For the past six years, a church gymnasium on Mulberry Street just south of Houston has housed the Young Designers Market, where aspiring fashion-types show off edgy clothes and accessories on an old basketball court that belongs to St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
On weekends, the gym is transformed with tables laden with homemade hats and jewelry, milling shoppers, and a peppy soundtrack that blasts from large speakers.
Most of the 40 or so designers who regularly sell their wares at the market seem to be aware that the church reserves the right to boot them out if their products are offensive. But that never seemed to be much of an issue.
At least until two Sundays ago, when Mika Kitamori and Scott Machens were publicly ejected from the space.
The trouble began at around 3 p.m. on February 15, when a distinguished-looking older gentleman stopped by to look at Kitamori and Machens’ gothic line of clothes and accessories, which they had been selling at the market on and off for years.
After examining what Kitamori describes as “self-defense” and “empowerment” rosaries that had charms shaped like revolvers and brass knuckles dangling from them, the gentleman told Kitamori that he found them “deeply offensive” and asked her to remove them from her table.
Other items he didn’t like included mittens that had the words “love and “hate” stitched across the knuckles, and a cross of thorns he decided was really a swastika.
The man, it turned out, was none other than Monsignor Donald Sakano, the priest and landlord.
Kitamori tried to tell Sakano the story behind the cross, but he would have none of it.
“I tried to explain that it was designed based on crosses in the Vatican Museum,” she said. “He said ‘I think not.'”
Sakano declined to return repeated calls from the Voice. However, Alex Pabon, one of the market’s organizers, said it is written into the rental agreement that the church is allowed to veto the sale of anything it deems offensive.
“We have to respect that,” he said, adding that this was the first time it ever happened.
After trying to explain, Kitamori agreed to remove the offending items from her display, but was still told to pack up and leave immediately. And so she did, regretting her calm later when she wrote on her company web site: “I really should’ve reacted like that Asian woman who missed her flight in Hong Kong.”
The mood among some of the vendors who witnessed the incident was somber this past Sunday.
“It really sucked. It was done in such an aggressive manner,” said one vendor who declined to give his name because he was worried it might jeopardize his business.
Kitamori and Machens can relate. Sales at the design market accounted for about three-quarters of their earnings. Kitamori said Monday that she is actively looking for a new job. Machens, who happens be Catholic, recalled the only other time somebody had a problem with his work and how differently that situation played out. Back in the mid-1990s, there was a question about something he designed being too similar to the Hell’s Angels’ logo. Machens went to meet with representatives of the notorious motorcycle gang and walked away impressed. “They were so professional and reasonable,” he said. “I would have expected a certain level of discourse from such a high ranking member of the church too.”