When it comes to being rad, L.A.’s Ooga Booga has got it down to a science. This cute little Chinatown boutique is stocked with a wide variety of zines, 7″s, art books, clothing and random doodads, many of which are produced as limited edition side-projects by a veritable laundry list of contemporary artists, designers and musicians. [Such as Calvin Johnson of K Records, photographer Ryan McGinley, Paper Rad, Opening Ceremony, etc.]
Basically, this store has a lot of great stuff that you just can’t seem to find anywhere else. The Storque recently spoke with Wendy Yao, Ooga Booga’s owner, curator and propagator of the d.i.y. uprising in L.A.
How would you describe Ooga Booga?
It’s a small, casual shop above a bakery in Chinatown in Los Angeles, selling mixed goods—art books & zines, editions, music, clothing, and more…
What makes Ooga Booga different from other boutiques? What was the thought process behind opening it?
I think independent boutiques are generally all different, since it’s all about the random idiosyncrasies that each individual brings to it. To me, it is quite a personal business, so I really just do whatever feels natural at the moment. As far as wanting to open it, I was influenced by books like Shakespeare and Company by Silvia Beach, as well as by the number of small stores that had a positive effect on me in my life. There were a bunch of great stores in L.A. that I would go to after school where I’d spend my lunch money on 7″s or books and talk to the shop clerks. I would meet other weirdos, get great recommendations, hear funny stories, and see in-store performances or film screenings at night. Pretty much all of those places are gone, but new ones have sprung up. At the time, I thought there were some great shops in town, but no place that reflected my particular point of view — so why not give it a try.
Do you have a day job (if so, what is it?), or are you able to do Ooga Booga full-time?
I worked a second job up until January of this year, when I decided to focus on the shop more…Luckily I’ve been able to scrape by so far this year, aside from a few freelance jobs here and there to supplement. This is a pretty low-budget operation, and that’s probably why it’s survived for three years.
It could be said that you have a veritable “who’s who” of contemporary artists, designers and musicians [Ian Svenonius, Calvin Johnson, Opening Ceremony, Keep, etc.] showcasing their side projects and personal works in your store. How do you decide what to sell?
It’s all stuff that I am excited about, and rather than approaching it in terms of “who’s who” I try to represent a diversity of things that I’m interested in at the moment, often working with people who I already have a relationship with [simply] because it’s easier to do consignment that way.
Do you approach others about putting their works in the shop, or do they come to you? [It seems like kind of an honor to be included in Ooga Booga!]
Whoa! Thanks. Well, the shop is really tiny, so space is very limited. It’s mostly up to me to seek out what I’m looking for. Sometimes there are things that I like but have to pass on, and even whole categories of things that I just don’t include because I have to keep things somewhat focused in such a small place. I try to squeeze in as much as I can.
What are some of your favorite items currently in the store?
Susan Cianciolo’s one-of-a-kind handmade flower pins; Jeremy Deller’s “folk archive” — a contemporary catalogue of vernacular culture; Keep shoes with all their cool colorways; Sister Corita’s inspiring “Come Alive!” book; Rietveld’s furniture book with detailed plans on how to create your own versions of his designs; Andrew Kuo’s meticulously patterned hand-silkscreened posters and books, and Sara Clendening’s simple but brilliant necklaces!
At this point, d.i.y. culture seems to be everywhere. What’s your take on the independent zine, music and clothing community in L.A.?
Yeah, it’s awesome. I agree — there are great things going on everywhere, and L.A. is a good example of that. There are so many rad bands and artists right now, and the new generation here really seems to not feel limited in terms of what they can do or approach. With underground music, a lot of that has to do with places like all-ages punk club The Smell, which has been around for about a decade now and has been so consistent and inclusive and is a real support pillar for all aspects of the independent scene. These days it seems there are new d.i.y. spaces sprouting up in L.A. all the time…it’s rhizomatic!
I read that you were previously involved in numerous bands. Can you describe your previous music experience?
In the beginning of high school, I started a band [Emily’s Sassy Lime] with my sister Amy and our best friend at the time, Emily. It was fun and funny being in a teenage band, sneaking out of the house to play shows and practicing songs over the phone. We made some great friendships along the way, got to travel across the country, and put out some records. Many of the people from those years are the same people I continue to work with now at the shop (i.e. Ian Svenonius, Calvin Johnson, Tobi Vail, etc.) and the experience definitely informed the way I do my business, with the desire to support independent culture, participate in creative communities, thinking about the political implications of everyday life, and figuring out how to be resourceful on a shoestring budget. I’ve been in other bands since, but now I just do it for fun when there’s time—and lately there hasn’t been any time because I’m so busy running the store!
Do you make anything yourself?
I’m not so into selling my own things in the shop. It sounds silly, but it’s so much easier for me to talk to customers about someone else’s thing rather than my own. There are a few things slipped in here and there but usually just as a contributor or collaborator.
If you weren’t doing the store, what do you think you’d be doing?
Probably going back to school…
Do you have any other projects in the works?
We are publishing some zines in-house this fall, and doing a mini-exhibition with Nieves in the shop, and some other collaborations to be announced.
Any other rad stores or sites you’d like to recommend?
And to end, I always like to ask the same question: what’s your most favorite thing?