Queer, BIPOC-inclusive craft market comes back with in-person events

Isabella Akhtarshenas, who runs Akhtarshenas Studios, has been vending via Feminist Flea Market for just shy of one year. (Photo credit: Karla Cortes)

In the midst of a summer semi-derailed by a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, it’s important to make space for communal events that might provide a welcome reprieve. The Feminist Flea Market and Craft Fair, which showcases work by artists of color and gender-marginalized folks including women, trans and nonbinary folks, is hosting an in-person market at Love City Brewing on Sept. 25.

Reb Aronow, who runs the independent, Philly-based production company House Cat, organized an in-person Feminist Flea Market at Cherry Street Pier in late August – the first live market since pre-pandemic times. That event saw more than 1500 patrons who came out to support local artists and makers, and generated over $6,000 for the Point Breeze-based mutual aid initiative Homies Helping Homies. 

“It was just joyous,” Aronow said. “I think for most of us, it was the most people we’ve all been around in a long time. There was a lot of energy in there that felt really rejuvenating, and it was just nice to be in community like that again.”  

Proceeds from the Love City market will benefit the Coalition for Black Trans Economic Liberation (CBTEL), an organization created by Black trans folks that facilitates monetary and material support for Black LGBTQ+ Philadelphians by way of donations from non-Black people. 

“I feel like [CBTEL] really created a roadmap of how to do impactful mutual aid organizing,” Aronow said. “They’re really good at outreach and they’ve just raised an unbelievable amount of money in the short time that they’ve existed. Really making sure we’re raising money and highlighting trans folks who are such a backbone of the city felt really important.” 

In addition to an array of vintage clothing and plants like cacti and succulents, a diverse selection of artistic creations will be available at the next market. It will feature a melange of artists and makers who have sold their goods at pre-COVID Feminist Flea events, vendors who have participated in virtual markets, and folks who will be first-time vendors, Aronow said.  

Isabella Akhtarshenas, who runs Akhtarshenas Studios, has been vending via Feminist Flea for just shy of one year. She will be selling her multimedia art at the upcoming market, including stickers, postcards, prints, ceramic works and jewelry. 

“I like to keep a pretty dynamic assortment of crafts for people to buy,” Akhtarshenas said. “I try to make [my art] accessible to everyone in the way that everyone can enjoy it – children, older folks – all genders, all ages. I try to make it so that it evokes joy in people. Just to see people walk past my booth and smile, that’s enough for me.” 

She places a lot of value on how Aronow and the House Cat team organize the Feminist Flea Market, prioritizing the comfort and safety of their vendors, including taking COVID-19 mitigation measures. “There’s a lot of intention and detail there, and a lot of consideration,” Akhtarshenas said. She also appreciates the market’s inclusivity. 

“It’s for women and nonbinary folks, so it’s kind of switching the narrative for what is typically most represented in the art world.” 

Heather Thomas, owner of Rockers Closet, working at a previous Feminist Flea Market event.

Heather Thomas, who owns Rockers Closet, will be selling vintage clothing and jewelry at the Love City market. She has been vending through Feminist Flea since its first event.  

“When I heard the title of the flea market, I pretty much knew that it was going to be people that were like-minded, that it was going to be supporting conscious individuals who I feel like for the most part are trying to create change,” she said. 

Thomas emphasized the importance of monetarily supporting local artists and makers instead of buying from large corporations. When she sold vintage items at the first Feminist Flea Market, she had a strong turnout.  

“It was some of the most incredible customers that we had because it was also people who are like-minded, who are aware of causes, who want to support and put their money in places where it matters.”  

In addition to creating a space where community members can support local creators financially, Aronow said that they value producing a space that fosters community with people of similar walks of life and where vendors can feel visible both as artists and individuals.

“I think the world often feels really unsafe for the folks that are vending in a lot of different ways,” Aronow said. “To try to create a space that feels like it is for all of us and meant to be as safe and caring as possible, is creating a small version of what the world could be.”

Akhtarshenas said that she feels that Philadelphia’s artist community shows a lot of support for one another. “It’s just very communal and we all want to see each other win,” she said. “A win for another artist is kind of a win for me, at least that’s how I feel.”

Both Akhtarshenas and Thomas expressed excitement at selling at the upcoming flea market and talking with other makers and patrons face to face.     

“I think one of my favorite things besides selling is supporting the other vendors and seeing the different treasures that we bring out,” Thomas said. “I’m excited to spend a little money of my own while also selling.” 

The Sept. 25 Feminist Flea Market and Craft Fair will take place from 12-7 p.m. in the parking lot next to Love City’s beer garden. A $5 entry fee is required and masks will be strongly encouraged, especially for the unvaccinated.

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