Mission District locals swarmed Malone's backyard and nearly bought up her entire inventory. When she held it again the next month, the mart was even more successful and attracted more people so many that her landlord threatened to evict her. So Malone sought sponsors and a new venue. The next Mission Indie Mart will be at 12 Galaxies and will feature a set by DJ Lovedust, extremely cheap Stella Artois, and an even bigger collection of vendors.
The mart's success suggests that this model benefits its founders, who make some income from the event, and attendees, who get cheap goods, as much as it does San Francisco's thriving community of independent designers, vintage-clothing dealers, and the recycling-scavenging movement in general. Malone and Hurbert are proving again that with a little effort and creativity, free shit can be turned into gold.
That's also what Jason Lewis and Monica Hernandez, the founders of SwapSF, are doing at CELLspace but for them the party and the product are more important than the money.
The couple started SwapSF a few years ago as a way to poach their friends' unwanted apparel. "I had this friend who owned like a million pairs of limited-edition sneakers that he never wore," Lewis said. "The swap idea started as a way for me to get my hands on some of them." So Hernandez and Lewis, who have been throwing events since they met at a party five years ago, did what came naturally: they drew up a flyer, bought a bunch of cheap beer and pizza, and invited their friends to get down.
The idea has taken off, as I witnessed Sept. 22 when I threw a few shirts, a pair of pants, and some old hats in a bag and pedaled down to Bryant and 18th Street to volunteer at their recent event, the Most Hyperbolically Stupendous Clothing Swap Ever. It was to be a win-win situation: a little time in exchange for first dibs at free clothes. I arrived at CELLspace at 11 a.m. to find a DJ spinning downtempo hip-hop, a handful of kids sorting through bags, and Hernandez, who greeted me with a smile, a name badge, and a beer. I'd envisioned spending a leisurely afternoon sipping beer provided by Trumer Pilsner (the event sponsor) with about a hundred other scavengers, and the day seemed to be turning out that way.
But neither I nor the organizers were quite prepared for the four-hour clusterfuck that awaited us. Soon the volunteers were drowning in a mile-high volcano of pants, shirts, scarves, and underwear. By noon, the event's official start time, a line wound around 19th Street. At 12:30 p.m. the place was packed. It was as if every hipster in the Mission had gotten wind of an opportunity for free music, beer, and dancing and had gathered up their unwanted clothes to join the party a party that happened to result in free clothing for charity organizations like A Woman's Place, the AIDS Emergency Fund, and San Francisco General Hospital.
FREE YOUR MIND
Since starting in Lewis and Hernandez's apartment and then relocating, the SwapSF event has become so popular that it's getting hard to handle. Even the duo have been surprised by its sudden and exponential growth. It seems that by using sarcastic graphic design on their flyers, guerrilla promotion techniques (word of mouth, stickers, blogs, etc.), and a refrigerator full of beer, Hernandez and Lewis have tapped into a new way to market charity events to a community of self-obsessed hipsters. Like Malone, the SwapSF duo see something wrong with the way our culture consumes and wastes, but they're reluctant to jump on a soapbox or even stand close to one.
Which may be why their parties have been garnering more attention and support than have the more traditional free markets that have been held across the nation for years. Malone and her contemporaries are creating awareness with no pretenses, no preaching, and no Hacky Sackplaying hippies.