FROM OUR JULY 2024 MR AWARDS ISSUE: ERIN HAWKER, FOUNDER, AGENTRY PR, NY MEN’S DAY: PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

by Karen Alberg Grossman

The entire MR team proudly presents our July 2024 MR Awards issue. If you haven’t received a hard copy, please page through a digital version at  Issuu, and we’ll continue to post individual stories here on  MR-mag.com. If you haven’t been getting MR in print, be sure that you are on our mailing list for future issues by completing  this form.


Success, as officially defined in the Oxford dictionary, means “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” We prefer a different definition, one we discovered in writings by children with disabilities: “If you achieve what you want and are happy, that is success.” And to that, we add our own observation: the most successful people are those who follow their dreams and inspire others to follow their own. May dreams come true for MR’s innovative and intrepid 2024 honorees. May you keep on creating.

As a young girl growing up in the Milwaukee suburbs, Erin Hawker already knew that fashion was her calling. “By the age of five, I knew I was going to move to New York City, having no idea what New York City was about. My mom would walk me to school, and I’d tell her she had to walk at least five steps behind me unless she ran home to change out of the bright orange jacket she was wearing. I believed even then that the fashion gene was part of my DNA.”

A matchstick teepee sculpture by Erin Hawker.

After majoring in journalism at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Erin took a gap year in Chicago on her way to NYC. “When I finally thought I was ready, I packed a U-Haul and headed east, dreaming about working at WWD. So, every morning, I’d walk from my apartment in the West Village to the Fairchild office at 7 West 34th Street. I’d sit in their front office day after day until finally the receptionist told me I couldn’t sit there anymore. To get rid of me, she arranged for me to meet with HR for an interview. I ended up getting offered a job as an editorial assistant for DNR, but I’d also been interviewing at a few ad agencies and got a competing offer that paid $5000 more. So that started my route into the agency business.”

Erin recalls how different PR was back in the day. “We had encyclopedias of editorial contacts, and we had a fax machine. This was a fashion/lifestyle agency, and my entire job was to look up editorial contacts and fax them press releases. So I’d send out 100+ press releases and get maybe one or two responses. We were not allowed to make long distance calls from the office, so I’d go out to the payphones and call the big publishing companies like Hearst or Conde Nast to get VIP editors not listed in the main book. I didn’t have a mentor or boss at the time, so I made it up as I went along… This was in 1994.

“But how PR has changed! We’ve now got digital content and online shopping. It’s less creative than it used to be and more about battling the competition and figuring out how to raise commission rates or make better deals for affiliates. It’s a lot more competitive now—there are so many brands out there, and the industry is very fragmented, which is both good and bad. Designers have more options (traditional wholesale, direct-to-consumer, a hybrid of both), but with so many more brands, you need to make A LOT of noise to get noticed. It’s especially tough for emerging designers with limited resources. Since I needed help when I moved here, I understand their struggle and what it takes to get noticed. If I can help young designers in any small way, I’m grateful for the opportunity…”

Erin threw herself into several challenging jobs before starting her own agency (aptly named Agentry PR) in 2010. These included Donna Karan, Vertu (the Nokia luxury cell phones), VP at LaForce & Stevens, and head of publicity for Diesel North America. As a VP at LaForce, she worked on major accounts like Target, Sperry, Reebok, Judith Leiber, and Perry Ellis. She found an inspiring mentor in James LaForce, who taught her a lot about writing.

Erin’s favorite possession—a 1973 Volkswagen named Beasley.

“When I opened my own agency, Frank Muytjens was creative director at J. Crew, and he was doing the coolest things. He had opened Liquor Store, and all these younger men were idolizing him: they wanted to do what Frank was doing. It was a fresh, clean take on menswear that emboldened a lot of young men’s designers to start their own brands. So Agentry was getting calls, not because we were so great, but simply because menswear was where the white space was. We started getting young designers who wanted to show during New York Fashion Week but couldn’t get sponsors because most potential sponsors preferred to line up with women’s fashion, which has a larger footprint. So I decided, in order to make some noise, let’s team up six men’s designers and make a splash as a group. We had very little sponsorship at the time, but one of our designers was able to get free event space, another had contacts with a beverage brand, etc. We showed our six designers within a two-hour period, and everyone came. We had Bergdorf ’s, Saks, Neiman’s, Bloomingdale’s, GQ, MR, Esquire—everyone came! New York Men’s Day was a reality! It also helped to have a couple of designers (David Hart, Bespoken) who had already gained some momentum. Once we had ‘proof of concept’, I started going after sponsors more aggressively. It was difficult then (and even tougher now) but during every showcase, just watching what these young designers were creating was so satisfying! They worked so hard to keep the sartorial spirit alive, which made me want to work even harder.

“Of course, our ultimate goal is to time our event with the major fashion weeks: New York, London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo. Luxury brands do these shows mostly for the press. The goal is not necessarily to sell the clothing (often exaggerated and unlikely to appeal to American shoppers) but to sell the fragrance, the accessories, the licensed products. If they can throw a few celebrity names into the mix, there’s an additional PR opportunity with the entertainment press. It’s a well-oiled machine.

“But for young brands starting out, I believe they can garner as much attention with Men’s Day as spending $200,000 on Fashion Week. (The bare bones of a runway show today: 150-$200,000.) It’s crazy for guys to spend that kind of money just to get a foot in the door. For New York Men’s Day, we underwrite 85% of the cost. We basically cover the space, security, hair, make-up, beverages, publicity… Designers are responsible for their models and set design. I’ve seen designers spend under $10k but I’ve seen some spend $35k because they want more recognizable models. Some designers do street casting, using skateboarders o or musicians. Some opt for no props and just use white space. It’s pretty incredible.”

Henry Kessler, VP at Agentry PR, and Erin at New York Men’s Day.

According to Erin, sponsors change each season with just a few regulars. “I’m so grateful to The Hildun Group: Gary Wassner has been such a huge supporter. And Oribe (hair products) has been with us since Day 1. This will be our 22nd season and Victorinox will be the presenting sponsor. Naturally, most brands use NYMD not only to sponsor these young designers but also to promote their own brands. One season we had Perry Ellis, two seasons we had Nobis.”

How does she deal with the stress of supporting these emerging brands while getting enough sponsorship to cover costs? “It’s challenging,” she confides, “but I’ve learned over the years that it’s all going to work out. So I tell myself to relax, keep the faith, take one day at a time, and just focus on making it happen. So far, so good…”

Citing her mom as her biggest fan, Erin shares a bit about her family. “My parents were overly educated liberal progressives in a largely blue-collar neighborhood. They always pushed me to work hard and excel, which clearly helped shape me as a person. My dad was a computer programmer in the 1960s and worked for IBM.

Our house was filled with those huge old computers that looked like refrigerators. We had a typewriter that, with magnetic tape, could type by itself. My friends were incredulous and would come over just to watch it.”

Erin’s husband Jon, originally from San Francisco, has also greatly impacted her life. “He was a book editor at Doubleday, and then a liaison between authors and producers to turn books into Hollywood films. We met at a movie premiere; it was the showing of As Good as it Gets. The friend I was with knew the friend he was with, and we all went out to dinner. We sat at the same table, ate plates of food, and drank something called Bloody Bulls: tomato juice, bullion, and vodka. That’s all I remember…”

These days, Jon’s the one who encourages Erin to spend as many weekends as possible at their weekend home in upstate New York, two hours north of the city. “The house is essentially a 2800 sq ft black box with a guest house. Renovating was supposed to be a simple turnkey deal but major delays due to Covid and other unforeseen issues were problematic. It ended up costing twice as much as we planned, but we absolutely love it there so it’s okay. I need to decompress from my NYC life so stars, sunsets, sunrises, and long leisurely walks are heavenly. In the city, we live in a sewing factory loft in the garment district, so this is the total opposite. Once there, I’m into gardening, landscaping, and spending time outdoors. I recently completed my first outdoor sculpture: a matchstick teepee, with a second one in the works!”

Asked to describe herself, Erin doesn’t hesitate. “I’d say I am a generally happy person, hard-working, no shortcuts, curious, and always eager to learn. But after a 30-year career that often includes spending 10 hours a day in the office, I’m hoping to move forward with a healthier work/life balance.”

But with future plans to make New York Men’s Day even bigger, maybe 30 brands over three days with perhaps an international component, that work/life balance thing might have to go on hold… (In other words, Erin, we’ll believe it when we see it!)

INDUSTRY ACCOLADES

“From her undeniable charm to her iconic pigtails-and-hat look, Erin Hawker is a mainstay in the worlds of PR and menswear. She knows everyone and can sell an idea like no one’s business. Having worked with her for years as an editor and now as a brand-side client, I can say every interaction is a joy, every meeting a laugh riot. I can’t wait to work with her for many years to come!” Dan Michel, UNTUCKit

“Erin is an inspiration whose entrepreneurial drive has revolutionized New York’s fashion scene. Her New York Men’s Day has been instrumental in fostering emerging talent and expanding the industry’s reach. Always ahead of the curve, she not only anticipates current trends but also anticipates what’s on the horizon. Having worked with her as both an editor and a client, I have so much respect for what Erin has built and all the hard work she puts into every day. She’s a true powerhouse in the fashion world and one hell of a woman.” —Sandra Nygaard, Fair Harbor

“In an industry that changes every season, Erin and the Agentry team stand out as premier guides. Erin’s expertise and unwavering support have fostered a long and prosperous partnership.” —Jeffrey Douglass, Weyco Group Inc.

“It’s been an incredible journey working alongside Erin for the past 11 years, and this recognition is truly well- deserved. I’ve witnessed first-hand her dedication, hard work, creativity and remarkable impact, and I’m looking forward to more years of success and collaboration!” —Alissa Friedman, Mavi

 

 

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