Mojave Flea Founder James Morelos Is Rejuvenating Retail One Trading Post At A Time – WWD
Mojave Flea Founder James Morelos Gets Younger detail one trading post at a time.
What started as the Phenicia Flea pop-up maker’s market in upstate New York in 2014 has grown into three permanent physical markets in California selling upcycled tablecloth lace shorts from Artisan- Collage ($300), plush hand-crocheted cacti ($78). ), All Roads “Desert Floor” Jacquard Woven Blankets ($198), Lust and Fond Vintage Original Issey Miyake Pieces, Mojave Moon Apothecary Rollerball Perfumes ($24), and other merchandise transport.
Since opening its first store in Palm Springs, Calif., on January 1, 2021, Morelos has achieved more than $7 million in sales and expanded to locations in Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree, the Ferry Building in San Francisco and soon Berkeley, California, and Hudson Valley, New York.
“We pride ourselves on creating experiences detail markets in unconventional places,” says Morelos, who grew up in Los Angelesspent time running a design store in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to the desert in 2018. He first brought his pop-up markets to the Ace Hotel, then branched out to his own physical stores when he saw opportunity — and people fleeing cities — during COVID-19.
In December, he will launch his next concept, Market Market, a 40,000 square foot all-vintage market in a former Stein Mart in Palm Springs, featuring furniture, homewares and apparel in spaces curated by RTH designer Rene Holguin. , Maurizio Donadi’s Transnomadica, designer and collector Trina Turk and aloha shirt enthusiast Red Dot Hawaii, among others.
“I love what James is doing to provide a new experience for brands and customers,” says Holguin, whose now-shuttered RTH in Los Angeles was once called “America’s coolest store” by GQ.
“We want to create a vintage paradise,” says Morelos, which is self-funded but open to hiring investors. “There’s this whole growing movement of taking dead stock or vintage textiles and making new things out of them. So nothing in Market Market will be newly crafted.
For now, Palm Springs shoppers can tour the experiential 10,000-square-foot Mojave Flea Trading Post on North Indian Canyon Drive, see rotating art exhibits of works by Todd Magill, the color field painter of LA which was recently tapped for a CB2 collaboration, and browse handmade gauze dresses, vintage baskets and naturally dyed pillows by Joshua-Tree-based design boutique Geode and Gypsum.
They can listen to a live mariachi show and buy a bouquet at Hermano Flower Shop, whose slogan is “flowers for music and the arts”, and buy wine and snacks at the Palm Springs Bottle Shop, which offers women’s brands. -, LGBTQ-, disability- and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of color]- possesses.
Based on a store-in-store model, each brand or vendor pays a flat service fee for space on a monthly basis, and Morelos and his team take care of insurance, merchandising, staffing and of the sale, including credit. card processing fees.
“Our view is that if you try to open your own 100-200 square foot store, not only will it cost you more, but you’ll never have the foot traffic that we have. It’s about power in numbers, you know what I mean? And do you want to sit there or do you want to manage someone to sit there? We are a retail solution,” says Morelos. “People realize that we can be open seven days a week, and they don’t have to be. If you’re a maker or a designer or a vintage picker, that’s what you want to do. Go on a trip to America. Send it back to us. We will market it. This is why we have been able to work with over 200 different manufacturers and merchants.
Beyond overhead, all revenue goes to store owners, some of them niche manufacturers like Twentynine Palms, California-based hat designer Todd Fink, and some multi-brand retail concepts themselves. same, like the emporium of artist-designed products at San Francisco Open Editions.
The result is a staggering array of fun products, from cairn-shaped candles to embroidered thank-you bags, from Japanese-designed paper goods to style books.
“It’s not a homogenous store, singularly, every 10 feet there’s a whole different brand expression,” says Morelos. “I really believe that the oversized, overworked, million dollar interior – it’s over. Nobody needs that. What they want is to experience the brand, to buy things that they have never seen before and live an enriching experience. »
“James was ready to take a chance on Opal Atlas before I sold my first product,” says Marlene Dunlevy, whose crafty memorabilia brand includes Joshua Tree patches and palm pins. “I started with just one small souvenir stand, and next month I will have three Opal Atlas stores, one in each Mojave Flea. My husband and I also started a vintage book and stationery store called Secret Canyon, and that concept really grew alongside Mojave Flea Palm Springs and Yucca Valley.
Earlier this year, Mojave Flea was hired by Ron Herman for a three-month pop-up, bringing in Ulla Johnson, Dries Van Noten and other high-end labels. “Which is crazy because when I was in college I used to take the RTD bus to Melrose to go shopping at Fred Segal,” Morelos says. “Those who started this whole concept decades ago now want to be part of what I created. It’s just such an incredible cycle of inspiration,” he says, acknowledging a debt to Segal’s shop-in-shop format.
Morelos grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Seattle in the 90s to work in the music business, and eventually Rudy’s Barber Shop at the first Ace Hotel. “I fell in love with being around creative people, and it influenced the trajectory of my life,” he says of the experience.
He landed in New York to work at Bumble and Bumble in 2001, opened his own salon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2002, then made his first foray into retail, opening Scandinavian Grace in 2007. The design store s is being expanded to include two more locations, one in Brooklyn and one in Phoenicia in The Catskills.
When the recession hit, Brooklyn stores crashed and burned, but Phenicia’s location was consistent.
“I understood that destination-based retailing can thrive in any circumstance because when people are there, they’re on the weekend, on vacation, on a day trip…it’s not is not based on reality,” he said.
After bringing his flea market concept west in 2018, he fell in love with Palm Springs — enough to move to the desert community in the heat of July.
When the COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, it was producing pop-up markets in Los Angeles at The Row downtown and Platform in Culver City, in addition to The Ace in Palm Springs. After everything was shut down, he first tried to start selling online.
“But because of my experience with Scandinavian Grace during the recession, I looked to building a physical marketplace. I knew it would work because it’s Palm Springs, and it’s a destination,” says- he about the trend to focus on smaller markets, which has also made the Hamptons, Aspen and other suburban locales new retail destinations during the pandemic.
In October 2021, it added the 10,000 square foot store in Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree, and earlier this year the 5,000 square foot Fog City Flea at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
He still runs several traveling pop-up maker markets, including the Southern Flea on tour in Richmond, Virginia; Charlottesville, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November, and launching Evergreen Flea in Portland, Oregon, for the holidays. He sees them as proof-of-concept experiments for future physical locations.
“There is so much wealth in every corner of this country. For me, as a store or market curator, it’s so inspiring to see textures, aesthetics and techniques from different regions. Things that make sense in SoCal don’t make sense in upstate New York,” says Morelos. “It keeps my eyes wide open.”