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Finding Community And ‘Sunday Church’ At Black Market Flea

Black man in tank top, sunglasses and hat stands at a turntable, spinning tunes in front of a colorful banner that reads Black Market Flea
Kènè ō at the main stage of Black Market Flea
(Ashley Balderrama for LAist)
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When Elána Ringgold was a kid, she would go to flea markets with her grandmother to sell housewares and her school clothes to get by. She remembers how her grandmother used to treat her to a burger after a hard day’s work. But Ringgold got something else out of it, too: a passion for thrifting.

This story is part of our new show focusing on stories about L.A., for L.A., by L.A. Listen (and subscribe) to the podcast for more.

“From there, I just developed my style from, you know, old lady polyester pants,” Ringgold said. “I just evolved from there.”

Nowadays, it’s not hard to miss Ringgold with her bright orange box braids and gold-rimmed oval shades. When I met her, she was rocking a vintage 100% silk, sequined blouse with an image of a stretched-out leopard on the front of it. She paired it with biker shorts and sneakers.

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Black woman with braids and sunglasses poses in front of a rack of clothes, wearing a colorful blouse with a leopard and flowers on it
Elana Ringgold poses in front of her booth at Black Market Flea for her thrifting shop, Tryon Thrift.
(Ashley Balderrama for LAist
LAist )

Listen to How To LA: The sites and sounds at Black Market Flea

Ringgold set up a tent to sell her vintage clothes and purses that matched the vibrancy of her style. It was 80s chic. Her store is called Tryon Thrift – a nod to her grandmother’s last name – and it is all thrift, all the way down to the small yellow Telfar bag she was giving away that day.

She’s one of more than 80 vendors at Black Market Flea, a monthly, one-of-a-kind outdoor bazaar that looks more like a dope, Afro-futuristic retro day party (if you can be both retro and futuristic). It’s definitely NOT your average flea market.

My work crew and I visited the Flea last month when it was held at The Beehive, a commercial warehouse and outdoor space in South Central Los Angeles. Depending on what time you arrive at the Flea any given month, you might see folks getting hyphy in the middle of a circle. DJs are spinning hip-hop and 90s R&B, and delicious smells are wafting past the vendor stalls. Whether your senses are turned on by oxtails… or macaroni & cheese and greens in a gyro… or a vegan burger, you are going to get hungry. There’s also a roller skating rink.

How It Got Started

Mayah Hatcher started Black Market Flea in 2021 after moving to L.A. from Phoenix the year before. She told the Los Angeles Times she started thrifting in local flea markets when she first arrived in the city but felt “ostracized” and “tokenized” as one of the few Black vendors in those spaces. That’s when she decided to go big and curate her own space for — and by — Black businesses, creatives and other community members. But it’s more than just a place to buy and sell things. It’s a place to find community.

This is Sunday church. It’s sitting in your grandma's and she’s setting up breakfast. It’s that vibe, just expanded.
— Kevin Andrew

Kevin Andrew, a long time friend of Hatcher's, has attended the market ever since its inception. He said that the first one was super intimate. Then it exploded. "I can't even keep track. There’s a lot of community building,” Andrew said. “In the big cities, you can get stuck in the corporate way of doing things. This is Sunday church. It’s sitting in your grandma's and she’s setting up breakfast. It’s that vibe, just expanded.”

For attendee Jayden Woods, it was the entire cool, dope aesthetic on Instagram that drew him in. He didn’t want to just pick up a pair of shades, he wanted the full, unique experience.

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“This is really Black as hell,” Woods said. “There’s not a lot of places like that.”

Colorful wallets, beads and other products are laid out on a table with a Black man and a young Black girl looking on in the distance
Family admires the products of a booth at Black Market Flea.
(Ashley Balderrama for LAist)

Creating Community

L.A. has an inextricable, though often contentious, tie to its Black residents. Yet, despite that rich history, Black Angelenos often feel overlooked by this city. Both the L.A.-bred Black Angeleno — and the newcomers — have had a say in creating the strong, vibrant community and culture that lives in this city today.

Ringgold, the thrift shop owner in the sequins and the bike shorts, drives six hours from Arizona with her husband every weekend to sell her thrift items in Southern California. But she says the Black Market Flea is something different.

“I’m glad to be here because normally when I do pop-ups, or just being in this realm, you don’t see people like me,” Ringgold said. “So just to see people that look like me, it’s amazing. Especially entrepreneurs. It’s awesome to see Black men and women creating generational wealth.”

Rawshawn Gabriel is making that happen. I called him “the man with the golden scissors in his hand.” He makes pants out of tapestry blankets from the 1990s and he said it’s like solving a Rubik’s Cube. It takes him about 90 minutes to stitch together one pair of pants that are totally unique from the next pair.

“It can feel overwhelming to a degree,” Gabriel said. “But, you know, once you like to rinse and repeat a whole lot of times, it's just natural.”

His pants are $320 at Ratstar in Silverlake. But in person they’re $210. At other flea markets, like in Melrose, people try to negotiate a discount even though, he said, they would never see his products anywhere else. “I can discount materials that are mass produced,” he said. “But there's no clearance sale on a one-of-a-kind thing that I made with my hands.”

A man with a black shirt stands with scissors in his hands and clothing behind him.
Rawshawn Gabriel at his booth for his thrift shop at Black Market Flea.
(Ashley Balderrama for LAist)

Gabriel said his pieces don’t get shortchanged at Black Market Flea. His custom pieces resonate more. He has friends who are also sellers at the Flea that watch out for tapestries for him when they go hunting through vendor stalls, looking for goods. And it’s all distinctively Black.

“If you saw another black person here and you did the head nod every time, your neck would get tired,” Gabriel said. “The vibe here is just to do each other right. We're all here trying to spend money with each other. There’s intention in the air.”
— Rawshawn Gabriel

“If you saw another black person here and you did the head nod every time, your neck would get tired,” Gabriel said. “The vibe here is just to do each other right. We're all here trying to spend money with each other. There’s intention in the air.”

A Unique Vibe

Most of the things sold at Black Market Flea are vintage and recycled, or they are handmade, like Rashawn Gabriel’s pants. Sure, some of the latter products are expensive but you can find some deals. And those who attend the Flea, say this is not only a good thing for one’s personal style, it’s also good for the environment. Lakyn Carlton, an L.A.-based millennial sustainable personal stylist preaches the harm of overconsumption and fast fashion to the masses, usually on Twitter. She became a stylist when she learned the truth about fast fashion and how harmful it was.

“I grew up thrifting,” Carlton said. “I think as a stylist, I inherently wanted to teach people not to just buy crap, but I also wanted to be able to platform independent designers and slow people down and think about the things they buy.”

She says it’s often rare for younger Black people to go out thrifting. It’s usually older Black people. There’s a generational divide. That’s why Carlton said the Black Market Flea vibe is important. She hopes it will attract more young people and give them an appreciation for the art of thrifting.

Yellow, orange, red and blue candles with catchy phrases on them all on a small tree trunk.
Some candles available for purchase as Soul Food Candle Company
(Ashley Balderrama for LAist)

The next Black Market Flea is this Saturday, September 24 at the Beehive. If you want to hear how much fun it is, you can find me on the How to LA podcast, talking about it with host Brian De Los Santos.

About How To LA
  • We’re here to help curious Angelenos connect with others, discover the new, navigate the confusing, and even drive some change along the way. Host Brian De Los Santos brings you stories about L.A., for L.A., by L.A. — with your help. Like you, we know this city is unique, and that’s why it’s one of the reasons we love it.

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