We are constantly in awe of our vendors’ stories. How one met a refugee woman and founded a business to help fund her new life in America. How one leather maker drives back and forth to Mexico to hawk beautiful handbags made in her home country. How our vendors meet at our events and collaborate on collections together and become lifelong friends.
These are the reasons we do what we do. We feel so fortunate to be a part of these hard working people’s lives and to be a small platform for them to dream, grow and flourish.
Our fall shows are going to be very special. The Dallas and Houston shows will be entirely centered around storytelling — vendor quotes throughout the venues, a kids’ library, a book drive, Alli Koch‘s book signing — and revealing how important shopping small is.
Today we announce our fall vendor lists to our applicants and thought it would be the perfect time to launch our Flea Style Stories Series. Over the next five months, we will be showcasing vendor’s stories through video, blog content and social media. We thought it was important to launch with the story of Flea Style and how our small business started.
We asked our summer interns to pose some questions that they’d like answered by our founder Brittany Cobb.
Where did the idea for Flea Style come from?
Brittany: Flea Style started as a total passion project. I grew up in Southern California combing swap meets and antique malls with my interior decorator mom. I moved to Dallas to attend SMU and worked at The Dallas Morning News as a lifestyle reporter post graduation. A few years later I moved to New York City and was a freelance reporter for Forbes, Lucky and more. While in New York I lived in Hell’s Kitchen and the longstanding Hell’s Kitchen flea market was a couple blocks from my doorstep. I visited it every weekend I could to buy things on my tiny writer’s budget to decorate my apartment. At this time the Brooklyn Flea was really revving up and I saw that more people were shopping the way I had always loved to shop. When life brought me back to Dallas a year later, I really craved those weekends perusing the Hell’s Kitchen flea market and saw the need for something similar in Dallas. I had several artist contacts to start it from my writing days, I just needed a venue. I called a publicist friend that represented South Side on Lamar about my idea and she talked to the owner and he gave me the space — and my start! A few months later I hosted my first Dallas Flea and have slowly grown the company to where it is today.
How has the idea for FS changed from day one?
B: For the first five years, it was only a small pop up market in Dallas each spring and fall. Well, that’s not true, we had one June show and I quickly realized that would be our last summer show ever! Texas is way too hot for summer events with no air conditioning (more on that later). But for five years I just kept slowly growing my vendor contacts and putting on the show the best I could as I got married, had two children and a booming interior design business. By that time, I had basically stopped writing to focus on interior design, which was something I always imagined I would get into but when I was an empty nester or when my kids were older. But unexpected opportunities came my way and I took them and really ran with it. By the time I was about to have my second child, I was really burnt out on interior design and wanted to figure out where I wanted to spend my energy and time as a wife, mom and creative person. I had to decide to either take on interiors full-fledge with a bigger office, bigger staff and less time with my family or find something that had more flexibility. The joke is on me! Little did I know that my little market would consume nearly every minute of my time. But I wouldn’t have it any other way because I love it and what it stands for. Expensive interior design jobs were cushy but didn’t make my heart nearly as happy. Sounds so cheesy but it’s true.
How does your past in journalism and interior design influence Flea Style and how you run the business?
B: My past work experiences are 90% why Flea Style is where it is today. My journalism degree and years at a daily newspaper taught me how to communicate with others, be efficient, listen to others, be budget-conscious (huge in business) and style product for photo shoots. I spent several years as a freelance journalist and learned how to manage my time and hustle. And my interior design experience is important for so many reasons. For one, it taught me that money isn’t the only thing important about a job. I was seeing so much financial success but was working 18 hour days and on a plane several times a week for clients all over the country. I learned that I needed balance in my home and work life and wanted to do something that gave me purpose and touched people. It also taught me some really important skills: space planning, scale/composition (so important for online life), how to create beautiful spaces and more.
What’s different about Flea Style today and when it was The Dallas Flea?
B: How much time do you have?! For one, we now have bathrooms and air conditioning. I’m also not dealing with bullet holes in the ceiling (true story at our Trinity Groves location) and my dad doesn’t need to play parking attendant like he has in the past to manage the over-crowded tiny parking lots. In the old days we used to set up the morning of the show and now we have the luxury to do so the day before. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of the old days and wild west spirit but it’s also nice to see our growth and customers thankful for nicer amenities.
How does Flea Style inspire you?
B: I’m inspired to create something meaningful, cool and important for small business owners and people that shop with purpose and make their lives beautiful with things made or collected with love. I’m constantly inspired by the vendors and their hard work, passion and talent. I’m inspired by my kids. I want them to watch and learn from me working and hope that it inspires them to follow their dreams because they know it’s possible with a lot of heart and hard work.
What is the best part of owning Flea Style?
B: There are literally so many best parts it’s hard to say just one. A few favorites: My team. I’m obsessed with every single person that works with me. They are my employees, friends and now family. I also love seeing and hearing happy vendors. We don’t always make every vendor happy, but the majority are so thrilled with our events and their effects and that puts a huge smile on my face and is the fuel for growing the company. Summit has become a really fun part of the company for me, too. It makes such a huge impact on people’s lives and that’s what we’re all about.
What has been the hardest part of Flea Style?
B: One tough thing is growth — figuring out ways to expand the company and revenue while staying authentic and ahead of the curve. There are also so many mini markets and store pop ups out there now. We know it’s a form of flattery and a shift in retail strategy, but these events sometimes hurt the small business community through over-saturation. In a nutshell, shoppers aren’t as enthusiastic about shopping small or particular vendors when they see the same thing over and over. I don’t think it’s these markets’ intent, but it makes us have to work extra hard to stay fresh and mix things up. We now represent so many artists and makers it’s hard to make them all happy but we try everything in our power to do so. When we hear of a misfire or somebody being unhappy, that’s never fun.
What has owning your own business taught you?
B: Nobody is going to work as hard as you. Your team is only as strong as your weakest link. There’s no such thing as time off. It’s all worth it if you love what you do.
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing when you started what would it be?
B: Buckle your seatbelt.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?
B: Do something that is so authentically you that you don’t consider it work. Every part of Flea Style is in my bones: Writing blog stories, working with small businesses, shopping flea markets, wearing vintage, working on photo shoots, creating show decor. My favorite thing to say is do something that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning. Flea Style makes me want to do the happy dance when I wake up.
Where do you see Flea Style in five years?
B: In five years we will have a store (or two or three), shows in more cities, a traveling Summit, a robust online shop with more vendor items and a wholesale label that is sold coast to coast. We are already working on every single one of these things at the moment. There’s no telling what else may come in five years. That’s a long time! Flea Style is only a year and a half old.
What is one thing many people don’t know about you?
B: I am involved in every single inch of the company. I buy products for the online shop. I call vendors about collaborations and work with them to get it just right personally. I write every single caption for the online shop. I manage our Instagram (Alyssa does @shopfleastyle). I don’t say this to downplay my team. They do SO MUCH. I just mean to say that I am completely involved with every move we make and wouldn’t want it any other way!
Save the date for our fall shows and tune in each week for our vendor stories series to keep up with the makers and shakers that will be there!