This San Francisco Boutique Is Like a Brick-and-Mortar Etsy

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Urban Bazaar is the type of store where boutique lovers could go a little crazy. Tucked into every nook and cranny are all matter of trinkets: tea towels depicting San Francisco landmarks, postcards with tongue-in-cheek messages and shiny, handmade jewelry. Urban Bazaar—like any great independent store—keeps your eyes roaming.

But there's something different about the quaint shop, something that owner Briana Bers prides herself on: all the pieces she carries are created by independent makers. In many ways, Urban Bazaar is more like a community. It welcomes makers, small business supporters and people looking for unique decor items. In its displays you can find all sorts of one-of-a-kind items, and if you talk to Briana you can learn the stories behind them and their makers. We stopped by the San Francisco store to chat a little more with her about the philosophy behind the store, her thoughts on decor and more. 

Photo by Eva Recinos.

You come from an art background, before you opened the shop?

I had my sculpture and ceramic degree BA, and before I opened this shop I had a street artist license. I painted downtown and [near] Fisherman’s Wharf.

Do you feel like that influenced you opening the shop in a way?

That kind of sealed the deal for me. I mean, I’ve always enjoyed making things since I was younger. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I really pursued it. But yeah, I’ve always liked making stuff. I come from a background where upcycling and secondhand and not being wasteful is kind of in our family morals. It’s second nature — knowing where your stuff comes from or making it yourself for doing it yourself. 

Photo courtesy of Briana Bers.

You also host workshops in the store. Did you start those to promote creativity or to teach people how to upcycle in that way?

Both. You know, I figured because we were a store that had so much handmade stuff that a lot of times people would ask, ‘Do you have kits?’ or ‘Do you teach classes?’ We kind of dabbled in it when we first opened. In the last ten years there’s been more of a name for it. It’s interesting – you’ll see a lot of stores now that offer workshops as well. But I feel like that’s changed over the last year or two.

How did you get involved with fair trade items specifically? I think it’s something people don’t think about a lot and don’t research.

When I first opened I had a business partner and we met over in the East Bay. We started talking and she wanted to open a store and I’d been kicking around the idea of it and I wanted to do a handmade store. She had the background in fair trade and she wanted to do more the fair trade side and we talked about both of them and realized that they had very similar structures. I like the whole fair trade way of things where the artist gets the price that is good for them, you know. The price they deserve instead of someone telling them ‘you’re gonna get two cents on the dollar and I’m gonna get 50 cents and this person is gonna get 20 cents’ and all of that. We talked about all of that and I realized we can make it work where we can incorporate both worlds.

Photo by Eva Recinos.

What are some ways that people can find out more about what they buy?

Ask questions about where they get the items. Promoting small businesses is an amazing thing because we are the backbone of everything. It’s easy to go to Target and even Target has jumped on the bandwagon because they have their handmade corners. There are corporate stores where they’ll feature artists and stuff but then they’ll kind of stop or take on their own designs. Or they miraculously come up with something that is very similar but much cheaper because it’s made overseas and people just don’t keep asking those questions.

I think the first step to it is not doing the whole box chain shopping to begin with. Obviously it’s hard not to do it—there are some things you need and every now and then. Especially with the economy being what it is, you need to cut corners. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s made here still, locally. It’s just being aware of what you’re buying, where you’re getting it from and how it’s being sourced. It’s a big first step and if people ask more questions and are more aware of it that’ll definitely help.

Photo by Eva Recinos.

In a way DIY can be involved with that because if you use materials already there or upcycle it’s different. It adds a different dimension to decor when you can say 'I made this’ or ‘I know who made this.’

Yeah, definitely.

There are a lot of things in this store. How did you first start investigating makers or artisans?

Because we both kind of came from a background of doing shows and stuff we had a good network to start on and we just kind of started from there. There’s people we’ve been working with the whole time since we’ve been open which is awesome. I love the fact that I’ve seen so many of them grow. There’s one lady who does jewelry that when we first started with her she did feather earrings – just feathers everywhere, big ones and little ones – then she switched and she started doing stones and sequins and now she does semi-precious stuff and she’s one of our top jewelry-sellers. It’s cool to see her transition over the five years.

It’s also nice that the guy who does the bugs, behind glass, there is still a demand for his stuff because he gets his insects from butterfly farms so they have been sourced ethically. He’s able to take that and make something beautiful of it even though they died from natural causes. And then he started making jewelry. When he would get them and couldn’t open them all the time or sometimes for pinning purposes, instead of throwing them away he’d cut them down and make jewelry out of them. That’s a good example of you know, using everything. Waste not, want not.

It’s great to know the background of the person and follow them. It’s more personal than getting something at the store.

Yeah, for sure. You know the story behind it, it’s a great conversation piece. It’s always much better knowing you’re helping someone that’s creating and making things that are also ethically-sourced.

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