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UNIQUE Brings Local Products Back to California Market Center

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, April 30, 2009, at 10:52AM
laweekly sonja rasula [Flickr]

"UNIQUE Los Angeles" returns to Downtown on Saturday and Sunday, inviting Angelenos to peruse and purchase goods from 275 local and independent designers.

The first event, held in December, drew 6,000 shoppers to the penthouse of the California Market Center. That turnout was a surprise to many, but not to event organizer Sonja Rasula.

The follow-up showing offers nearly twice the number of vendors as that first event. It also offers a pop-up cafe by Silver Lake's MALO, which is working to open its second location right here in Downtown underneath Seven Grand.

Via email, Rasula talked with blogdowntown about her inspiration for UNIQUE, her love for Downtown, and her new non-profit CityLabs.

BLOGDOWNTOWN: What led you to the idea for UNIQUE?

SONJA RASULA: The idea had always been floating in my head, but it really wasn't until last year that I realized I could make it happen. After spending the year organizing a non-profit, getting very familiar with and close to the community, I saw that there was indeed opportunity for a great event -- an event larger then anything LA had seen, though happens regularly in places like NYC, Chicago, Toronto. Basically LA is used to sample sales, trade shows and craft fairs, so I wanted to create a really modern, fresh event for the public that didn't revolve around 'bargain prices' (which I think hurts the worth of good design, and makes it hard for designers/artists to sell at regular price). My goal for UNIQUE was to attract the masses, introducing them to great local talent in a space that was big enough to rival a mall -- UNIQUE is an experience, not just a sale, so attendees can eat at the cafe, make crafts, get their picture taken or relax in the lounge with a drink.

I think it was also the fact that I noticed a few things last summer: In order to shop I was driving all over the city; there is a wealth of amazing talent in LA and SoCal; the city is just beginning to promote itself and support it's own. As I sat in traffic, grinding my teeth, I began to see that the opportunity was totally open for someone to help promote LA as a great, world-class city filled with great design. And to in fact promote and help revitalize downtown LA, which is amazing. (I grew up in Echo Park, so have a very deep sense of pride and love for LA, but have also lived and traveled around the world -- it drives me nuts that people love to "hate" on LA. This city isn't just Hollywood and it is no doubt one of the most exciting and vibrant places when it comes to the art and design world. London, Paris, Brooklyn, Montreal - they've all had their design and art scenes praised, but LA has always been an underdog... Once people discover the talent in this city, and the city itself, they love it. And I'm talking about people as far as Tokyo and as close as Manhattan Beach!

BD: You're getting set to hold your second event. What surprised you about the first one?

SR: Actually, I was not surprised at all. Meaning that I think the most surprising thing about UNIQUE was that it brought 6000 people downtown. Everyone else (including the PR company I worked with) was scared for me, and didn't think anyone would come downtown... I'm really passionate about downtown, and its history and diversity. Hopefully people came to the show and realized how much it has changed, and saw all the amazing things happening here - you've got screen printers like Two Rabbits in their studio, then dress designer Eva Franco on Spring, and then on the other spectrum people like Justin Timberlake creating and selling his line William Rast. It's exciting!

BD: Aside from UNIQUE, you're involved in a lot of non-profit work. Tell us a little about YPM and your Community Service Fair project.

SR: YPM (Young Progressive Majority) is a local non-profit that works on getting people in their 20s and 30s to vote in local Los Angeles elections. (BTW, there's an important one coming up on May 19th.) I am the Executive Director and basically we create an in-depth voter guide for every single election that is frank, witty and informative, so there is really no excuse not to vote. Voting for President is important, but we help people see that it's indeed on the local level where they have the most power - using their voice to directly affect things here in LA such as getting more bike lanes, creating jobs, getting the giant potholes fixed, electing great leaders, etc. We also throw really great parties and fundraisers, like 1980 Jazzercise nights...

CityLabs is a non-profit I created (still in midst of forming) which will throw "giant community fairs" in LA and NYC this September. CityLabs is almost exactly like UNIQUE, except that instead of shopping for products, the attendees will be "shopping" for great community organizations, non-profits and groups to join or connect with. Inspired by Obama, the idea is simple: WE can help one another, and as we strengthen our communities and cities, we in fact strengthen our states and our country. My goal is to make it easy for thousands of people in each city to find someplace to volunteer, or to donate to a local food bank, or even to connect with a group and become a board member. The possibilities are endless! Most of my friends want to volunteer, but they search on Google for a options and get overwhelmed or search endlessly. CityLabs will be a really cool event that is diverse and plentiful, so attendees will have a great time and the groups taking part will be able to connect with the public, sell merchandise, collect donations and grow their email databases. Of course like UNIQUE, there will be great music, food, etc.

BD: If someone's coming out to UNIQUE this weekend, what's one thing they just shouldn't miss?

SR: Ack! There's too much to mention... The Oh Snap! Photo Booth should NOT be missed - seriously, people who missed it last time were really upset. This time we have more vendors with guy clothing like DURKL, 10 Again, Fiftyseven-Thirtythree. I'm also introducing the first local indie music label, DimMak, which is exciting! And I am really excited to have Sharon Montrose's animal photos there. From a foodie perspective, you won't want to miss the salads by MALO, sandwiches from Tiara Cafe, or the gourmet cupcakes and soda pop.

UNIQUE Los Angeles / Saturday, 11am - 7pm; Sunday, 11am - 5pm / $5 per person / California Market Center penthouse, 110 E. 9th

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