Like many good ideas, Unique USA started as a way to solve a problem. Sonja Rasula was sitting in traffic in Los Angeles, frustrated with having to drive across the city to her favorite shops to buy gifts for a friend.
There should be one big place to buy beautiful, curated things from many local designers, she thought. So began the idea for Unique LA, a pop-up market of locally made goods. Now held three times a year, it’s become the largest “buy local” shopping event in the country, attracting more than 20,000 shoppers and 350 selected designers and artists at each event.
The business has grown into Unique USA, with events in San Francisco and New York City, and Rasula has become a prominent figure in a creative, growing “made in America” movement.
“I want to bring modern, independent design to the masses,” Rasula writes on her site. “My goals are to help designers and small businesses grow and become sustainable, to support the local economy and to teach shoppers the value of conscious consumerism.”
It’s taken a lot of hard work over the years. A former interior design TV personality, Rasula had no event planning experience when she used her 401(k) savings to start her business. She worked in her living room, spent months making cold calls and had her mom selling tickets at the door of her first market in 2008.
The fun, high-energy events have been so successful that she launched “CAMP,” an annual business conference to inspire creative entrepreneurs and encourage innovation. Held in a YMCA-owned camp in the woods, the conference includes workshops and art classes, along with s’mores, yoga, whiskey tasting, night hikes and archery.
“My idea of learning and getting inspired does not include name tags and listening to an amazing keynote speaker in a lackluster ballroom in the basement of a hotel,” Rasula says.
Last year, she continued her business expansion with The Unique Space, a collaborative office building and co-working space in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District. Housed in a renovated factory building, the space’s tenants include lawyers and fashion bloggers attracted to collaboration and creative entrepreneurship – and to the building’s loaner bikes, happy hours, community events and parties with themes like “fake prom.”
“Most people would stick to owning one business, which is hard enough, but I guess I’m nuts enough to keep adding new ones,” Rasula says. “I’m passionate about creating community, teaching entrepreneurs and spreading creativity.”
An assortment of Microsoft tools help her reach her goals, from PowerPoint for conference presentations to a Surface tablet for designing.
“Without Word, Excel and PowerPoint, my business wouldn’t be able to run,” she says. “I love that on the Surface I can use the stylus pen directly on the screen – I do a lot of design in Illustrator, so it’s great.”
She’s driven by a favorite quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that resonates deeply with her and her work: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
To learn more about Sonja Rasula, go to Microsoft’s Instagram page, a celebration of people who break boundaries, achieve goals and #DoMore.
Microsoft News Center Staff