There's a keen sense of style pulsating in Kala Wolfe's veins. One might even say it's in her bones.
Sure, the 27-year-old Durham resident has a respectable job, working as a biologist with the nonprofit Organization for Tropical Studies. But, if it were up to her, she would buy and sell vintage clothes all day, every day.
"I started collecting them for myself and I realized that I like picking them out for other people too," says the rural Pennsylvania-born Wolfe. "So I built up a collection and I wanted to sell them and I thought, without having a space, where can I sell my collection with other people? So I decided to create kind of a pop-up shop, a little market."
The little market she's referring to is dtownMARKET, a flea market that goes down two Sundays a month at Durham's Motorco Music Hall. For the past year, local designers, artists and other vendors have been hawking their most stylish creations at the market, all under Wolfe's supervision.
"First, it was just word of mouth," she says of rounding up the vendors, "and then, as soon as you get artists onboard, they know other artists and they know other artists, and it just builds and builds on that."
Certain designers enjoy selling their items at Wolfe's market because of the intimate contact they have with customers. "It's a great outlet," says Jennifer Collins-Mancour, a Durhamite who designs refurbished handbags under the name JenJen. "I like being able to talk to the buyer one-on-one and actually make a connection with them. It's almost like a client who buys artwork by the same artist. You create that connection, and then they're more willing to come back time and time again, and you buy more pieces."
JenJen was one of the many dtownMARKET designers on display for reFASHIONED, a fashion show Wolfe recently put together at Motorco. Several T-shirt designers (Runaway Clothing, Nyla Elise Fashion, Johnny Swank's House of Swank) and eco-friendly fashion designers (Rocket Betty, Belindabilly, Symbology) had models showcasing their stuff on the runway. Wolfe says that if the market weren't as effective at bringing artists and buyers together, the show wouldn't have happened.
"Once [Motorco] saw that that was pretty successful, they were pretty open to me having other events here, such as this one," she says.
There were also those first-time designers, like Durham freelance writer/ stylist Cady Childs and her First Edition line, who were using the show to debut themselves and their clothing. "That's what's cool about Durham: It's all these creative minds that are getting a chance to be in this little town and work together, versus if you were in Brooklyn or something like that," says Childs.
"It's a great area, but it's much more spread out. So, when you're in this small town, everyone kinda puts their heads together and do something like this. And, obviously, it has a good turnout. Right now, I feel this is where I should be."
Even though Durham may not be an area that's brimming with raving fashionistas and other style mavens, as the large numbers of audience members—many of them cheered and applauded when their favorite designer's clothes were being showcased on the catwalk—at reFASHIONED proved, there are people ready and willing to support their local fashion designer.
"They're not making tons of money, because we're not in a high-fashion city," says Wolfe. "One thing about these designers is they have to have a ton of passion about what they're doing.
"They do have to struggle to get the attention that they deserve. But I'm sure, as a lot of people noticed [at the show], a lot of their items are high fashion. They could compete in bigger cities."
Wolfe continues as both a cheerleader and an organizer for Durham's art and fashion community. Along with the usual dtownMARKET turnouts this month, she's collaborating with Moshi Moshi Salon and Carrboro Craft Market for a Third Friday Durham event called ArtMart.
"I'm trying to make a community of artists that know each other and can work off of each other and be inspired by each other," she says.
"When you meet these people, they're not just artists just trying to sell something. They all communicate with each other, and we've actually created a community that I think is very strong and new and burgeoning in Durham—and in the Triangle."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Fashion grows in the Bull City."