One thing about living in California is that sometimes a simple day trip out of the city can become incredibly inspiring. Besides the beautiful beach side explorations, there are seemingly countless pockets of charming little towns with wonderful communities to discover slightly more inland.
Just northwest of Los Angeles and east of Santa Barbara is one such town called Ojai. One thing that makes this town so special is that it enforces a city law prohibiting chain stores (other than some gas stations) which helps encourage and support small business development within the community. A favorite such business is a gorgeously curated shop called Modern Folk Living. Upon first entering the shop, there’s an immediate sense of calmness and optimism, perhaps because its former inhabitants were part of a Buddhist group (Modern Folk’s building was once used as a meditation room). The space is wonderfully bright with white walls, polished concrete floors and a bank of glass doors that open out onto its serene surroundings. We were lucky enough to meet with owner/curator Wanda Weller Sakai and ask her a few questions on how she wound up in Ojai and established Modern Folk Living (…an eco boutique: curated goods for living, wearing & giving.)
Tell me how the name “Modern Folk Living” came about?
It came from the idea of going back to the crafted quality of things but having a modern sensibility and something that felt current and contemporary. It’s really about capturing that yearning for handcrafted or knowing the stories behind the makers or product. One of the biggest things that i learned when i was working at Patagonia is to ask questions and know the stories behind the makers of the actual product if you can.
How long were you Director of Design at Patagonia?
8 years. It was pretty great.
What inspired you to make the move to open your own shop?
It was not an obvious thing. I left Patagonia out of a desire to spend more time with my son as I was also the Director at Adidas and had another job in between. It always felt like I was going, going, going. We moved to Ojai for the idea of being a little bit more slowed down. My son was still at an age where I felt like he wanted me around therefore i left Patagonia and actually took two years off. I was taking a Yoga teacher certification class at the space next door to here and during one class I asked her what was going on with this building as it was vacant. The Yoga teacher told me she was the person to talk to about it and before I knew it I was signing a lease and I was like ‘I’m opening a store!’ It was never on my radar. But when I was at Patagonia, one thing that I loved doing was collecting these stories and finding things that were trending and putting them all together into a story. That would be the “seasonal theme”. I kind of used that same idea in putting this collection together so it feels curated.
Patagonia is known for its quality in its clothes and collections as well as their commitment to the environment. Do you feel that it influenced the Eco aspect of your own store?
Yeah, I think that is my underlying directive when I’m looking for stuff for the store. It may not be literally checking off every mark of sustainability but it could be made locally or domestically or made from a family company in Japan. It’s more about the quality and timelessness of something. The longevity of things is important to me. In some regards stuff may be a little more expensive and in other ways not, but to me it’s more about the quality and hopefully you keep it and it’s not disposable. Heath Ceramics have such a wonderful heritage story, or another piece from a Danish company that’s family owned. It’s just neat to find these little nuggets. Like Juniper Ridge, everything is wild crafted in nature so that’s pretty amazing. They were actually just in Ojai so i’m hoping they do a local blend that’s limited edition.
What do you like about being in Ojai?
I just love the immediacy of nature. I walk my dog Bosco, (the shop mascot), before I come in and I’m constantly thankful that I get to live in a place like this and that I get to have a creative outlet in a beautiful community. And it really is a community, you don’t feel lost as there are connections to people and stores and product. I don’t think I could have done this in Los Angeles. Not to start out. Starting here 2 ½ years ago was so much more relaxed.
I’ve just read that you host Kinfolk Events, can you tell us a bit about that?
What’s so interesting about that is I just reached out to them because I wanted to do an event here at the store…i thought that there was such a kindered spirit in what we do. They mentioned that they were about to start something where they invite hosts to run Kinfolk events within their own communities. The idea was to bring to life what they feature in their magazines but make it tangible and local. So in May we’re hosting the Kinfolk dinner, it sold out in 10 hours which was pretty crazy. What I love about them is that the people there are so tuned into those little gestures of connectedness and humanness. Whenever I would do something, the woman who is my contact there would always write me a hand written “Thank You” note…these lovely gestures. Having that kind of outlet in addition to this feels very aligned and synchronistic.
Tell me what you look for when buying for your shop.
I think I just look for something I really love and hope that the story behind it inspires me. People that I want to meet and talk to about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and why they’re doing it. The stories are important.
Your store seems full of creativity but it’s not overwhelming, there is a certain simplicity along with it that works really well. What that intentional?
That was very purposeful for me because I start twitching if I go into a department store. I get so sensory overloaded. There is a purposeful flow around the center table here. My husband made the table with the intention of having classes and gatherings in here. So if I have something, I’ll just clear off the table and use it. We used to have something called “Creative Cultivators,” it was just a group of local artists and we’d meet once a month. They’d all work independently in their own space so it was an opportunity for us to come together as a community. I’m just starting back up with workshops and trunk shows and that sort of thing.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hmmm, well there is a store in Portland, Oregon called Beam & Anchor and what I love about it is that upstairs are the makers and downstairs is the commerce. It celebrates what they do upstairs but they also bring in other items to curate along with what they’re doing, since they don’t cover everything. What I loved about my career in the fashion industry was that I was always around a group of creative people. I’m usually here alone, so if I have a vision for the future it would be to have this plus a joint space with a lot of creative people making things and supporting each other. Like this table but on a bigger scale.
Modern Folk Living
306b E. Matilija St.
Ojai, CA 93023
Photos by: Devin Sarno