Strolling through Hayes Valley toward Octavia Boulevard this past Sunday, I savored the soft heat of the sun on my skin and the cooling of the ocean breeze. I had sunglasses on, sleeves rolled up, the air was languid, the natural world penetrating the concrete with sublime affection. It was the kind of day discovery was best left outside of the heavy door and glass window, to stand in the grass and be treated to a stunning array of art and commerce. How fitting, then, that Urban Air Market chooses a park as its theater, especially when you consider the consider the cornerstone behind event director Danielle Cohen’s vision. Along with creatively unique design and marketability, of the three criteria needed to qualify for entry into Urban Air Market the one Danielle points to as most critical is its sustainability. To be sure, emphasizing sustainability has become something of a religion in San Francisco. In order to be considered sustainable, a good must possess the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. Surveying the many vendors and their work with a backdrop of a bold, blue sky and lilting trees, the harmony between commerce and nature was apparent.
Urban Air Market is an 8-year-old outdoor fashion festival held twice a year in Hayes Valley. Originally called Capsule, the event was renamed Urban Air Market when Danielle took over at the end of 2010. While the festival has remained largely the same on the surface, her decision to go greener is a fresh and vital change. “We’re trying to change the focus…toward people that are working in the direction of doing something environmentally sound with their business,” Danielle says. “People apply, and then there’s a curation process. They have to submit their website, some images of their work and a sustainability statement. It could be as simple as they do all their deliveries on a bicycle, or that they only use organic dyes and fabrics. If it comes down to two equally awesome designers, but one of them is working toward sustainability and and one isn’t, then that’s the one that’s going to get in. And that’s new.” Also new this year, Danielle commissioned artists from southern California to do a 20-foot live mural and brought in a photo booth sponsored by online marketplace Storenvy. Most fascinating to me was something called TopShelf, a mobile boutique housed in San Francisco’s first-ever fashion truck that parks at various locations in San Francisco on selected dates. “They’re like a food truck but its a fashion boutique on wheels and they just drive around,” Danielle told me. Nice.
With 130 vendors this year, including neo-couture upcycler Miss Velvet Cream, Polka Queen Hats, awesome belt buckles by Booty Boutique and Vein Jewelry, it was easy to feel like a kid in a candy shop. I only needed an ice cream cone to complete the picture. I was, however, able to concentrate long enough to have a few favorites. Like Tooth N Nail by local designer Adrienne Moore, who uses hand antiqued metals, vintage 60′s pendants and hand carved bone to create tribal jewelry that feels like its leaping off the pages of of a children’s storybook. Or Thorn + Wood by Kelsey Nichols. She makes beautifully simple custom woodworks by hand with salvaged woods and recycled nails. I was also drawn to the Sheila B Jewelry stand, by Sheila Brogle. Her pieces were ornate and had a mysterious, modern, high fashion edge about them that was quite sexy. But the greatest thing about this type of an event is that the designers themselves work their own stands so you can meet with them and talk about their work. That sort of intimacy and storytelling while shopping is huge to us at StoreSnaps. As the afternoon hours weaned, it was difficult to walk away from the sun and the wind and the green. The clock was approaching five and I was expected at my night job, enclosed by man-made materials and dimly lit. But the afternoon had left me with a shimmer, wanting to make things of my own, and longing for the next Urban Air Market in the fall.
Visit Urban Air Market online for more information including instructions if you’d like to apply for your own booth, and be sure to download StoreSnaps onto your iPhone so you can keep up to date with info and products.