Maker Series: Laura and Mike Lea of Black Kitten Vintage

It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We began The Maker Series to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do.

Q + A with Mike and Laura of Black Kitten Vintage

You know that weird aunt of yours, the one with all the wacky stuff on her shelves... the lady who always gives the best presents because she never gifts anything store-bought or standard? Yeah, the aunt who gave you a leg lamp for your twelfth birthday and told you to "use it wisely" (what does that even mean?!). Well, it's likely that she's been shopping with the King and Queen of kitsch, Laura and Mike Lea of Black Kitten Vintage. Two treasure hunters if we ever met them, they religiously stock their booth with some of the quirkiest, silliest, and sometimes just downright scary stuff we've ever seen. They're also known and loved by photographers for their huge selection of vintage and antique cameras. Discover more about the who, what, when, where, and why of Mike and Laura in our interview below.

Cleveland Flea: What was your path to beginning your business?
Mike & Laura: Laura has been into vintage since high school, wearing bell bottoms and polyester shirts throughout her awkward high school years.   It was after I met Mike and shared my love of vintage did he too join in the fun and we officially started Black Kitten Vintage.

CF: Why do you love what you do?
M&L: We love what we do because there is nothing more thrilling than the hunt.  Standing in line at estate sales, finding that perfect item, negotiating the best price, and flipping it to people who love being reminded of their childhood, old fun things they want to introduce to their children, or something they remember at grandma's house.

CF: Why is Cleveland a great place to launch and run a creative business?
M&L: Cleveland is an amazing market.  Everyone here has such a strong love for the city, it's such a positive vibe that you can feel, everywhere you go.  Everyone is so supportive of small business and helping us succeed. 

CF: What's the best part of running your own business?
M&L: The best part of running our own business is running on our own hours.  If we want to spent an entire weekend picking, we can.  If we want to skip a day, we can.  It's all up to us.  But you know what they say-the early bird gets the worm!  We rarely pass an opportunity to find new things

CF: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
M&L: Our biggest struggle is making sure we're hitting reasonable margins.  Sometimes, I feel as if people don't place the same value on vintage vendors as they do with handmade.  People don't realize the amount of time, gas, money and energy we spend finding, cleaning, restoring, storing, and selling vintage.  It's truly a labor of love!

F: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
M&L: The first big moment we shared with our business was when I had my first Etsy sale.  I remember it clearly-it was a gorgeous lace jumpsuit that sold quickly after listing.  It was at that moment that things became "real", that I knew that I was able to successfully find things and resell them.  Every sale still feels like that.  Sometimes, I still can't believe we're talented enough to pick out things that others will buy!

CF: Who inspires you?
M&L: I wouldn't say that there's a person that inspires us, but rather, we find ourselves inspired by the images and figures of each decade.  For example, Laura is fascinated with the fashions of the 1950s and the 1980s and the home-stylings and furniture of the 60s and 70s.  Mike is partial to the art deco look of the 1920s and the men's fashion of the 30s.  As you can see, our tastes are wide and eclectic to say the least!

CF: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
M&L: By participating in The Cleveland Flea, we've come face-to-face with more customers in a short amount of time than we ever thought possible.

CF: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
M&L: "Don't buy something unless you can see it in your own home/life/etc."  Because sometimes if it doesn't sell, that's where it'll end up!

CF: What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your business?
M&L: Mike and I both work full time jobs during the week.  Our vintage business is a side job, but a labor of love.  On show and non-show weekend days we're up and out the door by 5am, on the search for more goodies to stock up.

CF: How would you hope to hear your business described by your dream customers?
M&L: "Black Kitten Vintage constantly has new and fun items that I've never found anywhere else before at amazing prices.  Mike and Laura are such fun people, too!"

CF: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
M&L: We're foodies, so our favorite booths at the Flea are likely the food trucks and booths-Melt, The Proper Pig (bacon on a stick, COME ON!), etc.