Last month, L.A. artist Tuesday Bassen took on international retailer Zara when she accused them of stealing her designs. Her cease-and-desist letter, which she sent to the company and published on Twitter, created a social media firestorm, prompting Zara to pull several items from its website (while denying any wrong-doing) and inspiring several more artists to come forward with similar claims.
Now, patches, pins, and t-shirts designed by some of the artists who say they were blatantly ripped off by Zara will be stocked at a new kind of store — and this time, with the independent artists’ full permission and compensation. That shop is called Friend Mart and it’s co-owned by Bassen, who started planning the retail space months before she got involved in a legal battle with the fast-fashion behemoth, catapulting her brand to online fame and fostering an army of vocal supporters.
When it opens on Saturday in Chinatown, Friend Mart — named as a nod to the collection of friends whose D.I.Y. products line its wooden shelves — will stock pins and other goods from artists around the country, including locals like Bassen, Penelope Gazin, Bijou Karman, nevermade (a.ka. L.A. designer Francisco Reyes Jr.) and World Famous Original, otherwise known as t-shirt designer Ben Goetting, with whom Bassen co-owns the store.
“We’re stocking L.A. artists but we’re also stocking artists from around the world,” says Bassen. “Specifically artists that have their own brand is what is interesting to me.” Take, for example, Wet Flowers, the Brooklyn-based design brand, and the casting company Hello Happy Plants, which makes cement planters in the likeness of La Croix cans, American Spirit cigarette packs, and Slurpee cups.
Bassen, who moved to L.A. from New York a year and a half ago, says this city “gets a really bad rap for being pretentious,” but a place like Friend Mart could really only exist here. “I don’t think that there’s any of those same institutions [like in New York] keeping anybody from experimenting and trying something new,” she says, “And in L.A. there’s such an emphasis on doing it yourself that it’s so much easier to rally with friends and collaborate with other creatives.”
Bassen had dreamed of opening Friend Mart near her Glassell Park neighborhood until one night last spring when she ate at Pok Pok and became dazzled by Mandarin Plaza. “I finished dinner and I walked out in this plaza and it just felt so different and special and magical and there were all these garden-front stores,” she says, “And I desperately tried to figure out how I could get in there because I knew that’s where I need to be.”
She moved her art studio to Chinatown not long after and eventually signed a lease for the shop, which now sits in a plaza filled with other artists’ studios and galleries. Though Friend Mart is housed in the former Golden Dragon Bakery space on Broadway, Bassen’s quick to point out that it hasn’t displaced any former tenants — the space had long been abandoned, and it’s still owned by the same family that helped to build many of the plazas in Chinatown in the 1980s.
She’s preparing to open Friend Mart, but in the meantime, she’s not letting Zara off the hook. Since sending the company a cease-and-desist letter last month, she’s switched lawyers and is moving forward with the intellectual property infringement case. New York artist Adam J. Kurtz launched a website archiving examples of independent artists’ work and Zara’s copies. You can view them all — and buy from each individual artist — at shoparttheft.com.
Friend Mart hosts an opening party on Saturday, Aug. 13 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 970 N. Broadway #105, Chinatown.