Japantown’s OK Marketplace: sustainability and self-expression

Shoppers peruse through the many vintage options available at each vendor. PHOTO BY DOMINIQUE CADENAS CALVO/SF FOGHORN

Amid the familiar weekend buzz of Japantown, a purple, pink, and black balloon arch welcomed shoppers back to the popular OK Marketplace last Saturday and Sunday morning. 

OK Marketplace is a pop-up hosted during the last weekend of every month, supporting small-business vendors who can use the space to represent and sell vintage pieces, art, and jewelry. 

Coco Chiang, a second-year psychology major, visited the marketplace for the first time last weekend to see the sustainable pieces the pop-up had to offer. She said she prefers to go thrift shopping to buy good quality, eclectic clothing, rather than buying fast fashion. “I want to show to others my personality through the clothes I wear,” she said. Chiang said she is able to get out of her comfort zone by choosing vintage pieces that are not commonly found in today’s fashion. 

Sidney Flores, an associate from the vintage clothing brand Handle With Care, said that vintage clothingpushes outfits to be more creative and reuse, rework, and cherish the things that are already here.” 

Recently, more consumers have been seeking out vintage and sustainable fashion, according to Forbes. Large fast-fashion brands, like Shein and Pretty Little Thing, have been criticized for wasteful manufacturing and poor labor conditions. Second-hand fashion lets people protect the environment while still enjoying fun and stylish clothes. 

Additionally, creator of OK Marketplace Zak Mai, said that sustainability isn’t just about buying used clothes, it’s about resisting the urge to shop online — especially post-pandemic. According to Politico, online shopping sales increased 32% from 2019 to 2020, meaning that 32% more items were being packaged in layers of plastic and cardboard and then flown across the world. 

The pandemic also took a toll on small businesses. According to the World Economic Forum, 48% of San Francisco’s small businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic. “We’re still here and we’re not just accessible through a screen,” Mai said. “If you’re gonna see me, you’re gonna see me in person and I’m gonna give you quality time.”

Julian Ortif, who works with Afterthought Vintage, shared the joy he experiences when he helps buyers showcase their personality through clothes.“I just like to know what I am doing on a daily basis actually is fulfilling,” he said. 

Mai said that OK Marketplace is “by the community, for the community.” In the future, Mai hopes to host the pop-up in a permanent storefront, and starting in June, they will be increasing frequency to twice a month to host more vendors. 

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