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 Nate and Erin of Articles
Nate and Erin Klees are so integral to the behind-the-scenes of The Cleveland Flea. No, we don't employ them (maybe we should...) but you can bet that you've seen their fantastic vintage pieces in more than one of our photo shoots. We're not afraid to say it: they make us look good. In addition to keeping their own shop in Westlake AND being parents to their one-year-old daughter, Henlee, they also show up relentlessly in their camper packed with rust belt-inspired vintage finds every single Flea without fail. Read on for insight into how the Articles family manages to do it all!
Cleveland Flea: What was your path to beginning your business?
Nate & Erin: We've always been treasure hunters - seeking out the unexpected. Turning it into a business was less of a path and more of a leap. Nearly three years ago we were living in Pennsylvania and itching to start a venture of our own. We both had design backgrounds, entrepreneurial spirits, and an unwavering sense of "we can do this" (and, more importantly, "we want to do this!"). When the opportunity to take over an existing consignment shop came about, we jumped. Within a month we moved to Cleveland, relocated, edited and overhauled the shop, and were open for business.
CF: Why do you love what you do?
N&E: Articles is very much an extension of ourselves. We procure the things we love. If we had a house with unlimited walls, mantels, shelves–these are the things we'd display. If we had a kitchen with unlimited dinner guests, unlimited cabinets–these are the things we'd entertain with. If we had 1000-hanger closets and our bodies were every shape and size–these are the clothes we'd wear. To find these items, and then find buyers who are equally taken by them, is a really special experience.
CF: Why does Cleveland need a business like this?
N&E: Resale shops, consignment shops, vintage shops - there's no shortage of them here. But few offer a truly unique and narrow perspective like Articles. People want to feel a personal connection with the businesses they support and the places they shop. We aim to provide this connection to those that see their own selective style echoed in our offering.
CF: Why is Cleveland a great place to launch and run a creative business?
N&E: I (Erin) grew up in this area and was excited to come back. Aside from personal ties, it's fulfilling to be part of the renaissance of creativity and start ups here. There are so many creative businesses supporting each other and collaborating, it's nice to feel like you're part of a community.
CF: What's the best part of running your own business?
N&E: We take risks, make decisions, learn from failure, celebrate success – all in a way that is wholly ours. Every detail, every item, every shop playlist, every Instagram post–all ours. When you step back at the end of the day, you can't help but feel grateful for the opportunity to live life on your own terms, working how you want and making (and breaking) the rules.
CF: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
N&E: Our biggest struggle is striking a balance between work and personal. So often the lines cross and we find ourselves working seven days a week. It isn't sustainable and we're constantly challenging ourselves to slow down.
CF: What are your goals for the business this year?
N&E: We've taken on almost double the amount of outdoor markets and pop-up appearances this summer. We're looking forward to improving with each passing market and connecting with customers new and old. We also hope to start some online sales later in the year.
CF: Did you see yourself growing up to be a creative vendor?
N&E: Design has always been an important part of our lives. Did we predict THIS line of work? Not in the least. It was always a conversation of "wouldn't it be awesome to…" until we finally decided to go for it.
CF: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
N&E: You open a business and think people will just show up. And they do. Some. And within a week you're questioning every decision that brought you to this point–and whether you'll make rent that first month. And then somehow a couple months pass and, hey! you're still in business. And then you have your first showing at The Cleveland Flea. AND THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE COME. AND LOVE YOU. AND BUY STUFF. And you're like, holy shit, we're doing it! And you get home and you cry. And you can't believe you ever doubted yourself. Yeah, that was big
CF: Who inspires you?
N&E: Barely a year on this planet and our daughter Henlee has inspired us in ways we couldn't have imagined. We hope to make her proud. We hope she can grow up to say that we chose happiness and that we work hard and chose to love what we do. She makes us want to do better and set an example of what it really means to be successful.
CF: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
N&E: There isn't one aspect of our business the Flea hasn't influenced. Most profoundly is the courage and confidence it has given us to put ourselves out there in a big way.
CF: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
Treasures are everywhere. Never be too proud to garbage pick an antique Singer sewing machine on Columbia Road in Westlake. Even if it means using a shoelace to tie your trunk down. It is our duty to save beautiful relics and deliver them to the hard working people of Cleveland.
CF: What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your business?
N&E: At the backbone of Articles, and our personal lives, is the desire to consistently practice and promote buying secondhand. Our 'Skip the Mall' mantra urges people to step out of their learned consumption patterns and make more intentional buying decisions in a resale setting. By offering a highly curated, styled collection people can buy secondhand without having to sacrifice their desire to own beautiful, unique things.
CF: How would you hope to hear your business described by your dream customers?
N&E: We want customers to say they we're surprised and delighted by our collection and that they found something that truly spoke to them. We hope they say they had a pleasant time talking to Nate about anything and everything, and that they'll be back with their friend/mom/brother. It's always encouraging to hear people say how excited they are to share your business with others.
CF: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
N&E: Does the Flea Bar count? Honestly, we admire so many vendors but are particularly fond of our Flea neighbors. We want to buy everything at Ampersand, Nicola has great style. And The Bus Boutique; true gents and super knowledgable.