Jesse James, Founder of Aesthetic Movement and Co-Founder of SHOPPE OBJECT, was just named a 2019 Gifted Mover & Shaker by Gifts and Decorative Accessories. In the interview, conducted by Lenise Wills, James talks about the origins of Shoppe Object, the motivations behind it, and what the future holds. Keep reading for the full interview, below!
Why did you start Shoppe Object?
After 20 years at the gift show, I was no longer having any fun. The experience was on a rapid decline, and as hard as we tried to engage in dialogue, it seemed no one was listening. Things had come to a breaking point; that façade exhibitors would keep up when comparing notes had finally dropped, and everyone was sort of like, “This sucks!” I walked out of the winter 2018 show feeling exhausted and defeated, and I woke up the next day unwilling to let that experience define my life. The answer seemed so simple: good people, great product, a nice environment and an enjoyable experience. I thought, “I love this community, and I want to feel the vibes again.” It really was as simple as that. By nothing short of cosmic coincidence, the day I called Minya was the day she and Deirdre were popping a bottle of champagne to celebrate the closing of a deal to sell their show, so when I said, “Hey, do you want to start a new one?” she was like, “Call me crazy, but sure!” The three of us had a meeting a few days later, and we were all inspired enough to jump in head first. That’s how my partners and I pulled off the first Shoppe Object in just three short months.
What was the biggest challenge of starting your own show?
As much as I had confidence in the developing vision, the fear came from all the stuff I didn’t know how to do, namely the production side of things — the terms, the financing, the negotiating with venues and suppliers and subcontractors. But honestly, those great mysteries and more were solved in one phone call. I reached out to an old friend, Minya Quirk, who had co-founded the Capsule trade show with her good friend and business partner Dierdre Maloney.
How is Shoppe Object different from other shows?
Shoppe Object was born in an instant, sparked by the spirit and desire of a courageous group of people to make commerce and creativity work in tandem. Many of us spent years being defined by others in a massive trade show environment, existing in a world that we did not create, and at times surrounded by things that we could not relate to.
We were literally aching to try something different, so the impetus was emotional, not corporate. But it also had to exist at a high level of aesthetics in order to feel worthy of the risk, and I think that’s a huge part of what defines us a year later. Shoppe Object is very thoughtfully curated, blending seminal brands from the world of design with exciting new discoveries. Our mission is to attract the very best retailers to an event that promotes direct conversation between the merchant and the maker, big or small, sparking innovative business in a world that celebrates quality and integrity over margins and algorithms — all this plus good food, good drinks, good music and good fun.
How has your growth been? How does the future look?
This question truly makes me want to pinch myself. We went from 100 exhibitors at our inaugural show last August to more than 200 in February, and we anticipate being able to accommodate close to 400 unique brands this summer at our new location, Pier 36, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. On top of that, there are at least 200 strong contenders on our waiting list that we very much wish we had room for. It’s an incredibly humbling reality.
There is so much good product out there that discerning consumers have yet to experience, and our goal is to continue to provide a stellar show experience that accommodates as many design-driven brands and products as we can reasonably accommodate.
How do you hope to help shape the gift industry?
I want people to slow down, to get to know the sources that inspire them, to make real connections, to collaborate and to truly enjoy themselves while working hard. At least that’s what I want for myself! I also want Shoppe Object to help champion and support retailers who wish to raise the bar in this evolving landscape. We all need to work harder to capture the attention of shoppers accustomed to online subscriptions and disposable trends; it’s not enough to simply place products on shelves anymore.
Savvy consumers are looking for exceptional product, thoughtful storytelling and experiential engagement, and the best retailers are looking for ways to offer and create just that. So our job is to shape an environment that brings people to the heart and soul of our community—a space that merges great design from talented brands and makers with the brave and innovative merchants who keep us moving forward.
Shoppe Object is a nexus, providing an enlightening stop along the bridge that connects creative ideas and products to editors, shops and consumers. Ultimately, the hope that drives us is that our curation and show experience will help foster an appetite for living well with good design.
Jesse James of Aesthetic Movement & Shoppe Object
Jesse James is co-founder, along with Deirdre Maloney and Minya Quirk, of the new independent home and gift show Shoppe Object, and founder and creative director of Aesthetic Movement — a national showroom, design firm, and creative consultancy with locations in New York, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He lives in Jackson Heights, Queens with his husband and daughter, and their dog.