SMU Alum’s ‘Flea Style’ Re-Creates Arty Markets of Her Childhood

An SMU alum has recreated the flea markets she so dearly loved as a child in cities across the United States.

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Whenever I attend crafts fairs, estate sales or antique stores, I find myself getting lost amid the old and the new, items people spent many hours crafting. But this fall, when I walked into the electric green warehouse hosting The Dallas Flea, I felt like I had stepped into the virtual world of Etsy.

Unique handmade items exploded in the Trinity Groves neighborhood site. The painted canvases with trendy sayings, dainty beaded jewelry and personalized greeting cards were for the picking. Booth upon booth filled the venue, and both live music and the smell of Ruthie’s food truck grilled cheese filled the air.

Throughout the day, over 6,000 people braved the rainy weather and lined up, with the dreary November clouds looming overhead, to get inside.

Jewelry designers, antique collectors and artists of all kinds were among the 100 vendors gathered at the Dallas Flea on Nov. 7. Many artists waited to tell their stories and offer handcrafted items to each flea market-goer. Before some vendors even told me, I could tell that these businesses were truly their passion, something in which they had invested much of their lives.

Flea Style Founder, Brittany Cobb.
Flea Style founder Brittany Cobb.

Brittany Cobb, a self-proclaimed flea market junkie, started The Dallas Flea in 2009. An SMU journalism graduate, Cobb was writing for The Dallas Morning News, Forbes and DailyCandy, covering mostly fashion, food and home design. She was exposed to many artisans in search of ways to share their work with the world. “I wanted to support these people beyond my articles,” Cobb says.

The Dallas Flea initially started as a one-time holiday market.  Over 1,000 people attended that first market — and Cobb was flooded with requests for more.  So she decided to hold the event twice a year – spring and fall. “Two is the sweet spot for us,” Cobb says.

Cobb recently moved the market into a climate-controlled building for the first time. In the past the company scheduled the events around the weather to allow for outdoor shopping. Now, with the transitional event space, Cobb is re-creating the flea market she attended with her mother as a young girl in California.

“I’m creating a market like the one I went to growing up,” says Cobb.

More recently Cobb has expanded her company to other cities. Flea Style, formerly The Dallas Flea, will host a spring and fall event in both Houston and Dallas in the coming year. Cobb says she changed the company name to Flea Style to be less city-specific. Cobb also has her sights set on Nashville, Atlanta and Orange County, all “mid-tier markets that are low on cool local shows but brimming with amazing makers.”

Cobb is uniting all of the markets under one website launching late 2015.

Flea Style’s new name is still representative of the brand and its slogan: “handmade, vintage, one-of-a-kind.” Equally, each vendor represents Flea Style’s tagline. “If a vendor doesn’t hit one of those marks, it’s not in the show,” says Cobb. She wants Flea Style’s average shopper, a woman anywhere from 25 to 55, to find unique pieces she can’t find anywhere else.

Cobb laughs as she reflects on her first flea event. Attendance has grown by over 600 percent since that first market, Cobb says, and she has learned a along the way. She reminisces about one time when she hosted her own booth. Although it was great for her to see the vendor side of the market, she says, she should have been greeting shoppers and assisting other vendors instead.

Vendor at Nov. 2015 Dallas Flea.
Vendor at November 15 market; courtesy of fleastyle.com.

Cobb hopes that her collection of “highly curated” vendors continues to expand. Flea Style is different from most casual flea markets. Vendors must apply to participate. Cobb and her team are extremely involved in selecting the vendors as well as the booth design. They guide the vendors to what people are looking for and what will most likely sell. Cobb compares her flea to a mall experience that offers shoppers products in many different categories. The market is “tailored to a unique one-day event” where there is something for everyone.

In November, jewelry designer Stacy Mullikin of Lauren Kate Design displayed her gold and druzy pieces at one booth. This was Lauren Kate Design’s second year at The Flea. Mullikin wants her clients to associate each piece of jewelry with a blissful vacation.” According to Mullikin, each stone is handpicked to create a one-of-a-kind collection.

Lauren Kate Design Jewelry.
Courtesy of Lauren Kate Design.

Mullikin tailored the jewelry she brought to fit the typical flea market-goer – “more edgy and chic.” “The event definitely brings exposure we couldn’t find on our own,” says Mullikin. She plans to take part in The Flea in the future and hopes to travel to Houston for the next event.

“Brittany is so passionate about the event, which makes it fun to be part of it.  I love surrounding our brand with like-minded, passionate people,” says Mullikin.

Ann Jackson, a local artist, participated in The Dallas Flea for the second time in November. Jackson has been painting her entire life but started selling her artwork in 2013, the first year she took part in the flea market. This year she sold her prints, and according to Jackson, they sold well.  “Brittany does a great job getting the word out,” she says. “She is great with social media,” which has encouraged Jackson to follow the market to Houston.

Molly Mathias of MM Vintage and her mother repurpose furniture and have participated in Flea Style for three years. After attending the event for a few years, the mother-daughter duo knew The Flea would be the perfect place to sell their furniture, and it has never disappointed, according to Mathias. They try to distinguish themselves from other vendors with their low prices and upholstered furniture. And the mother-daughter duo looks to other vendors for styling inspiration and the items customers demand.

“The Flea is the best event we have ever been a part of. No other event has the quality of vendors that The Flea has,” Mathias says. “You can really tell that Brittany makes sure only the best vendors are there.”

MM Vintage Refurbished Furniture.
MM Refurbished Furniture.

Margaret Jones, a first-time Flea Style shopper, says she loved her experience at the November event. She was impressed by both the clean layout and collection of vendors the event offered. “Most flea markets I’ve been to in the past have always been disorganized and kind of a free-for-all,” Jones says. “Flea Style was different and entertaining because it was quite the opposite.”