Indie Interview: Indie Mart and Still Life’s Kelly Malone

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Unless you’ve been hiding out in a dressing room or under a sewing machine cover, you know that this Sunday marks the first Indie Mart Street Festival, the latest incarnation of the Indie Mart events Kelly Malone started up a year ago in her Mission district backyard.

Since the first barbecue- and beer-addled Indie Mart in May 2007, Kelly has been working faster than a needle and thread in the Project Runway workroom on her indie-friendly events and Still Life boutique, which she and business partner Charles Hurbert keep stocked with funky wares, clothing and accessories from local designers and vintage finds from their trips to flea markets in the Bay Area and beyond.

This week, Kelly was kind enough to let us bug her with our questions during an afternoon visit to Still Life, where you’ll find lots of lovely creations and men’s and women’s apparel from local folks like Nooworks, Amanda Archer, Kate Durkin, Turk & Taylor, 19 Moons Jewelry, Please Dress Up and Vivi Dot.

Read on. Because reading makes you smarter.

You’re originally from Philly and have been in San Francisco for three years. So tell us a little about your background and how you ended up owning a store and running an indie street festival.

I was in visual merchandising. I was basically like a creative college dropout. I worked my way through and sort of self-taught myself everything. I did that for a really long time while I taught myself how to sew.

I moved out here and just fell in love with it and with the design scene here. It’s really casual and fun, and people are really willing to take risks. I worked for GAP for a few years, and I got really sick and had to quit my job, so I started Indie Mart in my back yard.

I had so many friends and people I knew who designed but didn’t have an affordable element to sell in. It basically started to do that and combine it with a party.

We did three at my house before we couldn’t contain it in the yard. At the third one, we got like 500 people, so [after that] we moved to 12 Galaxies.

We had so many different designers, and people’s response was so great, so we thought, it’s time to open a store. So I sold everything I owned and thought, I’ll take a crap shoot, but it will be my own thing.

Wow. That’s a lot of stuff to have happen in one year – launching an event, opening a store and everything that goes along with it.  

Everything’s moved unbelievably quickly. Sometimes I’m a little overwhelmed that the Indie Mart just started over a year ago. People are really responsive.

I try to keep it really laid back. I didn’t set out for any huge intentions with it. I live in the Mission, like flea markets and indie design and there’s really nothing throwing that together. It’s pretty funny what it’s evolved into.

When we started it in my yard, it was about barbecue, beer, clothes, vintage. When we went into 12 Galaxies, you could keep parts of it, but you lost others.

[With Thee Parkside] It kind of encompasses everything that Indie Mart was about. Literally we’ve got everything we stated with. We’ve got PBRs, we’ve got cupcakes, we’ve got barbecue. It seemed like the perfect fit. The people that owned Thee Parkside are so nice. They had actually come for a few Indie Marts, and I had come [to the Parkside] for country western night and to play ping pong, and they said yeah, I’m into it.

I flier all of it myself. I went out at like 2 am the other night and fliered all of Potrero Hill. And I try to go into like every clothing store.

Now we get all the buyers. I never expected it to be like that. I had a couple of vendors that got picked up by Therapy, by Bell Jar. People that were just doing this on the side and now are doing it full time.

Indie Mart blossomed into this whole crazy network of friends and designers and crazy people. It’s just created this weird network that has been very unintentional, but also very beneficial to everybody.

There are so many creative people here just trying to get started. Even my bookkeeper, I met at the Indie Mart. It’s just this really important network of independent people in this city trying to get by. I feel much better giving them the business.

I’m always stunned. It’s so different from place to place, I tried to start something like this in Philly, and it didn’t really take off and here I was kind of nervous to do it again, and it took off. But you keep trying and eventually someone gets what you’re doing.

Tell us a little about how Still Life operates.

We do vintage and local designers and handmade, so basically I try to hand-select designers that I think will sell will and be a good fit for the neighborhood. I have a couple of college girls, a couple designers that are more established and some that are small. I try to add between eight and 10 new designers a month, and then I rotate people out if they’re not doing well, to give new people a chance.

Do you have any advice for all the designers out there?

Just to go for it. Someone’s always going to like what you make. Everybody’s different. Some people go to R.A.G., some people go here, some people go to the Marina. I started selling at a flea market. When you’re just yourself, and you’re just creative, people respond to it. I still consider myself just some geeky girl who likes to go out and have beer and shop for clothes.

So when you’re not running the show at Still Life, organizing a street festival or covering Potrero Hill with fliers at 2 am, where would we find you?

I’m either in front of my sewing machine or with Modge Podge making weird things or I am always either at Dolores Park or at The Phone Booth.

What label do you use for your own designs?

Style Recycled. I just always try to use vintage or vintage materials when I try to do things.

What are your favorite Bay Area flea markets?

I love Alemany because of the size, but I love Alameda because it’s a lot kookier. It’s like another planet over there. But I love Alemany because it’s like every weekend.

The Indie Mart Street Festival goes down on Sunday from 12 to 6 pm. Stop by for 70+ designers, live music, cupcakes, barbecue and – of course – an ample supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon.