Pando goes to... "The Startup Mingle Party and 'Summer Seduction' Lingerie Fashion Show"
A little after nine o’clock this past Saturday evening, a crowd of bright young things fell silent, and J. Brad Carrick stepped onto a foldable dance floor at the W Hotel at 3rd and Howard.
Mic in hand, the host of SOMA's most talked about "Startup Mingle and Lingerie fashion show" was keen to “get this party started.” But first, he had something to get off his chest.
“I don’t know how many of you read the news,” he began, the slight against millennial curiosity presumably unintentional. “But there have been some people saying that this event is sexist. And, sure, all publicity is good publicity, but this is something we take very seriously. Obviously, they have no idea who we are or what this event is about.”
“If they were really investigative journalists, they’d be here,” he added as a newspaper reporter in the crowd silently unsheathed her notebook and I stepped further into the shadows.
Until last week, there’s no earthly reason why you would have heard of J. Brad Carrick, a man whose styling might be best described as Gavin Newsom meets off-Strip illusionist. Nor should you be familiar with his legal and business services company, Creative Startup Labs, or his “functional fashion” startup, Solz, maker of foldable shoes and solar-powered backpacks, or his online fashion-meets-legal-advice magazine, Fashion Injuction. Similarly, if you’re a serious Silicon Valley entrepreneur it’s unlikely you will have found yourself at one of his now-infamous minglers.
And yet, if you happened to glance at USA Today, or NBC Bay Area, or Mashable, or any number of other news outlets these past few days, you might have encountered Carrick’s name for the first time. If so, you will have learned (per Mashable) that J Brad and his lingerie-themed mixer represents “everything that is wrong with Silicon Valley’s culture of sexism.”
So how did J Brad get himself into this mess? How did a Harvard graduate turned event organizer and folding shoe maker suddenly find his face carved onto the Mount Rushmore of tech sexual harassers and alpha douchebags next to the likes of Marc Canter and Justin Caldbeck?
Was it the sexy female cyborg image on his event’s flyer? They’d used it on last month’s advertising and it didn’t cause any uproar. Was it Carrick and his partners' bright idea to combine the startup mingler with “a lingerie fashion show”? That certainly didn’t help. But they’d hosted a lingerie show in March, back when their slogan was still “Where Tech Meets Fashion.”
Sure, their promotional postings boasted of having “the Bay Area’s hottest models,” offered a $500 model-hosted VIP lounge (two couches and a table behind a velvet rope, with bottle service), and touted that their crowd consisted of “beautiful, fashion forward people.” But by now these were staples of a monthly event that has been going on since January. Why all this outrage, and why now?
To hear J Brad tell it - as he did, for ten awkward minutes on stage at the W - it's all a huge misunderstanding. Reasons offered for why he is not representative of tech sexism include...
* His companies are not tech companies.
* His companies champion, enable and “give a voice to” female entrepreneurs including the fashion-designers at his events and his girlfriend Angelica Janice, who is the founder and CEO of a cakes and cupcakes company as well as a model and brand-ambassador for Solz, in addition to running the fashion side of the monthly mingle.
* There were no “promo models” at his events.
* NBC Bay Area is fake news
Then he addressed his detractors directly, and invited them to come on stage to voice their concerns. He got a cheer for saying "don't judge a book by its cover."
Alas, he conceded that despite being IN NO WAY SEXIST, he and his fellow event organizers had decided that “optics are important” and so had removed the sexy female cyborg image from the Facebook events page. “‘Summer Seduction’ Lingerie Fashion Show” was shortened to just “Fashion Show.”
But excuses and "fake news" Trumpisms aside, J. Brad must also realize he only has himself to blame. After all, if you have to open your event with a ten minute explanation of why it's not sexist, you've definitely taken a wrong turn somewhere.
As a lawyer, and as a marketing consultant, he should have known better than to host a sex-and-startups event right at the very moment when that combo has come to represent the very worst of Silicon Valley. When J Brad's “tech and lingerie” flier did the rounds on Twitter late last week, one couldn’t help but imagine a crowd populated entirely by Uber bros, perhaps with a sweaty Dave McClure or Chris Sacca barging their way to the front of the crowd to assume prime ogling position. The outrage was predictably swift, and the press merciless.
And yet, a glance around the upstairs lobby bar of the W hotel on Saturday night gave lie to the idea that this was an event for the Valley’s A-List, or even its B or C list. For one thing, the dominant lifeform in the Silicon Valley ecosystem, the young white male, was in the minority. In fact, the crowd was not only diverse and international, but universally well-dressed in the key of downtown nightclub socialite, in which men invariably wear good shoes and dark jackets, while women wear every conceivable color, length, cut and translucency of dress. Tall, handsome people were overrepresented across all genders.
The startups, too, lacked mutch of the world-denting ambition and billion dollar fundability of those you might expect to see at a Disrupt or Pandoland…
It understandably took a bit of cajoling to find a volunteer to follow J. Brad and present the first pitch but eventually he emerged: A middle-aged black guy in a tastefully feathered wide brim hat and something like a zoot suit, who’s building “something like Uber eats, but more so.”
“That’s awesome,” said J. Brad, “afterwards you’re going to bring us all food, right?"
About a dozen intrepid minglers followed, once the ice was broken. A female painter ("If anybody from Pando is here, you really should go talk to her,") a male cartoonist, a young man with a grocery delivery startup, and a young woman with a prototype “travel panty,” easily packed into an attached pouch.
Soon enough the onstage intros subsided, a DJ named “Meikee Magnetic” raised the volume, and a crowd of about a hundred settled in to mingle around the upstairs bar.
The mingling went on and on. The dance floor filled up, the dance floor emptied. The fashion show was scheduled to begin at 10pm, but midnight rolled around and still no lingerie. Had Brad, Angelica and co-producer Paul Volvfovski of WeNightlife balked in the face of controversy? Not entirely.
Sometime after 12:30 the fashion show began and the DJ played “Don’t Stop Believing." One by one models emerged from a service door and walked along the bar to the dancefloor.
What to say about the lingerie? Far be it from me to adjudge the intricacies of fashion, but it did seem modest. The female models’ bodies were mostly covered by fabric from armpits to knees. The male models were wearing boxer shorts that had been cut at the bottoms like the underarm fringe on those buckskin jackets. The audience applauded, the designer waved and bowed, the party gradually ended.
Soon, the Internet would forget about J. Brad Carrick again, a mom-and-pop fashion startup event would reconsider its marketing and soldier on, and maybe, just maybe, “travel panties” would become a thing.