This could only happen in Vegas: Kimberly

This is a sad/funny/ironic report from Kimberly Owen on her experiences at MAGIC. I spent several hours this morning trying to repair the situation.
I wanted to share an experience I had at MAGIC last week, this is not really a trip report, but, well, I don’t know how to categorize it exactly. It was an odd but laughable experience, and it was so very “VEGAS” for lack of a better description.

To give you some background, I have a show coming up in NY March 9-11 at Children’s Club. I design a line of boy’s clothing, called “Moonfly” and this will be the debut collection. I have spent the past 6 months preparing, including reading your book, reading the forum, and making both good and bad decisions on behalf of my company. It has been fun and challenging to say the least.

So, with MAGIC in town, I attended in order to check out other exhibitor’s booths, gauge traffic in the children’s area and talk to vendors in the sourcing area. This time around, while trolling the internet, I found another DE online who needed help with her booth. I told her I needed some experience manning a booth, talking to customers, demo-ing product and writing orders. We agreed that I would work at her booth for which she’d pay me $175 per day. She had two booths, the evening/cocktail dress collection at MAGIC and accessories at MODA. I was glad she was willing to pay me since I have no experience, but I really wanted this opportunity to work a show, a trial run, if you will.

The DE, I’ll call her “A”, was nice enough on the phone, but did come across a little flaky, but then again, so am I sometimes! She seemed a little scatter-brained and unsure of herself. The name of the company is [deleted] Couture. The website is professional looking, and the clothes and accessories were really cute. In business since 2003, with a Beverly Hills showroom open 9-5, she seemed to have her act together. She told me her grandmother was a seamstress for Givenchy and that her mother was a textile rep. Sounds pretty great, right?

She failed to show up for two meetings before MAGIC she had scheduled with me. We were going to go over the collections and her terms, and other pertinent info I would need to know while working the booth. While waiting for her at the first scheduled meeting outside the North Hall, I was unable to reach her through her two cell phone numbers or via email or text. Confused, I went home and felt bad about missing the meeting. I imagined that I had showed up at the wrong time or wrong place and somewhere else the other folks were laughing at me…

The next day, I attended MAGIC as I planned to anyway and since she never called me back. But curiosity got the better of me so I hunted her down at her booth. She was sitting in her booth as I casually approached. Of course she thought I was a buyer and got up to greet me. I laughed out loud when I saw that her name tag read “Kimberly Owen”. She looked confused and asked, “do I know you?” I said, “You ARE me!” and pointed at her name tag. She went on to apologize profusely for missing the previous night’s meeting. She made up some story about having to drive back to LA to get something very important for the booth. She hadn’t slept, was exhausted, and felt terrible for leaving me hanging. She asked, “So, do you still want to work with me tomorrow?” I said “Sure” but I was surprised at how clueless she was, she really seemed lost. I almost felt bad for her. There was more to it than what I’m telling you and you’d have to know what happened later to understand but I can’t believe she still asked me to work for her. But I said yes, because I had an agenda of my own. And, I swear, the situation was just so curious, I had to see how this would play out. So I arrived the next morning at 8:30. Good thing I had my own badge, because she was still “being me” with the other badge and was not at the booth yet (I still am not sure what happened with the badges!). I worked the booth most of the day, as promised. The traffic was light, but I got to talk to several buyers and it was fun for me. “A” called finally at about 2:30 and asked if I had written any orders. She never did show up at the booth that day. Wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t shown up. She asked me to go over to the Venetian and cover the accessories booth for awhile, so I headed over there.

The booth over there was a mess. It was 3pm on the first day of the MODA Show and the accessories were in a heap on the table. “A” met me there and we went about setting up the accessories. A rep from the show came by (she had stopped by the booth several times before and no one was there) to tell “A” her credit card had been denied. She made a big deal about how they transposed the numbers. Hmm. Sure. Red flags. We had nothing but a roll of scotch tape to fix up the booth, it was a joke. Her other booth was a professionally designed booth, but the accessories(jewelry and purses) were just laid out on the white shelves. She rolled up some muslin to make little pillows for the jewelry. It looked very sad, which was a shame because the accessories were actually really cool. She was quoting me prices off the top of her head, and then she would forget and say, “what was the blue purse again? $275 or $320?” No line sheets, price sheets or anything. She didn’t even have a pen and paper to write orders! I left my notebook and pen. Buyers just walked right past us, and adjacent exhibitors peered over at us curiously. “A” left after about 30 minutes, and then I left after her “assistant” Brian came at 4:15 to relieve me. Curiously enough, she called me later and told me Macy’s had placed an order for $200,000 worth of accessories. I told her congratulations and all, but I secretly wondered when the mysterious Macy’s buyer had been by that wreck of a booth. Brian never mentioned it.

Next day, I worked the MODA booth. Traffic was non-existent. I admit, I was bored. These shows are a great place to people watch, so I sketched an awful lot in my notebook. It was actually a pleasure to have uninterrupted time to sketch. At home I have a 2 year old who never lets me rest, literally. I chatted up reps at booths next to me, getting their opinion on the show and other random things. It was slow for everyone. “A” kept calling to say Brian would come relieve me. He never showed up. At 3:15, I left, I had to pick up my son. Yes. I felt like a terrible person, but I left that booth because I had to. My gut feeling was to get out of Dodge. But before I left, I called “A” yet again, she didn’t answer, I left a voicemail to remind her I needed to leave to pick up my son from preschool. The lady at the booth next to me had three small children of her own (we had been sharing photos of our kids all day long), and she totally sympathized with me. She offered to watch the booth until Brian got there. I had just reached my car when “A” called and told me to go ahead and leave, Brian would be there shortly. I thanked her profusely and didn’t bother to tell her I already bailed. I couldn’t tell you if or when Brian ever showed up.

Since traffic was really slow, she didn’t need me to work the booth Friday. I stopped by to pick up my check at noon. She paid me $350 for working the booth for two days. I deposited the check immediately, but I doubted it would clear.

Of course, it didn’t clear the bank. It’s probably futile to chase it. Here’s the sad part, the part that gives DEs a bad name. I called Brian when I (of course) couldn’t get in touch with “A” about the check. I had thought he was her assistant because they seemed very familiar to each other, so I thought they were friends as well. He kept me on the phone for 30 minutes ranting about how she had screwed him. He is just a fashion design student at a local college, and he had really needed the money she had promised him. He had worked seven days straight for her, and had given her his sewing machine to use. He even pulled that all-nighter to LA and back the day before the show that she claimed she’d driven. Poor kid. He really fell for it. He was distraught over $600 and the loss of his sewing machine. I don’t blame him. He said she also bounced the checks to a local tailor for $900 and to her booth models. He wants to take her to court.

Here’s where it gets really Vegas. It turns out Brian knew a girl, a dancer, who introduced him to “A”. Apparently, “A” is a stripper who lives in California, but also has an apartment in Vegas where she comes to strip four nights a week. The money she makes stripping is what funds her DE business. I had to laugh out loud when I heard that. It explained so many things. Funny, no matter how long I live in Vegas, I can’t get used to these marginal folks who come here and take advantage of people. My world rarely collides with these fringe-y type folks, and it always feels strange when it does. But there is a transient, grifter-type subculture that is always present in Vegas, and strippers are a big part of it.

Anyway, I thought you may get a laugh out of this story, even though it is kind of a sad laugh. I wonder what will happen to her business if she goes on treating people like this? Wait, I already know the answer to that…

Kathleen here.
I made some phone calls, checked around, talked to people and wrote the the designer and her PR firm with these allegations. Finally, several hours later, I heard from her. She says she’s sent the money via Western Union to everybody. She says it was all a misunderstanding and that she’s not a stripper. I told her I was going to publish this anyway (deleting her sensitive info) because it’s funny (now that it ended well) and it’s a reminder to everyone on the problems one can have in the throes of a trade show.

I really felt sorry for Brian, poor guy. I talked to him on the phone. He’s just a poor student; a hard working Asian immigrant. Aside from being out the money, he’d lost his sewing machine, iron, needles, scissors, thread, everything. Update: Brian just called to say he doesn’t know who I am or how I did it, but all of his stuff just arrived at his house, including the money. For my part, I’m glad it’s resolved. This kind of stuff makes the industry look bad. It makes all of us look bad.

By the way, this designer’s site is slick. The epitome of professional, very high end goods too and from the looks of it, nicely made. Still, you must remember you can’t tell anything from a website. Some of the best suppliers have the worst websites if they have them at all.

One thing I forgot to mention before, sorry it’s kind of dumb and I don’t know what about this entry inspired me to remember it but you’ll need staplers in your booth. Bring two. The first one will be stolen. You also need a journal. Staple one business card per page and use the page to keep notes of your conversation with that buyer.

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  1. T says:

    I’m really glad you posted this story. I had a similar crazy experience in Vegas, but it was me wanting to model for a clothing line in hopes to network and learn more about the industry. Things really didn’t go as planned and the firm was very unprofessional. I was so thankful that I wasn’t dependant on the firm and I had paid for my own pass and room etc.

  2. Heidi B says:

    I got quite a laugh out of this story! And almost a little tear when poor Brian got his stuff back in the end. You are great Kathleen for getting everything taken care of! Oh, and thanks for the little random note about the staplers at the end – I have added it to my “to bring” list for ACRE in April.

  3. Gail says:

    I”m not suprised that the stripper ‘accidently’ had Kimberly’s namebadge. She did that in case any of her real creditors were looking for her. Hope that no bad juju comes back to haunt Kimberly now.

  4. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    I am SOOOO glad that Brian got all his stuff back and that everyone got their money. I was about to cry. Kathleen, you are so great!!!!

  5. Sara says:

    Oh my gosh…my heart goes out for Brian! It must have been such a wonderful feeling for you Kathleen when he called to say that he got all of his stuff back (and the money!). I also can’t believe that all of this really happened…what a weird story!

  6. J C Sprowls says:

    Just goes to prove it that truth is stranger than fiction. Goodness! I’m impressed with your powers of persuasion, Kathleen.

    RE: Kim’s adventures. It sounds like you extracted a some good out of this experience. All is not lost. Hat’s off to you, though! It’s tough to find the bless in the mess, sometimes. I’m sure there’s more to come out of this, yet.

  7. Eric H says:

    Kathleen’s powers of persuasion *may* have required (I’m not saying they did, I’m not saying they didn’t) the assistance of Meyer “Two Fingers” Coen and Barry “Bonds” Lansky (so-called because of the bat he carries), two of the … er, … most colorful cutters you hope you will never meet. I say “cutters” because that’s what they call themselves; I’m not entirely sure what their tacit ties to the rag trade are, but “needles” have also come up. Meyer is also well known for his colorful yarmulkes. See here for example. Let’s just say that people who miss a payment to certain factors may wake up to a tie-dyed skull cap inside their house at 4 AM.

  8. Kathleen says:

    FYI/BYAM: Eric was looking for an excuse to link to that COOL yarmulkes website he found. I guess the correct name for those is Kippot. They have some really neat happy faced ones and even tie-dyed ones.

    I don’t have any enforcers on staff, mostly because they’d want a cut of the action. Since I get zero return from my caped crusades (three hours work on this one), I doubt I can find enforcers willing to work for less than diddley. I’m glad I could help Brian. The model however, didn’t even bother to thank me by phone or email. Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me. ~sigh~

  9. kim owen says:

    Did the model get paid too? I am glad to hear that. I didn’t have her contact info, just knew she was in Texas. I haven’t heard from the local tailor, so I’m guessing they are fine with their payment.

    Yes, I finally collected my money through Western Union a few days after this was posted.

    Kathleen, you are working for squat in terms of dollars, but for sure you are racking up massive amounts of karma. It may protect you from the yarmulke gang, in the event (heaven forbid!) you ever cross them. The smiley face kippot would make me shiver…those evil eyes mocking me, and that deadly grin…

  10. kim owen says:

    Another thought I had on this experience…after I read KF’s post on cognitive dissonance, I couldn’t help but think of how I justified my MAGIC experience. Instead of being upset over someone treating me badly, when I had a gut feeling something was off, I looked back and tried to find the positives in this experience. Am I guilty of CD? Attempting to justify my behavior so I don’t look stupid?

  11. ioanna says:

    Go Kathleen! You totally saved Brian. Yey! (my bf says we should get you a cape. I said you could probably make your own! he he)

    Anyways when you’re a student it’s very easy to get taken advantage of in any industry, but stuff that has to do with “glamor” (or, perceived as glamor) like fashion or the movie industry usually are the worst.

    When I was looking for jobs after college in Hawaii there was an ad for a fashion photographer.
    I had a camera and some photography experience, working for the school paper and what not so I thought I’d try out even though I didn’t have any real fashion photography experience. The person I interviewed with (an ex-Miss Hawaii who was now opening her own modeling agency) had no problem with that. She had me do a test shoot with a model hopeful. I had to pay for film (hey, I still haven’t gotten a digital camera, but of course this was back in the 90s!), pay for printing the pictures, hire a make-up artist. After that she flipped through my shots dismissing them all but instead of telling me I wasn’t getting the job at the end she told me to do another test shoot with another model. Things felt iffy so I took my pictures and left, only to see other student-photographers taking pictures of models at the nearby mall (at their own expense no doubt.) The lady was only interested in free labor but I doubt that her business is still around. I mean how many people can you take advantage of and still stay in business? Or is that too naive a question?

    A year later working for a fashion website in L.A. I discovered that even test photo shoots are paid and pretty well at that. But when you’re a student no one prepares you to be on the look-out for scam artists. I mean an internship is one thing, but working for a tv show in supposed pre-production when the director runs off to Vegas with all the company’s money, that’s not something you can put on your resume! (that also happened to me in Hawaii!)

    Anyway, I realize this wasn’t related to the industry exactly but I had to share! This happens outside of Vegas too! LOL

  12. Mark C. says:

    Wow, what a story. It’s funny, sad and scary all at the same time; you never know who you can trust. Gritty stories like this are definitely a wake up call for the starry-eyed DE heading to Magic Las Vegas, or any other trade show for that matter.

    Thanks for sharing!

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