Fashion and Solar Trade Shows

We all know that dressing the part is important. The idea that clothes can greatly affect our perception of a person or company was on my mind at last week’s Solar Power International in Los Angeles, the largest solar energy trade show in the country.

It started with Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, as the guest speaker to kickoff the show (here is my Earth2tech story about his talk). He was the last-minute replacement for Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E Corp., who had to deal with a pending announcement of a federal investigation into a fatal accident involving PG&E’s ruptured gas pipeline. As soon as Stone walked on stage, in a black hoodie and blue jeans, people began to file out off the auditorium.

His outfit wasn’t unusual for a guy who runs a social media site – how many times have we seen Mark Zuckerberg showing up in public events in sweats? But it turned out, some solar conference attendees were put off by his fashion choice. Not only did they think he was not appropriately dressed, they also were puzzled by his top billing at the solar energy trade show. It was ironic, then, that Stone provided an anecdote about the importance of making a good impression with the right clothes:

“A couple of months ago, our general counsel told me, ‘Look, everyone in Washington thinks Twitter has 30,000 employees who are jerks. So buy a suit and we’ll parade around (in front of) all the senators and you will say hello and how can we help you.’”

Some solar companies thought the right attire for women at SPI were skimpy outfits. Yes, that was AUO Solar, which stationed ladies with some Jetsons-inspired clothes at SPI (see photo). Very classy. Trina Solar also featured women in form-fitting, faux car racing outfits. The same marketing idea showed up at Intersolar in San Francisco this year as well.

Did buyers stop by to check out the company’s offerings because of these women? Maybe the point was to attract not just buyers but other attendees in order to make the booth seem busy. I saw women in similar clothing (and who played similar role) as AUO’s eye candy at a consumer electronics show in Seoul several years ago. Maybe the electronics and solar industries want to follow the strategy of the auto industry, which hires plenty of babes for its trade shows, said my fellow greentech journalist Jenn Kho. The women at auto shows are meant to impart a sexy image for the cars, as in “if you drive this car you’ll look hot and attract women.” For solar, um, right, if you buy these solar panels, you, too, will attract … something.

Speaking of unwanted attention, here’s what a (male) freelance writer I met for the first time while at SPI asked me on the last day of the show:

Was there a meeting in a women’s bathroom about wearing black dresses, because I’ve never seen so many women wearing black dresses at an event. I study the female appearance in great detail. That’s sad. But I do.”

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