and it got me thinking about how youth festivals like these could have been better managed and executed.

1. A wider variety of exhibitors – save for The Educated Deviants, the booths at the Stay True event were all about arts or sports. It’s great that these initiatives were encouraged, but it was also very telling that there weren’t more NGOs, student projects, awareness & charity projects, technical & scientific projects, or other types of youth involvement projects featured on 501 Day.

Having a greater mix of exhibitors – type, size, and so on – would make the event more interesting and increase chances of networking and collaboration across exhibitors – for instance, a comics group could produce a comic book about science for a group of young scientists.

2. Better promotion and outreach – I was lucky to have heard of this opportunity from receiving an email at work in Channel [V]. Many of the other participants had known the people in the event company one way or another. (I wonder how many people heard about it through here!) The opportunity to participate in the event wasn’t as widely publicised as it could have been.

While there is definitely something to be said for word-of-mouth, the organizers should have taken advantage of the media, youth groups, educational facilities, and other means to get a greater pool of potential exhibitors and performers. The needed variety could have happened if more people knew that this opportunity was available.

3. Better financial support – the only thing us exhibitors received from Levi’s were a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. (We didn’t even get goody bags, unlike the visitors.) The event company said that we should have expected this, seeing as normally we’d need to pay for space; I see their point, but it struck me (and some others) as being very off.

Up With People, who are really in need of money, gave each of us in the Denver “Cast P” Premiere US$20 as a “thank-you” and to help cover for local transportation costs (buses, trains, etc); AWAM gave free hotel accomodation, meals, and other amenities – including a transportation stipend – to all participants of their Writer’s for Women’s Rights workshops without demanding payment from anyone. If these two non-profits – who are not exactly the richest people ever – could give so much, surely Levi’s with their high profits and bigger bank accounts could afford to give more; instead, we had to buy our own meals (Zouk had told us that food would be served on premises; this was false) and use our own money for supplies and transportation.

Even a stipend (perhaps RM200-RM500 per booth) for materials and basic necessities would have helped so much, both ways – the exhibitors would be able to supply their booth with more and really display their passion, while Levi’s would get more motivated people (and perhaps even a greater pool of applicants). After all, all of us were just youths with a dream; we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough.

4. Better management of permits – the morning of the event, we heard about the earthquakes in Indonesia and wanted to collect donations; however, we were told that we couldn’t do that since Levi’s needed a permit for the exchange of money. (This also stopped all of us from selling anything.)

This may not necessarily be the organizers’ fault, but it is pretty unfortunate, since it severely limits the exhibitors and their activities. For instance, Yvoone Foong won’t have been able to sell her T-shirts for neurofibramatosis even though it would have been an amazing opportunity for her to raise much-needed funds, what with the traffic and the audience. Allowing some exchange of money – even if it’s just on a donation basis – would attract attention and help out a lot of people., directly or indirectly.

5. Greater professionalism – The event management company really dropped the ball through the multiple technical glitches that happened throughout the event. The mics (cordless and corded) went mute and sound didn’t return till about 20 minutes later; a “power trip” conked out the audio on my DVD.

I’ve been in events with far lower budgets – and manpower – which was more on the ball with technicalities; spare batteries were always available, power was closely monitored, and any glitches were quickly repaired. This needed major improvement.

6. Better respect for the exhibitors – There was a stark difference between Emir, who handled the booth interviews for the first session, and Adam, who did the interviews for the second session: Emir made an effort to get to know all the booths (he talked to all the exhibitors prior to the start of the event) and asked them relevant questions related to their passions and interests, while Adam seemed to be just going through the motions and didn’t really show an interest in any of us (he sometimes kept asking the most obvious of things). Despite Emir’s time being cut short and rearranged (due to the tech problems) he fought for every booth to be featured, and he won; Adam skipped a booth (ours) and didn’t even bother to notify us – Emir had to find out on our behalf.

Emir was the “amateur” (this is his first professional gig) while Adam was supposedly the “professional” celebrity, but in this case they might as well have swapped. The booths in general didn’t get as much respect as they could have; more attention was given to the stage, and although we were told that we were the heart of the event, we felt a bit like an incidental appearance.

7. Actually be about the passion, not just about the cool factor – The aim of the Stay True event was to “stay true to yourself”, but it seemed to me that there was a certain description of “staying true”, as though the organizers only wanted to promote a certain brand of “true”. It was also a bit odd that the band with the biggest reception at the event was essentially a Fall Out Boy covers band (they were highly enthusiatic, but not really original) while bands with original works didn’t get quite the same response.

The email response to our application (about Levi’s thinking education may be boring), and us being skipped over (even though some booths had already left, which should have given us more time), as well as the general lack of variety, also spoke volumes.

If you’re going to promote youth passions, then promote youth passions, no matter where they lie – don’t just limit yourself to a certain type of “passion”.

It is a step in the right direction – especially since there seems to be a current trend in Malaysia of decrying youth passions and denouncing youth as useless at best and troublemakers at worst – but there is more to a journey than a single step. I envision something like One Life Live UK (a major exhibition in the UK about ways to restart your life), with a greater supply of exhibitors and activities, better support and management, and a greater feeling of purpose and passion.

Hopefully this is a learning experience for all, and let’s take the lessons here as preparation for future events – and let’s HAVE future events! We could definitely use more youth festivals like these.

(on another note: I’ll like to say hello to everyone at Wassup.com.my, who is publishing EducateDeviate’s RSS feed on their front page, and TotalFark.Com – I don’t know what link is leading you here, since TotalFark is a pay site and I can’t check, but I hope you like what you see!)

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