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Let's Have a Conversation... In person!

*This post is long, stay with me and thank you for reading!

I just woke up to a situation that breaks my heart and is sitting very heavy with me. One of our vendors, Cuero & Mor has been accused of copying an Agnes Baddoo bag design in a very public forum by blogger Summer Browner. First, I want to be clear that I respect absolutely all involved: all designers, Summer and all of those who have made comments on her Instagram feed. However, this also feels very much like a witch hunt, which does not sit well with me... Especially since others have started reposting Summer's photo, very quickly creating a snowball affect. It's quite easy and I can totally understand how one could come across a photo or post about a so-called theft and chime in, "saddened and disgusted", "that's wrong", "so terrible." What is created is a social media storm of hate and high-fives, a sense of comradery stemming from something negative and filled with anger.  I talked with Pepe and Maria, of Cuero & Mor, this morning and they told me that they just last week saw Agnes' bag when Summer commented on their feed. That night (last Friday) they emailed Agnes directly to have a conversation and let her know that they had never seen her bags until that day. They never got a response, and instead woke up to a flurry of hate mail and comments. This is a hard subject for all and I am going to try and help by holding a forum, but want to say this one thing quickly and then will fully respond below: The reason they have deleted comments and blocked people is because they are scared and don't know what to do. They are human after all, not cold robots. Until you have faced this kind of hate and taunting, please don't judge another for not wanting negative people to continue to harass them. Ok? :)

The reason I am hesitant and defensive for not only my vendors but ALL parties involved, and what breaks my heart about the situation, is the feeling of such hate and accusation. As someone who is almost weekly the victim of racism and sexism, the feelings and hurt that come with being a victim of any kind of harassment are absolutely awful and I would wish that on no one. I take accusations and judgment very, very seriously. To call someone the N word without talking with them/getting to know them but just because the color of their skin is racist and cruel; to so openly call people thieves and gang up on them without actually having a conversation with them is similar. It's making a judgement without having a trial. I say this not against those who have left comments because they are coming from a passionate place, but to open eyes as to the fact that human beings are on the other end of all the hurtful comments. Two incredibly genuine, sweet, creative people who I have spoken with (I would never write a post without speaking to them) and absolutely did not steal or be "inspired by" any other bag including Agnes. It deeply disheartens me to think that all those rallying against them, and me, seem to choose to see evil in people by accusing them of theft, instead of seeing people as good and looking for another answer. Does that make sense? In other words, the two bags could absolutely be an awful coincidence, not to mention the handfuls of others that are out there that are similar in shape or use untreated, tan leather. It breaks my heart and I spent the last hour in tears to see my community, any community, doing this. Essentially, Cuero & Mor have not only been judged but are now being threatened and harassed (via email, social media, the phone), and are feeling scared and confused. THAT is fucked up. Theft is also fucked up, but that is not what happened. I don't think judging others can ever help solve anything  -  people need to talk to one another. It's easy to get angry and everyone should absolutely be able to voice their concerns, it's freedom of speech after all! But as a trained journalist I spent years being taught the importance of fairness, taking a step back and looking at evidence, never reporting anything without getting comment from all parties, and most important remembering that every single one of us bleeds the same. At the end of the day everyone involved has a heart and I think that is really important in this conversation.

To show how easily two different, stylish design minds can think so closely, here is a bag that LA-based Marie Turnor makes (and has made for years and years) and one by Agnes. There are things that make them different, but yet they are also the same. I don't think either copied the other and they are both beautiful bags. I understand Summer's wanting to voice her concerns, defend her friend, and let everyone know about authenticity and design. Who wouldn't? However, the ease and instant access to social media to get the word out is tricky - I  have never really seen any resolution take placed from these types of things because they aren't really "conversations", it's one group of people speaking to another. In other words there's a lot of talk but no actual walk. Change happens when we change this; Summer created the post and has started something, and now I would like to make sure that I hold a forum at The Unique Space so that the community can have an honest conversation TOGETHER about this very tough and personal subject. In person! I will send an email to Summer, Agnes, Maria and Pepe, Cathy Callahan to set a date for a forum about this subject. Let's see what happens and when we have a date (hopefully this Sunday), I will let all know (via a post on the @uniqueusa instagram feed) and look forward to the discussion.

I believe in good and good people, and I will ALWAYS investigate all sides before publicly talking about it because these are peoples lives and livelihoods at stake. I know from experience that a person cannot know about everything out in the world, especially if that person is an entrepreneur/independent designer because most likely they have their head in 1000 places (if not in their hands) a lot of the time. Not only have I been accused of knowing about a "copied" product but my vendors have been accused of copying a design. I live in LA and had no idea the Agnes Baddoo bag existed - If I did I obviously would have never used a similar bag on our postcard and ad campaign, and would have talked to them about the similarities when they applied! It really hurts me that I've been accused of supporting design theft. Do you understand why I find this so frustrating and am absolutely defending Cuero & Mor while also understanding Agnes? I don't believe in "sides" and find that way of thinking very scary and damaging - it is CRAZY to think that people would steal a design and then come to us (the largest market in the country, with major buyers and all the media attending) to sell it to a very large, vocal community. Who would do that on purpose?! No one I know. And not Maria and Pepe. The reason we chose their bag to feature in our ad campaign was because it is made with incredible craftsmanship and care, it's modern and exquisite. And because they are wonderful, warm, humble people. I also know Agnes is an amazing person but had quite honestly never seen her bags until now.

Being accused of something so publicly is pretty hurtful. I work incredibly hard, all day, every fucking day, because I am passionate about what I do but more importantly about the community that I serve. The thought that I would know about every single thing being made here in LA is insane. I do probably know more than most but there are literally hundreds of thousands of makers in this city (just one of the numerous cities that we have vendors from and do markets in). Every year I probably look at 1000-1500 applicants and potential vendors across the country, but that is a drop in the bucket of people out there making products! We quite honestly are so swamped looking at applicants throughout the year that we don't have time to spend looking at people who don't apply, and don't have time to go to all the shops in LA to scout, or surf blogs or magazines. Maybe we should but our jobs consist of event production, all of the logistics that go along with that, as well as producing our business conference and running a creative space downtown. It really doesn't leave time for researching what else is out there, and because I am not a stylist and do not come from the fashion world, I'm not in that community. What may be common knowledge to someone in those worlds is not common knowledge to me. I feel like I'm having to apologize and be made to feel bad about not having time to know everything that goes on in every neighborhood in LA! I'm a business person and an entrepreneur which means my head is mostly in new technology, business logistics and human resources, as I try my best to manage a staff the best I can. Plus you'll all now know how uncool I am but I'm old-fashioned so read all of my news in the actual printed newspaper. That's not to say that I don't shop, keep my eyes open for cool designers or network in various communities, I do. And I love going to the Echo Park Craft Fair, where from her blog I can see that Agnes sells at. Simply said, I didn't go to the last holiday event and previously I've somehow never seen or noticed her bags. What else can I say?!

Man, this has taken awhile to write! Let's move forward in a positive way, as a community not a mob. Let's meet and have a discussion about everything, hear the stories of both Agnes and Maria and Pepe, talk about the role of the media, and you know, treat each other with respect and love. I'll also invite a lawyer who can also be there to help us fully understand how designers can protect themselves. I truly believe that all involved create beautiful work, and what is an awful coincidence should be put behind us. We are a community. Let's talk.

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Why Staff Retreats ROCK!

After a very busy and productive 2014, the Unique team went on a much-needed three day staff retreat to Palm Springs! Even though our team is small, six people including full-time and part-time staff, we are mighty and accomplish a lot across three different brands: the Unique USA shopping events, The Unique Space and our creative conference CAMP.  What that means is that, like most small businesses, we all wear many hats and work on different projects. So our founder Sonja Rasula thought it was time we left our normal environment to concentrate on 2015 planning, biz dev and strategy, and to spend time together, bonding away from the workplace... WHAT AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE IT WAS!

Basically what it boils down to is that we invested the time into 'taking time out', which seems like a simple concept yet few small businesses do it. After the experience Sonja is now making it an annual retreat and we accomplished so much in just a few days, both work and play! We brainstormed website redesign, thought of new revenue streams, figured out the new company vision and mission statements; but we also had a great time deepening friendships, doing arts and crafts projects to foster our creative sides, and we had a blast cooking and drinking wine! One night we had planned to go out on the town but every single person opted to stay in to simply play Pictionary, which really shows how much fun we had simply hanging-out and getting to know one another! Whether you're a small business or a big one we think a retreat is crucial, the outcome of our retreat did wonders for us. Here's some of our photos we shared on Instagram using #UniqueStaffRetreat. 

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Unique USA Family

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Unique USA Family

We've been producing Unique USA, the largest Made-in-America market, for 6 years now! We truly feel we've created a community and a family with our vendors, sponsors and attendees. One of our partners-in-crime is Rafael Cruz and his team from Oh! Snap Studioswho have been with us since our very first show! They produce custom built photo booths for special events, and always come up with fun, wacky scenes for our shoppers to get creative together! Taking a free photo booth picture has become part of the tradition of going to Unique USA for a lot of families. Here's one in particular - meet the Remple family. 

They started attending Unique USA when their daughter was a young girl and have attended almost every market since, taking photos at the Oh! Snap Studios photo booth each time. Now, six years later their daughter is a teenager! It's amazing to watch her grow up in the photos from a cute, little girl into a beautiful young person! It's showed us how much we've all grown and how much we value being part of your family and your holiday tradition. 

Thank you for supporting Unique USA since the beginning and thank you for creating memories with us and our partners Oh! Snap Studios! 

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Thank you LA!

What an amazing weekend of local holiday shopping that was! We love our fans and shoppers so much, together we've created a pretty epic community... And thousands of you shared photos on Instagram using #uniqueusa! Whether pics of cool celebs, beautiful food shots or colorful photos from the event, we thought we would share some of our favorites. Enjoy!

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#MoreStuffingLessStuff

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, love, celebration, laughter... It's about gratitude and community. So we've created #MoreStuffingLessStuff to show our commitment to spending time with loved ones instead of shopping, and we hope you'll spread the above image too! We are so thankful that you have discovered and joined us - you are our community, you are everything! Over the last week, especially with the recent events and mood across America, we'd like to encourage you to spend time with friends, family, loved ones, neighbors throughout the holiday weekend. This Thanksgiving, let's break the ill-suited tradition of being attached to a screen or device of some sort to surf the web for deals or getting up at the break of dawn to wait in line at conglomerate businesses to buy products that are, quite frankly, sh*t. This important holiday is not about shopping at all! We encourage you to revel in the act of cooking and communal eating with people that you love. We hope you will get outdoors and go for a walk or hike in your community and neighborhood. Volunteer or donate money to a local organization that is doing great work.

Do you really need that 85" TV? Or that extra "must-have" trend of the year that will sit in the back of your closet?

Community is important because it's what ties us together despite differences. We may indeed each be unique, but we're all human and the one truth that we share is that we have the same beginning and end. What we do in-between, what we do with our time is the good stuff! Find and engage in community, whether it's through a common interest such as food or mopeds, or within an organization such as volunteering at a seniors home or joining a club at work. Taking part in community and being a strong member of your community is more important than ever! Take the time to get to know your neighbors, your neighborhood and your city. By discovering the people  around you, who live nearby and who share common interests you gain a sense of home and community. Community is about compassion, empathy, understanding. Being part of a community is so important because it brings a sense of purpose, a sense of neighborhood, and you have people that you can talk to and rely on for help.

We hope you will share and spread #MoreStuffingLessStuff on Instagram and Twitter because Thanksgiving is about so much more than saving a few dollars on Black Friday!

Let's put an end to this consumerism madness! It's an endless cycle that does little but produce waste, anxiety and debt. Thanksgiving is about family, friends and spending time with each other. It's about being thankful for the things you have, not wishing for things you don't. So join us, show us what Thanksgiving means to you, how you're celebrating and what you're thankful for this year: share the hashtag #MoreStuffingLessStuff. Let's eat, drink and celebrate what we're thankful for with family, even those awkward cousins and long-winded uncles. But let's not, of all things, waste our hard-earned money and precious time buying cheap, disposable sh*t we don't need. Instead, wait to do your holiday shopping and buy high-quality goods that will last, made here in America with love and care, at our LA Holiday Market Dec 6 & 7, at Renegade Craft Fairs and Northern Grade events around the country, plus visit local stores and "Shop Small".

We are really, really excited to see your posts and pictures. Show us what Thanksgiving means to you. We'll repost our favorites via Instagram. Have a Great Thanksgiving Everyone!

xoxo,

Team Unique USA 

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The Anatomy of Buying Local

People often ask us what we mean when we say that buying American-made helps the community, so we decided to make this graphic to help show all the amazing ways that spending your dollars on local-made goods helps. Purchasing items that are made here in the USA helps the economy on both a micro and macro level! Aside from the obvious results that shopping local at UNIQUE USA gives us all (getting a quality product and feeling good about buying from someone in your community), when you buy items made abroad you're helping another country's infrastructure but when you buy things made here at home you're putting money right back into local infrastructure. Here are a few ways your dollars help:

  • Business owner tax dollars (city, state AND federal) go toward public services. That's everything from our public schools and police safety patrols to highway improvements and local parks!
  • As a small business grows they have to outsource, hire freelancers and/or begin to hire employees, helping to create jobs in their community.
  • They also use numerous service providers, who are themselves each small business owners in the neighborhood, such as printers, couriers, manufacturers, accountants, etc. The cycle is continuous!  

So while you may spend a few more dollars on things made in the USA, when you're buying American-made your dollar is going toward much more then a beautiful, locally-produced product. Yay!

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November Desktop + Phone Wallpapers are here!

We're so excited to share with you our November series of desktop and phone wallpapers! We wanted to make a cozy, minimalistic reminder to keep pushing, reaching and generally kicking ass - like a boss, of course. Enjoy and share with your friends! 

For your laptop/desktop: (click image to download)


For your phone: (click image to download)

 
 

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OCT PEP RALLY: Geronimo Balloons!

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Holy moly, are you ready for this month's Pep Rally?! We are all high around here (on helium of course...) with excitement because Jihan Zencirli, founder and head balloon trooper of Geronimo Balloons is our guest speaker! Join us at The Unique Space on Thursday evening, October 16, from 6:30 - 8 for a night of inspiration, tales and small biz smack-down. Aside from being one of the coolest people on the earth, Jihan created an entire industry within the wedding/events industry with her balloon creations - spawning thousands of copy-cats around the world! Don't miss this awesome talk, RSVP NOW.

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Polite Society Paper!

We love discovering new brands making super rad Made-in-America products!

POLITE SOCIETY PAPER is a mother + daughter design team based in Los Angeles. We asked the duo to fill us in on their brand and what inspires them every day.

What lead you to start POLITE SOCIETY PAPER? 

POLITE SOCIETY PAPER was formed out of our passion for stationery and the realization that we had a unique esthetic to bring to the market. 

What do you use as inspiration for your line?

Our inspiration comes from a shared love for vintage, clean + minimal style, and our inner tomboys that occasional come out to play. Together we collaborate on every item - brainstorming ideas, sketching + perfecting designs, choosing colors + card stock... and cooking some pretty amazing lunches in our studio! 

Where do you hope to take POLITE SOCIETY PAPER in the future?

We’ve launched POLITE SOCIETY PAPER with a collection of graphic and text, all occasion cards, but plan to take our design approach into other areas of paper + home goods in the near future.

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Hashtag Awesomeness

We love interacting with you and discovering new talent, so we have created three awesome hashtags on Instagram for everyone to use! Tag and share your pics and we will regram our favorites every week... Fun times!

  1. Share your adventure and road-trip photos with us using #uniqueroadtrips
  2. Got great travel spots to share, secret cafes you love, hotel discoveries, packing tips? Share them with us using #uniqueusatravel
  3. Inspired by the great Fourth of July flag photos we saw, we created #uniqueusaflags so you can share fab flag pics with us!

Here are just a few stunning photos that you'll see:

By @igreen97

By @igreen97

By @jillithtay

By @jillithtay

By @evill

By @evill

By @blossomvintage

By @blossomvintage

By @steph_m_collins

By @steph_m_collins

By @sonjarasula

By @sonjarasula

By @brittstreiss

By @brittstreiss

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Hats Off to Autumn!

While we are going to miss catching warm rays on the beach, there is one season we love the most because of the amazing wardrobe options: Autumn! It's Back-to-School time, which means the great new Fall lines and trends have arrived. One of the things we are loving seeing is how many Made in the USA hat designers there are in stores right now! We've rounded-up our favorites for both men and women... Enjoy!

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Rockin' Out at First City Festival

Last week Team Unique packed into a car for an epic road-trip up the California coast to Monterey, for the First City Festival. Every year we partner with the awesome music festival/carnival to create an American-made Marketplace filled with vendors. This year's fest was amazing with Beck, Phantogram, Tanlines, The National, Tokyo Police Club and more. The truly unique thing about the fest is that it's in a beautiful atmosphere by the ocean, so the temperature is perfect day and night, and that admission includes all the carnival rides!!! It's a chill, fun festival. Here's a peek at the good times, photographed by Bryan Dale.

Sonja and Kellie roadside on the way up to the festival.

Sonja and Kellie roadside on the way up to the festival.

Phantogram blew our minds... 

Phantogram blew our minds... 

The National

The National

Beck and his band were AMAZING!

Beck and his band were AMAZING!

The festival includes a carnival and free rides!!!

The festival includes a carnival and free rides!!!

Heads up!

Heads up!

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