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Sonja Rasula on How Traffic Inspired Her to Start Unique LA

Sonja Rasula with Richard Simmons. Photo via Unique LA
Sonja Rasula with Richard Simmons. Photo via Unique LA

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Wonderwoman Sonja Rasula is the ultimate champion of all things local. In addition to being the driving force behind the highly successful indie market Unique LA, the former TV interior designer also organizes a bevy of events and workshops aimed at helping independent designers, artists and small businesses grow. (She's also been known to throw a great party.)

With Unique LA just around the corner (it's happening this weekend at SaMo's Barker Hanger) Rasula—who counts Jill Aiko Yee, Kyyote and Counterpane as her fave up-and-coming designers—took a breather from prepping for the big event for a quick chat. She revealed her top picks, her go-to spots in LA and what's to come from her DIY empire. (Hint: it involves a brick-and-mortar Unique space!)

How'd Unique LA get its start?
"I was sitting in my car stuck in traffic, driving from boutique to boutique, and realized there was an opportunity. There was no large-scale market in Los Angeles that showed off made-in-America design and handmade goods, a market that would offer everything so shoppers wouldn't have to drive around the city to buy gifts. I took my 401k savings and started the show, all by myself with no previous experience in event planning."

You do so much more than just organizing Unique LA. What's the motivation behind it all?
"CAMP, doing speaking engagements and teaching workshops, and opening THE UNIQUE SPACE in September all have the same goals. Everything I do is to help artists, designers, small business owners get to the next level and to succeed, meaning that they are able to make a living doing what they love. Hopefully the various projects and things I do inspire people, teach them, help them grow, or at the very least make them smile!"

What are your plans for the future?
"I'd like to keep forwarding my mission of helping artists and designers grow, whether that be by showing their brands to thousands of shoppers at Unique LA or by taking workshops at The Unique Space (the 18,000-square-foot co-work, office and event space I am opening in September, located at 1275 East 6th Street in the DTLA's Arts District) that gives them the continuing education they need to run successful small businesses. If I can find investors, I would like to create a traditional trade show, specializing in products made in America, for buyers who are passionate and interested in joining this growing movement and supporting local American manufacturing. And I'm also looking at ways to expand the show across the country, most likely through franchising, so that every state could offer a Unique market where people can shop local."

What have been some Unique designer success stories?
"We've had so many success stories over the years, it's truly amazing—and is what makes our work do full-filling! Many jewelry designers get their start at Unique LA shows, for instance the great line KYYOTE debuted with us and within about six months the designer was so busy she could barely keep up with orders for stores and had to hire people. Another vendor was discovered by the film director JJ Abrams at our show and now works for his company! Over the years we've watched the clothing brand Sub_Urban Riot grow each year and they recently opened a retail location in downtown LA which is really cool."

Are there any designers who you look forward to seeing this weekend?
"I'm really excited about Le Renard who makes the most beautiful bags, that I feel represent the 'California' aesthetic really well. I also can't wait to shop from Soiyl for a new pair of made-in-Venice sandals for the summer. Belly Sesame makes the most adorable, fresh, modern baby clothing. I'm also really excited to shop the beautiful line Nicola Vruwink Goods, which mixes ceramic art and jewelry."

Any dream designers or vendors you'd like to include in Unique LA one day?
"I'd love to get a bunch of my favorite lifestyle/mens brands that are made in America such as Tanner Goods, Bridge & Burn, MAKR."

When you're not crazy-busy doing super awesome things, how do you unwind?
"I love to travel, so escaping to the desert or mountains is usually how I unwind. I also am a firm believer in getting massages, mani/pedis and drinking wine."

What are some of your favorite local shops and restaurants?
"My favorite shops are Broome St. General Store, A+R, Heath Ceramics, Poketo, Plastica and OK. My go-to places to eat are Speranza and Cafe Stella which are both in Silverlake and have really great, hidden patios, Terroni in mid-town, and Cortez which is in Echo Park. Oh and Handsome Coffee for my caffeine fixes and Pizzanista for my pizza cravings."
· Unique LA [Official Site]
· Get Your Tickets Now to Unique LA's Fake Prom [Racked]
· Poketo Launches Cali-Inspired Goods for Summer [Racked]
· EJH Brand, Schwood: 13 Fresh Vendors to Catch at Unique LA [Racked]

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