The stylish boutique that is energizing a Leimert Park community
By Jessica Ritz
Oct 17, 2017 | 7:30 AM
Marikoko boutique in Leimert Park is a testament to how impromptu action and conscious planning can powerfully intersect.
The experience that catalyzed the store, which quietly opened earlier this year, happened on a whim. Owner Mariko McKittrick and her mother, Akiko Yamaguchi, decided to go to Morocco in July 2015.
Not long before they left Los Angeles, the two bought a modest commercial building on Vernon Avenue east of Crenshaw. (McKittrick grew up in L.A. after having been born in her mother's native country of Japan.)
"We had no intention of owning a store," said McKittrick, who also works as a real estate agent. But they did have broader goals.
"If we were going to invest in a community, we want it to matter to us," she explained, recalling how as a Venice High School and UC Berkeley student she would visit friends in the creative and historic pocket of South L.A. "When I came back, the shift was the art community," most prominently Mark Bradford's Art + Practice organization.
While McKittrick and her mother were traveling, the tenant in the space that would become Marikoko gave notice to leave. (The former attorney and accountant's offices next door were already vacant.)
Meanwhile, McKittrick was in possession of rugs and other goods from her first and subsequent trips to Morocco that, in sum, were more substantial than your average souvenir haul.
"Put the rugs in the store," Yamaguchi suddenly suggested to her daughter one day. She unwittingly created what would become the Marikoko shop in the commercial property they had bought.
"It happened spontaneously and organically," McKittrick said.
While her daughter resettled in L.A., Yamaguchi wound up staying in Morocco for almost a year. They settled on Marikoko for their retail project's identity, thereby combining both their names — Yamaguchi's oft-used nickname is "Koko" — and reflecting their shared journey.
"The shop is an ode to our trip and wanderlust that inspired my mom," McKittrick noted. It's also part of "a double concept," with a cafe that will be called Izzi, currently under construction in the other half of the building. ("Izzi" means here in Amharic.)
"There's an element of discovery when you get here. It's a true destination," McKittrick said, which helps explain the lack of signage.
An edited inventory, muted color palette and soft surfaces make for Marikoko's calm and welcoming atmosphere; it's a vibe that's informed by the owners' shared sensibility and the hospitable environments they encountered in Morocco. McKittrick designed a custom interior doorway to evoke Moroccan architecture too.
The selection of home goods, vintage finds, clothing, apothecary items and handmade accessories reflects multiple goals. Marikoko is, in part, a love letter to Morocco and an effort to support female designers, artists and makers — and women of color in particular.
McKittrick works with L.A. ceramicist Kim Hau on Japanese-inspired dishes and other clay wares. She stocks the Palatines, designer Jessica Taft Langdon's buzzy L.A.-based modern shoe line, along with Marikoko label custom macramé sandals and oversized tote bags made in Morocco. Candles are from Brooklyn's Hi Wildflower Botanica, in large part because the company founder is a writer and novelist, so "I fell in love with her descriptions," McKittrick said.
In addition to functioning as a place of commerce, McKittrick wants Marikoko to be a neighborhood venue where "people can hang out." And they do.
Collaborations have included a popup event with Here Now Us, a network of African American female entrepreneurs, as well as meditation workshops.
"This space is begging to be used," she said.
Where: 3123 W. Vernon Ave., Leimert Park
Hours: 1-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays. By appointment on Sundays.
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