When college freshmen go to parties, they probably expect to encounter a kid from their bio class, a line of people waiting to do keg stands, or, at best, next year’s roommate. They don’t expect to meet a future business partner—but that’s exactly what Alex Bell (right) and Shira Entis, co-founders of Fleabags, found in each other during their first week at Brown University.
From there, the two bonded over many a flea-market outing and, after schlepping their day’s finds home in dowdy canvas bags, the girls contemplated why a great tote made to endure a lifetime’s worth of hauls didn’t exist. “What we needed was something cool and sturdy that didn’t feel disposable,” Alex explains.
The girls spent eight months honing in on the ideal tote back in 2008—when Alex was working full-time as a corporate lawyer, and Shira was an assistant designer. “We made 100 bags because that was the factory minimum—and we were terrified they wouldn’t sell,” Shira explains. Women’s Wear Daily featured them the very same week the duo launched the company, and the orders started flying in.
Today, the girls run Fleabags from their Williamsburg studio, where they make lunch for each other and design everything from sturdy, stylish carryalls to classic clutches—all of which are handmade from locally sourced materials. “Even though our line is eco-friendly, our priority is good design,” Shira explains. And they’ve got that in the bag. —monica derevjanik
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A Guide to Alex Bell and Shira Entis’s Favorite Flea Markets
These two New Yorkers know where to get all the good stuff.
It’d be downright cruel of us to feature Alex Bell and Shira Entis of Fleabags without asking them to put out on the flea-market front. After all, the two seasoned veterans started their bag line to satisfy a desire for well-designed, structurally sound totes to stow their finds. “We love the idea of discovering something that’s so valuable that it’s been passed over by several people and having it live on,” Alex explains. “And the negotiating part of it is pretty fun, too.” Check out this guide to the very best near-NYC markets that they’ve had the pleasure of digging through. —monica derevjanik
Shira’s Brimfield haul.
+ Best Place to Satisfy a Food-Obsessed New Yorker: Brimfield Antiques Show in Brimfield, MA
“The last time we were there, we had a lobster roll, amazing cinnamon-apple donuts, and a Del’s frozen lemonade, which is a Rhode Island specialty. This is New England’s largest antique market, so you will have to fight the crowds. Since the vendors located near the streets are usually the most expensive, we like to wind our way away from the street to find the better deals.” —Shira
+ Best for a Weekend Getaway: Golden Nugget Antique Market in Lambertville, NJ
“This is perhaps our favorite market. It starts very early in the morning and is best on Sundays, so we love to drive down on Saturday and make it a full weekend trip because the town of Lambertville is adorable. Some of our favorite finds are a leather printer’s rolling pin that dates back to at least the 1920s, a wooden cash drawer from the 1890s that has a cool metal gargoyle drawer pull, and a diamond-shaped hole puncher that was originally used to punch tickets on the railroads.” —Shira
+ Best for Authentic Farmhouse Décor: Madison Bouckville Antiques Show in Bouckville, NY
“This market is quite a hike from Brooklyn, but it is worth visiting, especially if you’re looking for a great upstate destination in the middle of August! I bought a 19th century wood farm table and a 1920s hot-dog holder there.” —Shira
+ Best for Real Scores: Shupp’s Grove Antique Market in Adamstown, PA
“Adamstown is an antiques destination, and you should try to coordinate your trip for one of the summer weekends when Shupp’s Grove is open. This is a real picker’s market: There is a lot of junk there, so you need to love to dig. Luckily we do! I bought these awesome vintage Czech rhinestones.” —Shira
+ Best Deals for Vintage Clothing: Chelsea Outdoor Market in New York, NY
“We can’t travel every weekend, so we frequent the fleas in New York City as well. Our favorite is the Chelsea Outdoor Market, an old staple that has been there for decades. We go so often that we have become friends with several of the vendors. A lot of the clothing is heaped in piles on tables or on the floors. Shira found a Chanel jacket, and I bought vintage Gucci loafers—both for prices that would make you too jealous if we revealed them.” —Alex