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How the Artists & Fleas Market is bringing attention back to local artisans

By Dale Arden Chong

1 May 2019

Fashion |INTERVIEW

In an industry where many brands, despite efforts to move towards slow fashion, are catering to the mass market, the Artists & Fleas Market is bringing the attention back to local artisans. As a marketplace highlighting local fashion designers, vintage curators, artists and more in both New York and Los Angeles, Artists & Fleas is generating a community centered on creativity and craftsmanship.

Founded by Amy Abrams—a woman who has made her career out of cultivating environments to bring like-minded individuals together—and her husband Ronan Glimer, Artists & Fleas showcases merchants in all fields. Not only does the market help vendors build their brands, but it also benefits the local economy in the surrounding area.

In the 15 years Artists & Fleas has been running, the marketplace has opened up to a total of four permanent locations, three of which are in the New York area and a weekly market in Venice, California with new merchants joining each location on a constant basis.

Here, Abrams shares with FashionUnited more insight into the decision to start Artists & Fleas and the importance of shopping from local and independent businesses.

Why did you decide to start Artists & Fleas?

I started Artists & Fleas with my husband out of a desire to create a place to hang out and shop that was inspired by the things that we loved and could share with a larger community. We both loved (and continue to love) travel and visit markets in any destination—markets are often the heartbeat of the city, showcase artisans and are ground zero for so much local flavor. I have also loved vintage since I was a teenager. Together, we thought that it would be really fun to create a place in Brooklyn that artists, designers, makers and vintage collectors could set up shop and shoppers could hunt and discover something they could not otherwise live without.

Our first location was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn just a street over from where we still are today, North 7th St., off of Bedford Avenue. This was before Brooklyn was Brooklyn and we were one of the earlier shopping destinations in Williamsburg—it was an exciting time. We started with 35 makers and soon grew as a result of demand—both from artists and merchants and from shoppers to over 100 makers. Our merchants started to quit their day jobs and we began to take the business more seriously, which included opening additional locations to support many of our makers’ business growth.

Fast-forward 15 years later and we have locations in Brooklyn, Chelsea Market, NYC, Soho NYC and Venice, CA.

Can you explain the process of how vendors are selected?

It is so important to be thoughtful when bringing new merchants to the spaces. We want them to thrive, and it’s also important that we bring something new and creative to our community of shoppers. To us, this is about people and personality, so it’s often more of an art rather than a science.

We try to have a large selection for our shoppers in terms of categories and price points but we always aim to have diversity in style. We want our community of shoppers to be their own curators! We also encourage every merchant to visit our market before they set up shop so they can determine if their customer is present. Ultimately, we want all of our merchants to succeed—however they might define success.

Why did you decide to make Artists & Fleas a weekly occurrence in Venice?

When we opened in Venice 2 years ago, we started out as a bi-monthy market. It turned out to be a little confusing to our customers who started showing up every weekend! We’re also really committed to being a reliable way for merchants to set up shop and build a business so moving to a weekly market made sense. The community in Venice has been so supportive to our presence. Venice has always been a destination for artists and Abbot Kinney has been a creative commercial thoroughfare for decades in Los Angeles, so Artists & Fleas on Abbot Kinney is just another way to continue in that wonderful tradition.

We don’t want to be your big-box retailer or your late night one-click purchase, we want to help tell the story behind a gift or sentimental purchase.

Amy Abrams, co-Founder of Artists and Fleas

How does Artists & Fleas contribute to the local community? Why do you find it important to support local designers and businesses?

We really pride ourselves on creating a community for our merchants and the thousands of shoppers who visit our locations each year. It’s cyclical—if you give makers an exciting and experiential place to sell their goods and set them up for success you will have more and more people coming by to shop locally and thoughtfully. We don’t want to be your big-box retailer or your late night one-click purchase, we want to help tell the story behind a gift or sentimental purchase. We are facilitating these community-based transactions and want to encourage more of those interactions between the local creator and maker or the local (or visiting) shopper.

How does Artists & Fleas contribute to helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses?

We offer a supportive venue, environment and onboarding opportunity for new merchants to come and sell for the first time as well as for more seasoned merchants who are looking to expand their reach. Along with that, we choose locations that provide access to high traffic that are affordable and low risk. Artists & Flease cultivates a community of merchants who connect, collaborate and share best practices. We also promote our merchants through our channels which help expose them to a wider audience and host a range of workshops and programs that offer business best practices, which range from topics that include social media, merchandising and more.

What sets Venice apart, why Los Angeles?

Artists & Fleas was born and bred in New York, but we are a brand that is just as much at home in Venice with its creativity, dynamism and energy. Over the last several years, Los Angeles has become more and more of a mecca for artists, designers, makers and creatives (coincidentally, many are ex-New Yorkers or bi-coastal dwellers) that it’s just the perfect fit for the “discover and be discovered” spirit of Artists & Fleas. We really love what Venice brings to our brand—with the beautiful setting, steps away from the ocean and laid back vibe—it’s such a great way to spend your Saturday.

Photos: Courtesy of Artists & Fleas

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