Artists and Fleas Takes L.A., Online
After spreading to Los Angeles, the Brooklyn-Based Market Sets Up Shop Online.
Ronen Glimer and Amy Abrams know a good thing when they see it. In 2003, the duo wanted to find a way to unite artisans, makers and crafters with shoppers in Brooklyn, thus creating the indie haven Artists and Fleas. After 11 wildly successful years in Williamsburg (before it was trendy) and at New York’s Chelsea Market, Glimer and Abrams decided to bring their beloved venture to Los Angeles this past spring and debuted an online pop-up shop this month, further connecting their curated crop of designers and artists with a new audience. Foam’s Shontel Horne caught up with Ronen to find out more about the online store and why California was the perfect location for Artists and Fleas’ first marketplace outside of New York.
Tell me about the origins of Artists and Fleas.
We started back in 2003. At the time, we knew a bunch of artists, people who were makers and we sort of pre-dated Etsy. We wanted a friendly, laid back, low-key alternative retail environment.
Are you and your wife/co-founder Amy creators as well?
No, we’re shoppers, we’re collectors. We like stuff. We’ve always made storytelling and fostering entrepreneurship important to us.
After 11 years in New York, what sparked your interest in Los Angeles?
We looked into some other cities closer to home that we thought might be interesting—like Chicago, where we’re both from—but what we found was that there were two things that L.A. had going for it: There’s a culture of fashion and shopping and people doing interesting things and there’s a good amount of media. One of the very first guys to sell with us 11 years ago, a guy named Rich Sandomeno—he’s a caster and a jewelry maker—moved out her in 2006. We came back out here to finalize things in May, we got back in touch with him and he said “All of these people that use to sell with you in Brooklyn all live out here.” It felt like an organic, justified move.
What has the response been like since you began the L.A. show last May?
It’s been fantastic. From day one we felt like we were on to something. From a market culture perspective, L.A. has a strong market. It has a very strong tradition of artists and crafts markets. And the fact that we situated in the Arts District, it felt right.
What have you noticed about the California market since you brought Artists and Fleas West?
It’s very well-defined. There’s a certain bohemianism to it. Not just in the vintage but in the handmade and the design. From a jewelry perspective, what’s interesting is you don’t see assembly jewelry the way that you do in New York. And people are just really nice. People are always interested in talking and sharing their story and we always want to be a place like that. Every show has bested the previous show.
What do you look for in your exhibitors?
We look for people that have a strong point-of-view creatively. People who are able to articulate it. People who are unafraid of taking chances and putting themselves out there. We’re a place for someone who is interested in starting something and meeting their market all the way to people like Rich Sandomeno who has got a big custom design business and a big wholesale business. He comes to the market to get feedback.
What else do you have in store for Artists and Fleas?
We’re doing a digitally pop-up. This is an opportunity for us to hand-select certain products from certain sellers and do limited quantities. We have a lot of people that shop the markets and remember coming by us but don’t necessarily remember that artist or that designer. The hope is that we can remind them of something.
What has been some of your favorite exhibitor success stories?
There’s probably about half a dozen stores that have grown from the market. There’s a store called Brooklyn Charm, they have a store in Brooklyn and now three stores in Japan. They’re an assembly bead bar. Mast Brothers, the chocolate makers, they started by selling with us. It’s cool when you have provided a place where they can experiment, quit their day job and grow.
What’s the secret to getting the full Artists and Fleas experience at your market?
Come with an open mind. Don’t come with a plan. Be willing to talk to people and let your guard down. Most of the people that come represent their own product and make their own product, and they’re very interested in sharing. You are what you own, so it’s a great opportunity to shape your identity.
Artists and Fleas is held in Los Angeles on the third weekend of every month. Find out more about the December show and the pop-up online shop here.