New Jobs, New Passions: How Flea Markets Are Changing the Fashion Landscape

During the pandemic, many people turned their passions into professions.

Britta Henson and Michelle Kapuscinski, who started their own flea market stand during the pandemic, exemplify this reinvention of work. They show how success in the fashion industry is becoming more accessible.

Henson realized she didn’t want to go back to her bartending job after the pandemic. She found ways to evolve her passion for fashion into a business in order to support herself, eventually quitting her old job and running two weekend flea markets.

“I wanted to see if I could make a living from my creations, instead of having to work another job,” she said.

Henson’s passion for sewing blossomed as she made masks during the pandemic. It then evolved into sewing bikinis, but now she makes everything from matching sets to mesh dresses.

Since she makes all of her pieces by hand, Henson has an extensive four-day process before selling at flea markets every weekend — all of which takes place in her one-bedroom apartment.

Britta Henson in Downtown LA sourcing vintage fabrics. (Photo courtesy of Britta Henson)

“I’m going to go get a bunch of fabric for the week. I come home, I wait for everything. Then I will have a day where I will be growing. Then I’ll use my regular sewing machine to finish it off,” she said. “I try to give myself a day off before I go to the flea markets.”

As for the fabric itself, Henson sources her unique vintage fabrics from Downtown LA.

“I really like to use old materials. I think it’s interesting and makes it look different. It’s kind of vintagey, but while still being modern,” Henson said.

Henson said she aims to make unique clothing more affordable. Her handmade bikinis are inspired by ones that usually retail for more than $100, but Shop by B sells them for around $70-$90.

“I feel like my customer is definitely a cool girl who wants something unique and different because my stuff is handmade,” she said. “I like to be affordable. An effortlessly cool girl who wants something that’s kind of bold, but still dressy.”

Kapuscinski’s interest in fashion began when she was young.

She explained that she came from a poor background where she grew up saving. She often recycled old pieces to give them new life.

“I was going to my mom’s closet and changing her ’80s dresses to make them more cute and sexy for the modern times of the early 2000s,” Kapuscinski said.

Although he was ashamed of it, many of his classmates considered him one of the best dressed in school. She said fashion serves as an outlet to express her creativity. Later, she began to immerse herself more in the world of vintage.

Michelle at a pop-up at Saint J Cyber ​​Cafe. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Kapuscinski)

In between her 9-5 corporate fashion job, she rediscovered her love for vintage clothing and started doing little pop-ups where she would sell her vintage finds.

In January, she took her business, Kiss and Tell Vintage, to the next level by committing to doing flea markets every weekend. To curate her highly specialized vintage rack each week, she usually sources her pieces from Goodwill rummage sales or estate sales.

“You’re wearing gloves and masks and you’re going through things for a few hours to find something good. Later, you have to check if the clothes have a hole or a stain,” she said. “There are many aspects to you finding the perfect part as well. You should also ask yourself some questions. If I am able to put it on my shelf and sell it and still represent the quality and level that I want to have.

Although early 2000s styles are popular now, Kapuscinski likes to bring back the era he grew up in.

“I’m trying to curate something like my favorite era, the ’90s, and I’ll always say it’s a bold masculine, feminine ’90s look,” she said.


Britta Henson browsing her rack of affordable, handmade bikinis. (Photo courtesy of Britta Henson)

As flea markets become more popular in LA, they are changing the fashion landscape. High fashion is becoming affordable for everyone. Flea markets also promote individuality and uniqueness.

“I think people are really looking for something more different,” Henson said. “Of course trends will always exist, but we’re getting past all the urges to look the same. It is such a special place where you can find truly unique items that no one else can have.

Flea markets allow people to discover a wide range of styles. In Kiss and Tell Vintage, for example, Kapuscinski aims to merge femininity and masculinity into one style.

“I love selling jackets that can also be your dress. I specialize in vintage Levi’s 501s, which are men’s jeans, but they look so great on a woman’s body,” she said.

Seasoned flea market shopper Blake Matrone would agree that flea markets have allowed her to explore different types of clothing. He said he often draws inspiration from other shoppers because markets serve as a space for everyone to express their unique styles.

Additionally, as people resell items they thrift or find at estate sales, past styles are resurfacing.

“You’re giving them new life from someone who may have died or didn’t love them anymore,” Kapuscinski said. “You’ll find this 35-year-old woman who’s like, ‘Oh my god, I’m rocking this part,’ and she feels really good about it.”

An era of flea markets

The return of vintage styles and pieces from previous decades has also helped bring down fast fashion.

A study by Rachael Dottle and Jackie Gu found that around 70% of the 13 million tonnes of clothing waste ended up in landfills, with only 13% being recycled. Many flea market vendors buy clothing that might otherwise have been landfills, helping to curate the waste.

Michelle Kapuscinski in front of her curated ’90s rack at the Silverlake Flea Market. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Kapuscinski)

As a result of the growth of these markets, buying used clothes has become more common, adding to a greater awareness of sustainable fashion.

“I’m really seeing hope with these young 16, 15-year-old girls who actually prefer to buy something used and old because they believe it’s a better choice,” Kapuscinski said.

In the past, resale culture has been looked down upon, Matrone said. However, without them flea markets would cease to exist and more fashion waste would continue to end up in landfills.

“All the things that we’re able to get at flea markets that are things that people are spending their time and money and energy to source for us, so we’re just paying people a premium for their time,” he said. “Without them, those pieces would have disappeared and we’d be stuck wearing fast fashion.”

With such a wide variety of styles, it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. You may also end up paying less than at regular clothing stores.

In Los Angeles, markets offer an alternative to mainstream fashion. But, they also give people a platform to follow their passion while also supporting themselves.

“I feel very privileged to live in LA because I feel like I couldn’t do this anywhere else,” Henson said. “They are definitely changing the fashion industry. Giving people a platform that wouldn’t necessarily have one.”

Social media, mainly TikTok, has contributed to this growth.

Matrone has a TikTok account where she creates content surrounding the markets and also tells his viewers what he finds. Many other creators produce similar content, sparking interest in their audience.

Starting a booth at one of these flea markets requires a permit and building a substantial product. Since almost anyone can start a booth, fashion is available to everyone, regardless of background.

“It doesn’t really matter how old you are, your race, where you come from or what your background is,” Kapuscinski said. “Whether you’re like a person who works at it, making vintage brands on the weekend or you’re a passionate person. Maybe it’s just summer vacation and you want to take it. It’s pretty much open to everyone.”

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