Meet the Trader: The man behind Hackney Flea Market’s creativity and discovery

Founder Mark Farhall outside EartH Dalston at the Big Flea. Pic: Mark Farhall

Ever wondered what it takes to turn a passion for vintage finds into a bustling community of eclectic traders and enthusiastic shoppers? Look no further than Hackney Flea Market (HFM), a vibrant hub for vintage treasures and creative exchange across London. 

“I was inspired to start Hackney Flea Market back in 2013 when I organised a vintage event at Abney Hall in Stoke Newington as a summer pop-up,” Mark Farhall, founder of HFM, told Eastlondonlines. 

Coinciding with significant staffing changes in his professional life at the National Gallery, Farhall focused on expanding these events. His role at the Information Department, nestled within the Education sector of the gallery, provided a unique platform for this endeavour. It was within this dynamic environment that the seeds of HFM began to take root, drawing inspiration from his multifaceted experiences within the institution.

Hackney Flea Market brings together traders from all different backgrounds to sell their unique items. Pic: Mark Farhall

Starting with events at Abney Hall and Epic (now EartH) in Hackney, the journey took a decisive turn towards expansion with successful ventures at Copeland Park in Peckham and Big Penny Social in Walthamstow. 

The latest milestones include The Giant London Flea at The Olympic Park and a massive Summer Flea at Drumsheds in Tottenham, solidifying their presence as a cornerstone of London’s vintage scene.

Describing the atmosphere at HFM events, Farhall paints a picture of creativity and discovery. Drawing from his own shopping experiences in iconic London markets like Kensington Market and Camden, he curated an environment that exudes vibrancy and inclusivity. 

“Our events are lively, young, diverse, fun, with many, many dogs,” Farhall said. The eclectic mix of offerings, complemented by a soundtrack of contemporary US country, creates an atmosphere of uncharted retail explorations and joyful discoveries.

The market includes an eclectic array of items, including furniture, lighting fixtures, intriguing objects, and the occasional unexpected treasure. Pic: Mark Farhall

Choosing the right venues for flea markets is no small feat, requiring a blend of intuition, observation, and serendipity. From Abney Hall to Copeland Park and beyond, each location is selected with care to ensure it adds character and enhances the overall vibe of the market. 

“An interesting location adds to the unique appeal of each market and enhances the sense of discovery for attendees,” Farhall explains. Equally important is the relationship cultivated with venue owners, fostering a collaborative spirit that enriches the market experience for all.

At the heart of HFM lies an eclectic mix of treasures waiting to be discovered. From flea-chic to bric-a-brac bargains, each stall is carefully curated to offer a unique experience for shoppers. The traders themselves are passionate collectors and creatives, bringing their unique perspectives and interests to the table. 

“Our traders often come from creative backgrounds—they may have attended art school, possess a strong enthusiasm for visual culture, or been part of a subculture,” Farhall says.

HFM isn’t just a marketplace – it’s a thriving community of independent businesses and enthusiasts who support and inspire one another. Farhall recognises the vital role these relationships play in the success of the markets, fostering a culture of mutual support and shared growth. 

“The impact of our support is evident in the success stories that emerge from our markets,” Farhall says, pointing to the traders who have found fulfilment and success through their participation.

While running a flea market comes with it’s own share of interesting moments, Farhall says two standouts that come to mind.

“Firstly, there was a huge set of Thomas Tank Engine character wall hangings. These were most likely film props, and sold within minutes of us opening. Another standout was a really large wooden carving of a bear’s head, brought in by my friend Tan. He had acquired it at a Bavarian market, and it was an extraordinary sculpture. The level of detail in the woodwork and the expression captured in the bear’s features were mesmerising.”

Hackney Flea Market prides itself on people leaving with a new favourite item. Pic: Mark Farhall

Running HFM hasn’t been without its challenges, with the pandemic posing perhaps the greatest hurdle so far. Yet, Farhall and his team have navigated these uncertain waters with resilience and creativity, pivoting towards digital solutions and adapting their business model to meet changing needs. 

“Acknowledging the anxieties around returning to busy enclosed spaces, I implemented measures to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for everyone involved,” Farhall explains. Despite the obstacles, their commitment to fostering community and celebrating creativity remains unwavering.

Looking ahead, Farhall envisions a future where flea markets play an increasingly important role in the retail landscape. With a growing appreciation for sustainable consumption and unique finds, the appeal of flea markets is only set to rise. 

As for HFM, Farhall is committed to continuing to provide a dynamic and inclusive platform for small businesses and independent sellers to thrive for years to come.

For those looking to embark on their own entrepreneurial journey, Farhall offers advice rooted in their own experiences. 

“Tap into your own passions and interests, create events that resonate with you personally—ones that you would eagerly attend or participate in yourself.

“Authenticity, creativity, and community are the cornerstones of success.”

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