Tag Archives: Meet our Neighbors

Meet our Neighbors: David Lewis

photos & interview by Nina Hans

Tell us a bit about Falling Whistles?

Falling Whistles is a campaign for peace in Congo. Four years ago we walked into Congo and learned of children sent to the frontlines armed with only a whistle and forced to fight. We wrote about it in a blog that was forwarded around the world overnight. Readers wrote back asking – what can we do? How can we help?

We have been working to answer those questions ever since.

The Whistle became our symbol. It showed why we cared. We hit the road asking other to join us and began building a coalition for peace in our world’s deadliest war.

Now, three years later, we partner with seven Congolese visionaries rehabilitating over 600 war-affected women and children. Our coalition includes 40,000 whistleblowers, over 200 retailers, 35 Congressmen, and 16 Senators.

Why did you guys choose to move your organization to Downtown LA?
We started with no home, no office and no plan – just $5 and a dream worth our everything. I hit the road, hitchhiking for four months from Austin to New York City stopping in living rooms and coffee shops, asking individuals to join us in the pursuit of peace.

Back in LA we pulled desks out of dumpsters, built a ramshackle office in our garage, and began building a coalition toward a goal most call impossible. Eight interns came from across North America to join us.

Soon we outgrew the garage. A friend had just moved in on Traction Ave and was building out an old space where he was gathering a small collective of DJs, artists, magicians, and entrepreneurs.

The creative energy was so deep. We couldn’t stay away.
We had to come.

What do you think is special about doing what you are doing in Downtown LA?

Well, first thing is that the people are amazing. I love dropping by the Daily Dose or Handsome and bumping into friends on coffee break. Everyone is coming off of their own little island. The south side of the Arts District is like that. And every island has it’s own culture. Out of all of the old warehouses that are getting revitalized further and further south, each is it’s own canvas. But none of them are blank. Every building bares the mark of somebody and something that came before.

A lot has happened with Falling Whistles in the past year, we would love to hear a bit about what’s next?

On November 20th, the rebel army M23 took over Goma, a major city in eastern Congo. M23 has executed children in the streets and as a result of the fighting, 800,000 people are displaced. They must be stopped, so we launched a platform to push back. Go to Stopm23.com learn more, and to join us in asking the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, and the White House to respond.

Leave a Comment

Meet our neighbors: Sonja Rasula

Photos & Interview by Nina Hans


How did you about starting at Unique?

I started unique LA (now also in sf & nyc!) because there was an opportunity in the city that i didn’t think anyone else was doing. There were little craft fairs and street fairs like the Abbot Kinney fest. Yet, there was nothing on a large scale that promoted independent artists and designers that were making all their products in America and that was in a professional atmosphere. It made perfect sense to me. Basically, I was trying to create something that was like a flea market but functioned like a trade show. The concept seemed super cut and dry to me. I wondered why no one was doing this in Los Angeles. People were doing it in Toronto, London, Paris, and I just didn’t understand why LA didn’t have one. One day I was sitting in my car driving to my favorite boutiques doing gift shopping, I drove all the way to Mount Washington to this one really cool gallery, then all the way to Abbot Kinney to visit my favorite stores there. As I was sitting my car, hot, board, in traffic… I realized that idea I always had in the back of my head could work. Everyone would come to one location; it’s environmentally friends, it allows people to get all their shopping in one place and supports the local economy. For some reason everything came together that day while I was in the car and I knew I was going to do it.

When do you realize it was a successful model and you should move to the other cities?

After the very first event I knew we could grow to other cities, I just didn’t have the capitol then. Unlike, most smart business people and entrepreneurs, I didn’t look for investors or have backing, or loans. First of all cause I knew I would never get approved. I actually used my retirement savings in December of 2008 to start the first event. It was super risky, and not something I was necessarily suggest other people to do, but what is similar to other entrepreneurs is that risk taking attitude. After the first event, I realized and I hadn’t put my life savings at risk, and in fact made a little bit. But more importantly, the amount of people that attended the event, I mean thousands and thousands! The reception from shoppers, the media, and especially the vendors, was so amazing that I immediately knew I had to take it to other cities. So really I knew right away it was just a matter of when and how.


Now that Unique is growing to other cities, why do you think it was valuable to originate in Los Angeles?

Well first of all I was raised here. It’s important to me to give this city the attention it deserves. Los Angeles is great because it’s still affordable to have an art studio here. In New York you have to be established to afford the rent. In Los Angeles you can move here and afford to get by while making and learning how to sell your art. And everyone thinks manufacturing is in New York and really it’s mainly happening here. For example band of outsiders, everyone is always talking about them, and thinking they’re New York based, but they aren’t. They are based here! There was something inside me that thought, I have to change this perception. To start on a mass level, to start promoting LA for it’s great design. That we are a tight cool community doing powerful and important things.

Usually my first answer to that would be community, but I think now over the last 6 months, as Unique has grown to other cities I realize that, together we are building a movement. I think I’m building a movement toward conscious consumerism. Were shoppers and community members realize that what they do in their every day life and also how they spend money can help effect our economy.

Leave a Comment

Meet our Neighbors: emily elliott

How long has it been since Townsen started and how has the response been?

It’s been about a year and it’s really good. We’ve booked orders with with Nordstroms, Saks, and Bloomingdales, and all the majors and sell through has been really good. You can buy it in store at those retailers or online at revolve and shopbop.

How did you start designing? 

I started designing clothing after college. I had done a mixture of things,  fine art, graphic design, fashion design in Paris and some business classes. I always knew I wanted to work in the fashion industry. I had to review my portfolio with someone for school credit. My friend Sean Woolsey worked at Hurley and knew the women’s designer there ands she offered to review my portfolio. From that point she asked if I wanted an internship after I graduated and it kinda just fell in my lap. Hurley wasn’t really where I wanted to be but that’s just kind of where home was and I started off there. For four years I designed their women’s line while I was there. My friends Amber and Jenny approached me about a new job designing a knit line in LA. My Boss now, called me and one thing led to another and I basically was offered my dream job.

How did you end in the Arts District? 

I thought I would never get the job, within two weeks and many phone conversations I had the job. It happened so fast. I had to learn everything from scratch. I had never produced anything in LA, I had never started a company. There’s 20 people at Hurley doing what I do now. My husband Ian’s company, Sew, worked in this building in the Arts District. I need a space and there was one open so I jumped on it. I had to find pattern makers in LA, sewers, cutters, fabric vendors, etc. . Building the first sample line was a huge challenge, lets just say I learned a lot in the first six months…

What do you think is different about designing in Los Angeles than other cities?

Working in downtown LA is always an adventure. Lots of hidden treasures and great people willing to work.

Hopefully we are designing clothes that girls feel confident and inspired to be in and help represent something about them.
Leave a Comment

Meet our Neighbors: Sean Brennan

How did you end up bringing the Pie Hole to the arts district?

Adrianna (Sullivan) is one of the best pastry chefs in the city, she’s a very serious chef. We were very humbled and amazed that she wanted to work with us from the very beginning. She’s so talented and she understands what makes an exceptional pie. We do some funky stuff and some old school pie too. Good ingredients, good pastry, good execution makes good pie. It sounds simplified but we try to reduce it down to that. The Arts District is a great community and thought it would be a great fit for a pie shop.

How did you go about starting a pie shop? 

My business partners are Matt Hefner and his mother Becky and they are a pie family. Matt and his fiancé Lindsay and I have known each other for a really long time. They’re a pie family, whenever you meet up or have a bbq they bring pies. They are pie people. Matt is an amazing dreamer, always has great ideas like ‘I want to build a beer hall in my backyard’. Then one day it was like “I want to open a pie shop” I thought it was a great idea. These conversations started back in 2010, where we were just talking about it. Economic times were difficult and people didn’t have a lot of money to go get fancy dinners all the time. Chicken pot pie, slice of pie, they’re comfort foods. Something people rely on, and also makes them feel good. It is relatively inelastic, everyone likes pie.

Although there’s a pie trend right now, especially with meat pies, pie isn’t all of a sudden going to go away. Grandma makes pies, thanksgiving comes every year. I think if we do right by the pie we will be able to be successful. So I said to them “now is probably the time, this style of cafe really works. It will have to be casual yet high quality food, with good customer service. You can just sit down and hang out, use the wifi and music is playing and mix that with great pie and coffee and it will be great.  We thought it would only work in a neighborhood that is very community based it has a sense a self. We wanted to be apart of a neighborhood where new businesses were going in  Wurstküche, Handsome Coffee, ApolisPoketo, new awesome businesses are opening all the time. People who are in the  cusp of new and exciting ideas. It’s a like minded branding opportunity in the Arts District. I live in silver lake, my businesses partners live in the valley and we looked around for awhile, cause we had to find the right place because we knew community is everything. You can’t screw around with pie, there’s such high expectation for “America and apple pie”. Everyone makes pie and thinks they know what’s up, so we had to do it right. We thought it would be best to get into a neighborhood and get to know people and have roots. Pie culture we like to call it. We are lucky enough to have a decent business model with a great team and an awesome chef.

It’s been 8 months in the Arts District, what do you feel the response has been? 

It’s been killer. First of all, when we were doing the metrics I didn’t think people would eat pie every day, but it turns out we we see the same people almost every single day. We haven’t had to start a support group or anything but the neighborhood is great because it’s a perfect blend of hardworking intelligent business people that are fun and laid back. The vibe is just right for a pie shop. People who will have a nice slice of pie for lunch are here, there’s a bit of convention thrown out the window because people are re-thinking things around us and it’s fun. We’re surrounded by good energy and a lot of good people. It’s really weird how great this neighborhood is, there’s just so many good, supportive people.

Our success is directly related to what a great team we have. Everybody shows up every day pretty fired up to be here, both staff and customers. If you have a nice slice of pie and a good cup coffee it should be the highlight of your day. That’s what we are working for, to have The Pie Hole be the best part of your day. It sounds hokey but that’s our motto.

Where do you get your fruits and such from? 

It’s all local, we don’t have hyper rules but generally we want to get things from within the nearby counties. All seasonal, local fruits and meats.  It’s fun too cause sometimes things are in season here that maybe even San Francisco doesn’t. We love building relationships with our farms and suppliers, we feel like it enhances the pie. We don’t try and always focus on organic because isn’t always the highest quality product and that’s what our focus is, highest quality possible.

We say each morning when we start the day and at the end of a long day:  ‘We will be the best part of your day.’ We try and be that everyday, not only to our customers but to each other.

Leave a Comment

Meet our Neighbors: Ted Vadakan & Angie Myung

Why did you guys start Poketo? 

We started Poketo in 2003 and at the time we were basically seeing our artists friends finding it tough to sell original art because it was cost prohibitive and people like us couldn’t afford it. So we decided to have an art show and invite our friends to be apart of the show. Instead of just having art on the wall we created a product with their art on it, which was the wallet. It was something that people could walk away with from the show. Angie was in art school at the time at CCA and we used all their facilities, staying up all night making them. We had the show and it ended up being one of the awesome and magical nights in San Francisco. The wallets totally sold out and we went home that night knowing we had to do another one. That energy kicked off another series, and then another. But, we wanted to explore the idea of “art for you everyday” and we didn’t just want to make wallets. So we got into apparel, housewares, stationery, and all kinds of products that fit into our lives. We’ve been building on this idea of “art for your everyday” for the past 10 years online and now for the first time in the brick and mortar Poketo store.

What made you guys decide to open a store?

Opening a store has always been a dream of ours. Our current location was the first and only spot we ever looked at and it just felt right so we took it. We had been in the Arts District for the last 5 years and absolutely love the neighborhood. Everyone is so supportive and this area is only growing. Every year we’ve been able to establish ourselves more and more in LA and online. We’ve always wanted to do this and this time it just felt perfect so we moved our operation and opened up the front of the space as a store and a gallery.

I guess we are very traditional in that way, that we love the human contact and getting to meet people in person. We love having events and getting the community together and we’ve always wanted a permanent space where we can do whatever we wanted to so this is a great spot for it.

What do you think is unique about having your brand in Los Angeles?

There’s so much energy in LA it feels limitless. It’s so big and yet there’s a really strong sense of a community. People are really stoked about working together and doing things. Especially in the Arts District, there are so many creatives doing so many different things, it’s amazing being part of the growth and energy that is happening here.

How do you feel being open now for the past couple days?

It’s so exciting seeing so many people loving it. They come in and they immediately say “Wow, this space is amazing!” and how much they love everything about the store. They are so excited about it and I’m feeding off their energy.

When can people come by? 

The Poketo Store is at 820 E. 3rd Street, Los Angeles, 90013. We are open 7 days a week Monday-Friday from 12-7pm Saturday and Sunday 11-7pm. So come on down!

Leave a Comment

Meet our Neighbors: Conner Macphee

Since you’re in school right now, tell us a bit about what you are studying?

I am currently working on my masters in architecture at Woodbury University, however my education began in the redwood forests of Santa Cruz, studying sculpture. Knowing that I would eventually move into the field of architecture, I made sculptures that investigated ways of creating space in alternatives ways.

Are you enjoying your summer job at WoodSmithe?

Yes!

I have always been a big fan of the work produced by WoodSmithe and am very happy to be a part of the team. One of the tough things about producing work in academia is that there is a disconnection to many factors of reality. Often work that comes out of architecture schools can be very interesting in theory, however has a tough time standing up in the real world.  So it is refreshing to be designing real things, which will be produced for real people.

What do you think is unique about architecture in Los Angeles?

LA is a very exciting place for architects, designers, artist and anyone who is making. It is the wild west of architecture, with a rich history of do it your self and experimentation. This mentality has created the platform for creative thinkers to design in ways distinct from anywhere else. Since the early development of Los Angeles, there has always been a little bit more room than the already developed east. Along with freedom of the physical space, the west has also had the freedom of the climate. The year round temperate weather allows for us to rethink the boundary of interior and exterior.

How did you end up in the Arts District?

I was first exposed to the area when I was doing some freelance work for some friends. Once I saw their space, I immediately began looking for my own.

Our experiences in life are shaped and defined by the built environment.  The way a space feels and performs influences the way we interact with each other. I look to influence these experiences through my work.

Leave a Comment

meet our neighbors: matt locke

How did you get into art and interior design?

It always came naturally, just what I did. When I was four years old my parents often found me at 3am on the kitchen floor drawing pictures of aliens and far-away worlds. For a while they thought I WAS an alien. At five I announced I was redoing my room around a table design I had – glass top, Baskin-Robbins ice cream bins for legs. As a teenager at home I made my own furniture, and at school painted murals on the walls for extra credit. My dream was to live in a big concrete building in the downtown of a huge city, making art and designing and building things, which I now do.

Though I got a degree in history from Princeton, I went to art school the year before and design school the year after. I always knew I’d be in art and design but I worked a telecom job back in my native Colorado for years to pay the bills. That job allowed me to design and build my own house, but I still wasn’t satisfied doing art and design only on the side. I sold the house and almost everything in it to move to LA in 2005, and that’s the best decision I made.

Why is it unique to be an artist and interior designer in Downtown Los Angeles compared to other cities?

This city has more raw talent per square mile than any other city on earth. In just my little neighborhood alone are architects, fashion designers, woodworkers, metal smiths, photographers, writers, and even the CNC machine that brought my NYC map to life. I can produce my art and have pieces made for my design clients without even getting in my truck. That’s just not possible anywhere else. The other amazing benefit to LA is that people here have money to spend on art and design, and are quite friendly in making connections and helping each other out. I’ve never found Downtown to be the plastic superficial world stereotyped in movies. This is more like a small town of working people who lend each other a hand, like really glamorous Amish who use electricity.

What does you typical day look like?

No matter what I’ve done to fight it, I am a night owl to the core. As long as I don’t have to start my real work day before 10am, I can do ANYTHING. I usually start at the computer with email, invoicing, scheduling, and lately photo editing and collage-making. I have meetings around town mid-day and afternoons, and then I work diligently on projects well into the night, breaking only for the gym. It’s not unusual for me to work until 1am, not noticing the time pass, especially while making maps in Illustrator. For the last seven years, I’ve worked six days a week, taking Sunday to do nothing but eat delicious food, see friends, and go to the movies. The boundary between my work and personal life is incredibly blurry; my clients become my close friends, and I have no problem responding to texts and work emails until midnight. I guess that’s how I know I’m doing what I truly love!

It’s essential that the Arts District remain a place of art and creativity and not simply become just another fashionable neighborhood.

Leave a Comment