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Founded in 2014 by photographer Heather Culp and artist Carly Morgan, Mercado Sagrado has quickly become a sanctuary for (financially stable) bohemians who would much rather invest in organic fare, crystal energy, spiritual healing, aura readings, and sustainable fashion than give in to today's fast food and big box retail culture.
"We were inspired by artists we knew—makers, chefs, healers—and by Topanga Canyon, where we both live," explains Culp. "We wanted to create an event that would foster community there and also give those outside a reason to visit. We didn't really feel like there was anything like what we were envisioning although there were many other fairs and festivals that have things in common with ours. We also felt that it was the right time to present certain elements that had been on the fringe to a more mainstream audience."
Mercado Sagrado 2015. Photo: Kacie Tomita
It was the right time, indeed. Following last October's debut with an impressive 1,000 tickets sold, Culp and Morgan more than doubled their success with the second Mercado Sagrado this past May: nearly 3,000 tickets sold for the two-day event, which featured local mystic mainstays including Reiki treatments by Venice's Lighthouse Within, ethereal jewelry by LA's Unearthen, and "wilderness perfume" by Berkeley's Juniper Ridge. Tickets cost $20 pre-sale and $25 at the door (which isn't exactly chump change for the everyday fairgoer), and the crowd ranged from newbies to families to hippie heroes like Liliquoi Moon (aka Lisa Bonet) to unexpected supporters like actress Marisa Tomei.
So, what happens when the magic's over, vendors pack up their enchanting installations, and you begrudgingly board that shuttle back to reality? The mystic hippie lives on, and thanks to the power of social media (how else would we see sacred meet-ups like Mendocino's Spirit Weavers Gathering?) and enlightened celebrities, this movement is rising at rapid speed.
"We are just a small component of a movement toward conscious commerce."
"What I perceive happening is more than just spirituality becoming trendy," Culp explains."It's a slow sea change in our culture that's been coming for some time and is now in more of a quickening. We are just a small component of a movement toward conscious commerce and the revitalization and respect for local resources and makers. In addition, it's a time when many things secret are being revealed and questioned and people are realizing that the road we've been on is unhealthy—even harmful—and we can do many things to shift this. And of course, pop culture definitely plays a part: Gwyneth Paltrow having her aura photographed by Radiant Human, Russell Simmons releasing a book about Transcendental Meditation, and Kylie Jenner tweeting about chemtrails."
History plays a part, too. California's mystic hippie culture reached its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when controversial spiritual leader Father Yod and his mystical Aquarian tribe known as The Source Family ruled Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Known for both their unique fashion sense and unconventional practices (Yod had 13 wives), the cult wore stylish, Reformation-like goddess gowns and vibrant, Mara Hoffman-like rainbow robes while simultaneously preaching its sex- and drug-fueled "Eternal Now" religion and running a popular health food restaurant called The Source. (A documentary was released in May 2013 with a series of themed events across LA, leaving both its culinary and sartorial spirit behind long after the film's tour ended.)
The Source Family in Los Angeles, 1973. Photo: Cinefamily
Although there are certainly fashion similarities between the movement's past and present (Yod's girls would have loved LA artist Elena Stonaker's wearable art), today's mysticism isn't driven by drugs, sex, or even religion—it's about connecting with nature on a spiritual level to reach mental and physical peace. "We have entered the Aquarian Age, which is a time for great changes in our world," explains Shiva Rose, the actress and beauty guru behind holistic lifestyle blog The Local Rose. "This age is all about information, humanity, and breaking down old systems that don't work. This is why suddenly people are drawn towards mysticism and wanting to connect to something greater than themselves."
"The old paradigm of shopping in malls or buying impersonal, mass-made factory items is getting tired."
This mainstream awareness has led to a huge boom in the mystic product market, allowing makers and retailers of wild potions, oils, crystals, and like-minded jewelry to see a steady increase in sales. Since these items are produced in small quantities to ensure quality, they often come with a heavier price tag, which doesn't seem to bother shoppers since the cool, Instagram-worthy packaging is worth the purchase in itself. At LA's Moon Juice, founder Amanda Chantal Bacon's unique concoctions like Sex Dust (an aphrodisiac warming potion, $60) and Brain Dust (an adaptogenic potion that increases mental flow, $50) fly off the shelves. And Rose reveals that her Rose Face Oil ($85) does very well, as does her new Glow Face Balm ($60) and Radiant Rose Water ($75).
"My items are doing well because women are realizing that true beauty comes from true botanicals," Rose notes. "I feel people want to spend their money on items that are made with care and love, and the old paradigm of shopping in malls or buying impersonal, mass-made factory items is getting tired," Rose explains. "Of course, some people will see this as a way to capitalize on the concept and make money, however the things that will attract people are only made with pure intentions. It's all energetic and we can feel it so deeply. "
After working at popular Downtown Los Angeles boutique The Well for a number of years, Shanacie McKee left fashion retail to launch Awakn, a metaphysical e-shop known for its crystal healing grids ($55-$65). "During my time at the store, the connections I made with customers and the conscious conversations I would have with them inspired me to learn more about my own spirituality. I got really into crystal energy and their healing benefits, so I wanted to create a platform for people that makes it easy to learn and use crystals. People deserve product knowledge when buying crystals and any product. It should never be about money; it's about spreading consciousness."
It shouldn't be about money, but the reality is that the mystic market thrives off of what LA jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche affectionately calls "rich hippies," a class that has the means to elevate their spirituality using the highest quality of services and tools. "My jewelry has always lived in this mystic hippie world because of my belief that each stone and mineral has its own nature and brings those properties to the wearer," the Rihanna favorite tells us. "This open-mindedness brings a lot of individuality and freedom into fashion. Suddenly, shopping can become a free-thinking, mystical experience as you search for the pieces that speak to you and then bring them together in your own way. It's actually quite exciting." Aiche's bestselling Blesslev amulets are filled with prayers that are special to the person wearing it. Prices range from $100 all the way up to $5,000.
Another LA talent who isn't shy about discussing her "rich hippie" clientele is owner Robin Banchik of legendary Melrose store Crystalarium. As a seasoned gemologist, Banchik has attracted serious rock collectors for decades, assisting those who can afford throwing down real money for rarity. Her past clients include Jean Paul Gaultier, the late Elizabeth Taylor, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Robin Thicke, who famously visited Crystalarium last year to purchase a $20,000 Amethyst stone. Although Banchik's store has always done well, she has noticed a younger demographic coming in—like Jadan Smith and Kylie Jenner—who specifically seek items that contain metaphysical healing properties. Youth customers often come in and ask, "What does this do?"
Since mystic hippies are not only getting richer but younger, retail giants like Urban Outfitters are now merchandising their stores with the Zoe Kravitz's of the world in mind, offering everything from raw stones similar to what you'd find at Crystalarium to macramé hanging art similar to what you'd find at Mercado Sagrado. Are the authentic mystic makers worried about over-saturation? In true hippie form, they have nothing but love and acceptance for the growing awareness: "Consciousness is something you want to be mainstream," Culp explains. McKee adds, "I think if bigger retailers can keep the connection with spirituality and really remain true to its purpose, then I am all for it."
But how will indie businesses like Mercado Sagrado organically grow to meet demand without selling out? "As we scale up, we will not necessarily have more vendors involved," Morgan shares. "We aren't looking to pack in mediocre work, but rather feature who we think are the best at what they do. There will be more to experience as it grows, such as educational workshops and sensory experiences."
"Spirituality, community, meditation, ceremonies—these are all about healing us and our planet," Rose adds. "I know my community of beautiful-minded people and myself will continue to live in a way that fulfills us. This isn't a trend but rather a way of life that brings great joy and peace. Healing ourselves and our planet is the new shift and it's here to stay."