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Otsu

Vegan Style

Shopping for shoes is almost always a pleasurable activity, but for dedicated vegetarians, vegans, or those who simply won't wear animal products, it's often limited to a less-than-satisfying hunt through the bargain racks at Payless. Thanks to the internet, vegan shoes and accessories can now be purchased with relative ease - but the process bears the enormous caveat that buying shoes over the internet sucks. Not even a great pair of kicks is worth the hassle of returning and re-returning ill-fitted sneakers to an online retailer.

Well, thanks to partners Yvonne Chen and Jeremy Crown, San Francisco is now the proud home of the Bay Area's newest and only fully vegan lifestyle shoes and accessories store, Otsu. Located in the Mission on 16th Street between Guerrero and Dolores, the store opened its cruelty-free doors earlier this month. Otsu - which is Japanese for chic, stylish, strange, witty, romantic - sells minimalist shoes, bags, wallets, and belts at very reasonable prices (less than $100), but the fun doesn't stop there.

Yvonne and Jeremy are two of the three-plus brains behind the independent zine-cum-record-label Zum, which Yvonne and her scenester brother George Chen started a dozen years ago. Zum's online store sells not only indie-art-rock music releases but also zines and comics galore. Otsu, a conscious offshoot of Zum's art drenched lifestyle, also sells the same comic authors, including cult heroes Adrian Tomine, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and "Artbabe" heroine Jessica Abel. A store selling both comics and shoes seems logical to me, but the decision to focus on lifestyle rather than strictly shoes and accessories didn't come easily to Yvonne and Jeremy. Since they were already selling music and comics through Zum, Yvonne explains simply that "they fit in with our aesthetic of lifestyle goods for urban 20-30 somethings."

Otsu's main sources for footwear and accessories include Australia's Vegan Wares and England's Vegetarian Shoes. According to Yvonne, "They both make great shoes in breathable, water resistant microfibers under fair labor conditions." And Vegan Wares will custom-make shoes, too, so if you get a sudden hankering for vegan Mary Janes in dusty gray, just ask and Yvonne or Jeremy will hook you up.

San Francisco, incidentally, was recently voted the most veg-friendly city in the US in a Veg News readers' poll. Reflecting on that uplifting news, Yvonne comments, "I think the Bay Area has a really strong, supportive veg community. People here also seem more willing to spend money on quality products that don't require them to compromise their ethics."

Though Otsu proudly caters to a small niche of ethically motivated consumers, Yvonne is quick to explain that one of their main goals "is to show non-veg people that you can shop vegan without compromising style. There are so many options out there for eating and buying responsibly that are still fun. And life should be about enjoyment." For more information on living vegan, go to zumonline.com/vegan.html.

Otsu
3253 16th Street
(16th @ Guererro)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.255.7900
Hours: Wednesday - Friday (12pm - 7pm), Saturday (11am - 8pm), Sunday (11am - 5pm)
Website: otsuveganstyle.com