Ella Ambulo quit her day job as a traffic manager five years ago to sell hanging geometric planters at flea markets in Los Angeles.
Ambulo, the creator and artist of Urban Geometry, pairs air plants with handmade geometric brass pieces, inspired by the concept of a himmeli, a type of ornament originally from Finland.
She sold her planters at Artists & Fleas flea market this weekend in the downtown Los Angeles Arts District. Tucked away in a small lot between graffitied warehouses and trendy restaurants, the flea market offers crafts, clothing, books, jewelry, artwork, bags and keepsakes among other handmade products. Artists & Fleas came to Los Angeles in the summer of 2014 and continues every third weekend of the month.
Ambulo said the flea market scene has grown in the recent years, especially with the unique vendors that come to Artists & Fleas.
“Instead of buying at big retailers, (people) tend to go to artists or artisan markets because (they) can see the artists who made it and see their process, which is cool,” Ambulo said.
A few booths down, Shahrzad Ghadjar, creator of Spooksvilla, sold handmade greeting cards, lighters, pocket mirrors and coloring books. She puts her designs and illustrations on different objects, which she said are inspired by naked women, vintage porn, violence and good cartooning.
Ghadjar was initially inspired to sell her creations one year ago when she decided she wanted to be her own boss. She decided to test out selling her creations at flea markets and her online store.
While some vendors sell candles, leather bags or jewelry, Lynn Klopfer has sold her books at Artists & Fleas from when the market came to Los Angeles. She owns Brown Bag Books and has been buying and selling used books since 2004.
Klopfer decided to become a mobile book seller 11 years ago, when she said most independent bookstores were closing. She has loved books since she was a young girl, Klopfer said. Growing up with her father who was an avid reader and her business-minded mother led her to want to start a business selling the books that she liked; she said she is passionate about stories with a strong female protagonist such as “The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner.
Although she sells novels in her various mobile bookstores, Klopfer said her best collection is at Artists & Fleas, where she is able to see new and returning customers buy her books.
“This might sound snooty, but I don’t want to have books out that you can have in the grocery store,” Klopfer said. “(I like) the old-fashioned way of walking into a book store and asking the proprietor and being like ‘Do you like this book?’”
Artists & Fleas also featured vendors selling handmade home goods. Ceramics vendor Robert Turek met partner Marie Perrin-McGraw at graduate school where Turek studied 3D design and Perrin-McGraw studied ceramics. They then decided to collaborate to make ceramics and woodwork for their business, Lustered Walnut.
In fall of 2013, they started selling their handmade ceramic goods with Turek’s hand-drawn thin lines of herringbone and basketweave patterns.
Turek said although they sell their products to wholesale boutiques, he favors the interaction at flea markets.
“I really love physically coming out to talk to people and get feedback on your design, and hearing from people and seeing people’s reactions directly,” Turek said.
The flea market boasts a growing community of artists and vendors, said Melissa Shipley, an attendee who co-created a flea market in Pasadena called Jackalope Arts and Crafts Fair.
Ambulo said people keep buying goods at flea markets because they appreciate the work artists and vendors put into their products.
“Usually, they say that … artists are starving. I mean I quit my job doing this,” Ambulo said. “The artists are not starving anymore.”