Attitude Spoken Here

Retail is all about attitude. Not just the gotta be in it to win it big picture attitude but the details behind it all. It's as much about the people who run the store - walk into Steven Alan on Atlantic Avenue for some good attitude, or_______  off Hudson in Meatpacking for some well-known not-so-welcoming attitude - as it is about how the place looks, feels and is merchandised. Over the years, we've gotten a whole lot of it. There's the snark, the stare down, the shit-eating grin and more. And we've watched sellers hire friends and go fishing for folks off of craigslist to run their shops or booths or stalls while they're away. Recently, we got a lesson in retailing from a super savvy personal shopper whose stints at Barneys and Bergdorfs put her in a top 10 list somewhere lofty. She said one simple thing: meet your customer at her or his level. Code for some cryptic psycho-babble? Not at all. It means get up, stand up and talk to your customer at eye level. Make shopping your shop, your booth, your pop-up more inviting.

Want to see some attitude on display? Check it out this week at Chelsea Market where jewelry designers Vale Jewelry showcase their fine collection or certifiably off-kilter cool graphic Tees and prints by Jason Laurits and Paste are on display. Though it's a lot more retail than not, a lot more casual than your typical shop within a shop, the right attitude is spoken here.

Fascinated with Flow

I've been fascinated with flow for as long as I can remember. Where do people walk, where do they stop, why do they stop, what do they do when they stop. It's not just a retail thing, though it's no coincidence that it's uniquely more of an urban thing than not. After all, both are about options and choice and the millions of calculations people make as they take in data, assess their options and move on. Since opening the market, moving it into 4 warehouses in Williamsburg across various spaces with their own unique space plans and configurations and opening a pop-up shop twice at Chelsea Market, I find myself thinking about it a lot more with a lot more deliberation. How much can flow can be engineered and controlled for? More to the point, how much do I want that?

I know that big box retailers are masters of flow and traffic control. Grocery stores have it down to a science (milk in the back, produce in the front). Mall developers are fiends for statistics that allow them to vary what they charge per square foot cost based on placement within a mall. But I've yet to find a market - in the purest sense and the purist's sense - where flow is controlled for and engineered. Because what makes a market demonstrate the characteristics of a market is that ying and yang that is control and chaos, the thing that allows for serendipity and chance even when there's a feeling of some outright order or logic to it.

I've spent a lot of time at varying hours of the day (and night) walking through Chelsea Market over the past several months. It is a different market from what I recall it when it first opened in the mid 1990s. Then again, what in New York isn't. But Chelsea Market has that unique set of attributes that I would imagine make enterprising real estate "market" developers start a sentence with "I want to make it _____'s [insert city of choice in country of choice] Chelsea Market." History. Authenticity. Timing. Relevance. It's almost impossible to export and transplant something that ethereal and elusive.

Markets work when they are organic, evolutionary and have a sense of history and connection but also a sense of whimsicality, a sense of discovery. You can't manufacture that. You can't stage it. See for yourself.


Return to Craft: Brooklyn Artist Boosterism

I just read a FastCompany interview with David Gensler, the man behind Brooklyn-based design label and fashion house Serum Versus Venom (SVSV) and it has my head blowing up. For one thing, David is a seasoned designer and industry veteran. But the idea of being part of the industry is what set the wheels in motion for him to create SVSV and it shows. Perhaps most striking - and the thing that resonated most clearly with and has been completely core to the Artists & Fleas-as-a-community mission since day 1 - is the focus on craft and on control. In his own words:

We just thought it’s so easy if you have control of all elements of the brand. We own our own factory. One hundred percent of what we produce is produced here.

And in our own practice - what we live for, what we like to see, what gets us going is just that: finding designers and artists and makers and collectors who are not just enthusiastically committed to their work and their product but equally fanatic in their attention to process, to craft, to the way the things that come to market got to being to begin with.

We know you're out there.


The Maker's Revolution or "Eff Yeah, Kickstarter!"

It's still early enough in the new year for pronouncements and predictions. A recent Kickstarter email blast entitled "2011: The Year in Kickstarter" shook us to our core with its rundown of accomplishments in 2011 for this Brooklyn-incubated, downtown Manhattan start-up. $99,344,382 pledged towards over 27,000 projects.

That's not a movement. That's a revolution. We'd like to give it a name: the Maker's Revolution.

Being a maker can mean a lot of things. We've attempted to distill it down to 3 core elements. Call it the Maker's Manifesto if you like:

  • A drive to do something on your own terms
  • The commitment to turn imagination into reality
  • The belief that your creative vision will affect others in ways for good (inspiration, pleasure, utility, escape)

Manifestos only matter if they have resonate with a community. So if you've got something to add or say, please disqus. And if you haven't contemplated kickstarting your project and joining the movement of makers, make it a priority this new year.