This weekend’s Inspiration LA was a whole new different kind of green event for The Green Tease and Green Geek. This green path incorporates vintage, recycled, upcycled or retro replication turned sustainable product. In fact, sustainable was key at Inspiration LA. From the time we hit the Long Beach Sea Walk heading towards Inspiration LA, the sustainable mindset was in evidence. People dressed to the vintage nines were everywhere and all headed for the Spruce Goose Dome and Inspiration LA. However, the delight in seeing the sustainable retro vintage world that Inspiration LA’s founder and host created live for two short days at the Spruce Goose dome is beyond words. It was like stepping back into the coolest periods of 20th century American history. The people attending and exhibiting were as cool and fun as they were colorful. Plainly speaking, it was a cool vibe from start to finish, no pun intended. Sunny California has pretended lately it has a winter, which happened to coincide with Inspiration LA, fortunately no one noticed much or cared.
Circling the entrance, were cherry hot rods from the 60’s and 70’s. The owners are not only enthusiasts that lovingly restored these cars, nearly every antique drag car owner had developed drag car racing wear and accessories that were not only more efficient but also more sustainable than the original gear that drivers wore to race these cars.
At the door, host Rin Tanaka welcomed attendees. Calling it a “kulture” recycling and vintage fashion based on the big theme of his life, vintage fashion, Tanaka has created Inspiration LA as the combination of his passions. Tanaka’s “kulture” passions encompass a world most people do not know exists, (unless they attend Inspiration LA.) The exhibitor’s list offers insight. Inspiration LA’s exhibitor categories included vintage fashion, fashion brands, antiques and furniture, motorcycles, artists and surfers. It's a fun, sophisticated, cool take on the pop culture and design of the 1930s to the 1980s.With Inspiration LA, Tanaka provides access to retro finds from all over the world.
Several food trucks catered the event with the pink Fry Girl truck (best known as donut maker to the stars,) running entirely on it’s own recycled canola oil.
Surrounded by antiques, fashions and motorcycles circa1910 – 1990, walking into the Spruce Goose dome was like entering an alternate universe called Inspiration LA.
The first things seen were vintage racing bikes from Sunrise Motorcycles accompanied by cool vibes thanks to Wild Records and Tanaka supplying their own vintage jazz tunes. Everywhere one looked, attendees and exhibitors were dressed in retro 30’s, 40’s and 50’s at what was, interestingly enough, a heavily male dominated event. This was a revelation, as vintage fashion has always been deemed a female market. Not so at Inspiration LA or worldwide apparently.
According to chiefmarketer.com, the sustainable retro market, “is a generational response against the uniformity and slickness of today’s mass marketing. To some extent it also suggests a backlash to a culture of disposability and fakery.”
That Chief Marketing company excerpt also describes the overall feel of Inspiration LA . From the music and cool retro displays to the exhibitors themselves who mingled with attendees, this was one cool crowd. Attendees were welcomed as warmly at the door by Tanaka as if they were old friends. And after Inspiration LA, they just might be…
Nearly 100 vintage fashion brands attended, including but not limited to “Queen of Vintage” Kathleen Schaaf of Meow Vintage in Long Beach’s vintage row, Vintage Apparel, Snappy Gabs, Goodbye Heart, Levi’s Vintage Clothing out of Amsterdam, the original makers of the canvas shoes PF Flyers and Japan's Wicked. Motorcycle brands included Superior Motorcycles, Powerplant Motorcycles, Cycle Zombies and Spain's El Solitario Motorcycles to name just a few with gear makers including Belgiums' Eat Dust, Bates Custom Leather and Costa Rica's Pacto Handmade vintage helmets. Antique and retro furniture brands included La Jazz Records, Elvis 50’s Corporation, inretrospect and Shamara. Artisits included Hair California, Japan's Lynch Silversmith and Wild Records. Surf industry businesses included Amsterdam Wetsuits, Fear Mor, Kaui's Nakisurf, Cptain Fin Co., United 50 and Kyle Mac Films.
Everywhere one looked people were working on motorcycles and surfboards, giving shaves and haircuts, soldering metals, trying on clothes and gazing at vintage racing bikes. Tanaka's retro turntable played jazz when live musicians were on break. It was Americana heaven.
The historical knowledge and love of products and materials is very evident among these exhibitors who are determined to combine old and new technologies to even better advantage. Germany’s Pike Brothers makes heavy duty denim jeans and garments for drag car and motorcycle racing. Pike Brothers director Fabian Jedlitschka showed how their best selling denim jeans for racing are such heavy weave denim that they can stand on their own. Jedlitschka then presented a poster of himself racing a motorcycle wearing the same jeans.
These people don't just sell their products as a day job. They use their products and incorporate their designs into daily life, living the retro life they promote. This “living the retro life” philosophy was prevalent throughout Inspiration LA. From the exhibit where surfer’s hand carved their boards to the riding leathers of Himel Brothers, these people are committed to producing products and designs that are of the highest quality and style, and live their lives the same way. I discovered that many of the vendors had just been at the Bread and Butter vintage retro show in Berlin as well as to the pre-pre Inspiration LA launch party in Amsterdam. Most exhibitors planned to show their goods at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Swap Meet the very next day.
We spoke with Rin Tanaka just before leaving the convention. Tanaka was at the Inspiration LA table autographing one of the 15 books on the vintage fashion and motorcycle culture that he’s written, part of the My Freedamn series. As we spoke, attendees constantly approached Tanaka either to speak with him about vintage history, an item they own or to have him sign their books.
When asked what made him decide to take the leap from writing books on the history and visuals of vintage motorcycles to vintage fashion to actually producing a full fledged convention, Tanaka's answer was simple and direct. “I’ve been friends with most of these business people and designers for many years now due to our working on “My Freedamn” books together,” Tanaka said. “I wanted to get them all in one spot so everyone could experience them the same way I do.”
Tanaka has been living the vintage culture life since he moved to the Mississippi delta in his early 20’s to study music with the greatest blues musicians in the world. While learning the blues, Tanaka also followed up on his business leanings and studied to become a graphics designer and publisher. Hence, the ability to put his thoughts into book form. Inspiration LA came as a natural progression of Tanaka’s world travels to find the rarest, most vintage Americana items for his books.
When asked why he chose Long Beach as the 4th Inspiration LA venue, Tanaka’s answer didn’t make the obvious reference to Long Beach’s well-known retro vintage row on 4th street or the fact that Long Beach is world famous as a racing arena both of which added to the appeal of his event. Tanaka’s direct answer showed what draws people to Inspiration LA, “I was raised in a port city in Japan,” Tanaka said with a smile. “Long Beach reminds me of home."
That is Tanaka’s formula for success, to follow his passion, and he’s organized his event in very much the same way. Bring Inspiration LA to California and the people will come and the fact is, they have. Moving Inspiration Los Angeles from the Queen Mary hotel after three years to the Spruce Goose Dome was a matter of logistics, they outgrew their previous venue. If the vintage retro/fashion market continues to grow, it won’t be long before Inspiration LA outgrows the Spruce Goose Dome too. At least that’s what us vintage fashionistas hope for.