Bay Area Kei on Keeping Conventions Going During a Pandemic
Events are a vital part of the Japanese street fashion community because they help us connect. Since the start of the Pandemic, events have been cancelled all around the world and San Francisco is no exception. Bay Area Kei was born when a dedicated team of fashion lovers decided that online was the only way forward. We sat down with the team to discuss the importance of the community in times of isolation.
Please tell us about Bay Area Kei.
We’re a group of J-fashion enthusiasts who hold virtual events to help bring our local San Francisco Bay Area community together as well as engage with the larger global J-fashion community.
We were concerned that the COVID-19 crisis would erode the sense of community that we have worked hard to build over the years. Here in the SF Bay area, we would have small meet-ups almost weekly and several large-scale events every year, and while we knew we couldn’t replace the personal interactions, we felt that with enough time and planning, we could fill the void of cancelled events by offering content online.
Tell us a bit about the team behind Bay Area Kei.
We started out just as Halley, Obsixwi, and Lili. We already had some experience with livestreaming on Twitch, and thankfully we received a lot of help from J-fashion On Demand. Halley also works very closely with several indie brands, so getting additional participants was just a matter of networking. For Sea of Serenity, we were able to expand significantly. This new team became a full-fledged virtual event planning committee, which we named Bay Area Kei.
Your first online event was Ursa Major 2020. What has changed since you started hosting online events?
For our first Ursa Major we had a very short period of time to throw everything together. We also had no idea that this would be more than a one-time thing, so we didn’t have social media push from anywhere besides our personal accounts and the brands who were participating.
Nowadays, the panel count for more recent events has been 20-25 on average, and has expanded to not just informational panels but game shows, DIYs, cook-alongs to really anything that we think would be fun and entertaining for a watcher at home. We also launched our own website after our second event, Sea of Serenity. It was at that point we realized that the pandemic wasn’t going to let up any time soon and we’d be doing virtual events for a good while.
The tea party is the thing that has probably changed the most. During our first Ursa Major, it was hosted in one big Zoom call. After that experience, we moved our tea parties over to Discord and started separating the tea party into smaller groups of people, so they could chat more organically. Originally, we were going to only use the Discord server for tea parties, but we decided to open it up as the central hub of event activity because you can very casually chat and meet others, talk to vendors and ask them questions, share your coords, and talk about the panels—much like you would at an in-person event.
You have already hosted a number of online events with themes and your upcoming event is called Ursa Major². How did you come up with the theme?
Our chair, Halley, generally comes up with the names for our events. We try to pick event themes that spark our attendee’s imagination. For Ursa Major, we wanted a theme that was both reflective of California and the Bay Area. There is also a huge history of teddy bears and star/space prints in J-fashion, so we knew it would be relatable.
You’re working with well-known names like Emily Temple Cute and Haenuli for Ursa Major². Did you ever imagine that Bay Area Kei would have such a big international reach?
Historically, Halley has been very successful with working with brands from all over the world, including Haenuli. It is very exciting, however, to be adding new names to the list of brands who we are working with. We are very honoured that some of them have begun to reach out to us, and it seems kind of like a reward for how much work our team has put into making these online events so successful.
Compared to in-person events, what are the advantages of online events?
First of all, despite being a huge undertaking in terms of organization, online events are still infinitely cheaper to host than an in-person event because we don’t have venue and catering costs. Because our costs are low, we can afford not to charge people to attend, which makes it much more accessible for those who are prohibited by a higher price tag. To attend our tea parties, we do ask attendees to donate to a charity of our choice, but there is also a non-monetary option where they can just share a social media post to RSVP instead.
Many of our attendees may not have local in-person events, and can’t leave the house due to disabilities, or are new to the fashion and are anxious to attend their first meet. An online event is very non-committal. You can watch panels and meet people from the comfort of your own home, and if the schedule doesn’t work for you, we record and upload the panels for later viewings.
We’d like to think of online events not as a substitute, but a separate experience that brings something new entirely to the table.
What will your in-person events look like in the future?
We plan on bringing back our annual in-person Holiday Pop-Up Shop this year which is the Bay Area’s yearly indie brand shopping experience! The Bay Area has been AMAZING with its vaccination roll out, and we expect to be able to have a fairly normal shopping experience by our usual December dates. If we need to limit event size and enforce a mask mandate, we will be more than happy to do whatever it takes to keep our community safe.
Introduction and questions by Stefanie.
Images courtesy of Bay Area Kei.