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Davis, California

Saturday, May 18, 2024

A pin collector reviews Patches and Pins Expo held in Orange County

One of the largest pin exhibitions hosts over 10,000 attendees

The Patches and Pins Exhibition, a free, all-day event with over 10,000 patrons in attendance, held its Southern California event in Santa Ana on Aug. 18. Unlike with previous stops in Santa Ana, this exhibition hosted different bands to play for the crowd. Some of the more high-profile vendors included Castle Babe Co., Pin Lounge and Just Peachy Place. 

When I first heard of the Patches and Pins exhibition, I was in my first year at UC Davis and I was devastated to have missed it. After following its Instagram page, I kept the event on my radar as summer rolled around. I spent all year looking forward to the event that would only serve to feed my four-year-long addiction. 

I started to collect pins in my junior year of high school. My collection started out small, as most do. I bought only $1 flea market pins. I knew that enamel pins existed — I’d been to Disneyland and seen the stands — but I didn’t know there was a whole community for their collectors. That was until the Instagram advertisements caught up with me. 

Eventually, seeing the intricate designs and beautiful colors, I fell in love with enamel pins. The only downside is that they are, at the very minimum, $10 a piece. While this doesn’t sound too bad, when you add in the shipping and taxes, $15 for a one-inch piece of metal is completely out of my budget. Once a year, however, I allow myself to splurge on these beautiful pieces of metal that I show off on my backpack. 

The summer after my freshman year, I decided to take my dad with me to the event. While he didn’t (and still doesn’t) know much about pin collecting, he didn’t grumble too much. But this year, I went with the intention of experiencing the exhibition as an avid collector — fully immersed in everything the vendors and fellow pin-enthusiasts had to offer. 

My biggest frustration with this event is that it’s marketed as an all-age event. And for the most part, it is. But pin designs, like every other genre of art, come in some explicit styles which can lead to uncomfortable explanations by parents to their children. I’m not advocating for an adult-exclusive event, but the graphic nature of some booths is something of which both parents and young adults with their dads tagging along should be aware. 

One of the best aspects of the expo is that there are over 150 vendors. I’m claustrophobic, however, and there were some vendors who were too close for my comfort. The overcrowdedness, especially at popular vendors, made me feel rushed. The vendors were always nice and respectful, but in such a small space it was hard to talk to them and learn more about their brand. 

Everytime I attend a Patches and Pins expo, it grows — not just in size, but in content. This year, the live music was a nice touch.

While I loved meeting the artists behind the Instagram account I’ve followed for so long, I was met with some frustration and disappointment. Because I have been collecting for over four years, I know the difference between an A-grade pin and a B-grade pin. It was disheartening to see some of my favorite vendors marketing what is clearly a B-grade pin as an A-grade pin. 

While the burden of inspecting a pin does fall on the buyers, the buyers should also be able to depend on the integrity of the sellers. This experience made me appreciate other vendors who made sure that I knew their pins were B-grade pins. My first purchase at the festival was at the shop Mexikawaii, whose salesperson let me know before buying that the pin I was holding was B-grade. Vendors like her reassured my love for this community. 

Despite some of its flaws, there are no other expos as big and as accepting as this one. A big pin event like this could get away with charging their customers an entrance fee, but instead Patches and Pins gives their own pins away to the first 200 attendees. They also provide parking at a reasonable cost. 

Because there is such a small community of people who like to collect, the expo gives vendors the opportunity to meet with their fans. It also assures collectors that they’re buying authentic pieces of art directly from their creators, rather than from websites like Wish or AliExpress, which are known for stealing designs and selling them at reduced prices. 

An upcoming Patches and Pins exhibition will take place in San Francisco on Oct. 19. Tickets for the event can be found on their website

Written By: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org


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