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POC and gender-diverse artists bring sustainable creations and progressive messages to feminist market

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Words on purses made by Kristianna Brown, 30, of Kensington, owner of SilentlyLoudShop, all but smolder in her booth at the April 24 Sustainable Marketplace at the Cherry Street Pier.

“Art Hoe,” sewn on one of the colorful bags, is among the milder messages.

“I’m an introvert,” says Brown. “I let my art speak for me.”

Brown also makes handbags from thrift-store denim. “I love giving old jeans a second life. The scraps trickle down until they become handmade earrings,” she says.

Kristianna Brown of SilentlyLoudShop sells upcycled handbags. Photography by Rachael Warriner.

Brown’s presence and approach accord with the light the flea market, co-presented by the Feminist Flea Market (organized by House Cat) and the Black-woman-owned fashion brand Grant Blvd, shines on sustainability and diversity. The event includes vendors often sidelined due to race, culture or size, or for being trans, non-binary or gender nonconforming. The mix of vendors offers Philadelphians a more inclusive view of the face of eco-awareness.

“We’re giving diverse artists a platform where they can stand at the forefront of sustainability,” says Jessica Casale, 25, marketing manager at The Rounds [featured in Grid #146, July 2021], which hosted the event. The Rounds delivers items to customers on the milkman model, reusing packaging and offering lower prices than many stores.

The market’s riot of creativity includes Ashley Lian, who is a textile designer of Asian descent at Anthropologie.

“The organizers have created a safe space for everyone,” says Lian, whose creations include tote bags dyed with onion skins, and avocado skins and pits. “Using natural dyes as part of my practice recycles food scraps and is less dangerous for the environment,” she adds. Lian also pieces together cloth scraps to make new garments or uses them as stuffing for other projects.

Visual artist Jazmyn Morse, 25, who energizes vintage clothes by painting on them, echoes Lian’s words. “The flea market has created a nurturing community where artists of color present our wares,” says Morse, who is Black.

Jazmyn Morse of JazMakes Studios sells stickers and prints.

Morse’s bold art honors a relative.

“I’ve always loved drawing,” she says. “My brother, who passed away three years ago at age 35, taught me. During the pandemic I started painting on clothes, and it snowballed. I love bright colors, so I’ve jazzed up clothes with paintings so people will want to wear them,” says Morse, who’s had commissions, displayed her work at the National Liberty Museum and won a fellowship from Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Family ties also led Tanika Casimir, 32, to create Elizabeth Peyton Creations skin care products in 2017.

“My mom’s treatment for cancer left her skin extremely dry,” says Casimir, whose family hails from Guyana, “and I looked for a way to soothe it. After her passing, I became more determined to develop my products.”
Casimir relies on ingredients from nearby sources.

“I use fruits and veggies from local farms,” she says. “My products heal you inside and outside because the body absorbs anything you put on your skin. I would say that I’m an all-natural, holistic creator,” says Casimir, who makes an anxiety-depression relief oil in a roller bottle, a green tea yogurt mask to soften the appearance of facial aging and many other products.

Despite the success of the musical artist Lizzo, size prejudice works against large women. Jenna Howell, 27, and Cameron Forrest, 26, owners of ShopJennron, challenge that outlook with sassy clothes for full-figured folks. “We make everything plus-size from vintage fabric,” Howell says. “I go to estate sales and sometimes find bolts of cloth.”

ShopJennron budded along with the couple’s relationship.

“After many thrift-shop dates, Ron and I grew tired of not finding clothes in our size,” Howell says.

ShopJennron was born in 2019 to make vintage clothes for all bodies.

“I began making plus-size, gender-neutral clothes,” she says, of the eye-popping prints she favors for tops and full-body coverings. “Each ShopJennron garment is made from quality vintage or sustainably-sourced
fabrics in our South Philadelphia row home.”

“Clients can also custom order, so there’s no waste,” says Forrest, who does much of the sewing.

Besides preferring rich hues, the shop follows a philosophy. ShopJennRon is “a fat space, a queer space, an anti-racist space, a genderless space, and a fun, accepting place,” their logo says.

Feminist Flea marketgoers stroll Cherry Street Pier.

JoAnne Sutkin, 59, a potter who works in The Clay Studio, often adds an element of surprise to the tea tumblers, rice bowls, whiskey sippers, utensil holders and other functional pieces she creates in sage green, earth tones and luscious aquas with clay from the Catawba River Valley of North Carolina.

“Some of my pieces are gas-fired,” Sutkin says. “At times, I throw in a fistful of salt at the end for an added [unpredictable] element. Then again, I fire the oven with wood, which burns down to ash that flies around the kiln and settles on the piece,” also leaving a unique signature. “It’s scrumptious,” she says, of this feature of her brand, Barnhouse Pots.

For Sutkin, sustainability counts.

“I recycle clay from failed pots,” she says. “I reuse it, turn it into something else, and I fire the oven with wood from trees that have already been felled. I also keep the wrappers from packaging that comes my way and use it to mail orders to customers.”

Morgan Karcher, 25, and Kate Verstreate, 29, owners of UpcycleAndArtwork, serve up zany genius. “We use objects that are broken or discarded in our artistry,” says Karcher, pointing out a bowling pin wired into a lamp. Nearby stands a mannequin that’s been turned into a floor lamp. “We aim to use as much of the find’s original pieces and parts, repurposing them and upcycling them,” says Karcher, who also creates handcrafted artwork in different materials.

“Sustainability is important to both of us,” says Verstreate, who does much of the electrical wiring.

Cosmic Haha, 32, seems to take joy not just in her own eco-art, but in being among the flea market’s other vendors. “The Marketplace is super inclusive,” Haha says. “I’m not binary, and I’m comfortable here. [The organizers] prioritize people. They create community, offer us a platform,” says Haha, who makes “Soft Friends,” whimsically shaped, hand-dyed and sewn pillows from reclaimed cotton fabric as well as hand-dyed underwear.

“Everything I do is sliding scale,” adds Haha, also a self-taught ceramicist who produces stained stoneware plates and dishes, “because I want people to have my art.”

The next Feminist Flea Market and Craft Fair is slated for Saturday, September 25 from 12 to 7 p.m. at Love City Brewing at 1023 Hamilton Street. The $5 entry fee will benefit the Coalition for Black Trans Economic Liberation. Please visit www.feministflea.market for information. 

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