ARTICLE BY Chris Danforth

Cactus Plant Flea Market: Demystifying the Secretive Streetwear Brand

cactus-plant-flea-market-explained

Recently, one of the most enigmatic names in the sneaker space, Cactus Plant Flea Market, have been back in the news for their McDonald’s collaboration and the leafy ‘Overgrown’ Nike Dunk that’s surfaced on social media. Although the name Cactus Plant Flea Market may be familiar to most, the brand – and the people behind it – remains shrouded in secrecy.

cactus-plant-flea-market-explained
via instagram.com/pharrell

Planting a Seed

For some of us, our first encounter with Cactus Plant Flea Market was via iconoclastic musician and designer Pharrell. Around 2015, Skateboard P could seldom be spotted without a dad cap adorned with ‘PLANT’ lettering, and at a certain point, Pharrell was wearing the hat so much that it started to seem conspicuous.

At the 2015 CFDA Fashion Awards, Kanye West presented Pharrell Williams with the Fashion Icon Award. In a speech packed with Pharrell-isms, Williams (head coincidentally absent of a PLANT cap) concluded, ‘And to my genius assistant Cactus, listen to your instincts and the people who see the qualities in your differences, because you too might just make a difference.’

Paris Flea Markets

Cactus Plant Flea Market is the brainchild of Cynthia Lu, a behind-the-scenes character who is a close member of Pharrell’s circle. Lu started out as an intern at Complex before a stint at Pharrell’s label Billionaire Boys Club, then moved to the multi-media collective i am OTHER and eventually became Pharrell’s personal assistant and stylist. Before establishing Cactus Plant Flea Market, Lu would often sift through flea markets in Paris in search of unique vintage items for Pharrell. These designs would eventually inform the DIY, upcycled look and feel of CPFM. Lu also created a small run of one-of-one pieces for friends, including custom headbands and graphics tees printed on Hanes x Supreme blanks. The roots of CPFM were beginning to grow.

🙂

Then in early 2015, Lu launched a website for CPFM, and around the same time, they dropped a collaborative t-shirt with Anti Social Social Club. Over the following months, Pharrell continued to be Plant’s number-one fan, rocking the brand on magazine covers and during his Super Bowl performance. While retailers like Dover Street Market stocked Cactus Plant Flea Market in a limited capacity, they were still very much under the radar at that point. Nonetheless, Lu had started to define the brand’s design language, which favours wonky smiley-face graphics and textured puff lettering, spelling out cutesy slogans like ‘I LUV CPFM’ or ‘ONE SMILE LEADS TO ANOTHER.’

cactus-plant-flea-market-explained
via instagram.com/easyotabor

Cactus Merch

In 2018, musicians like Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi, N.E.R.D., and even Kanye West tapped Cactus for a proliferation of tour merch, producing one of the most visible products yet: a faded black hoodie with ‘ye must be Born again’ scrawled on the chest. In 2019, CPFM linked with Nike to re-work the Air VaporMax silhouette, which came in a friends-and-family version featuring luminescent cable wrapping the shoe. GQ revealed that Lu shocked the Nike team by showing them DIY VaporMax samples she’d created, ‘Lu stitched the sneakers together using off-the-rack VaporMaxes, t-shirt scraps, lights cut from Payless sneakers, and garden wire.’ The widely lauded and refreshingly unique collaboration cemented CPFM as a brand to watch.

Clearly pleased with the results of the first team-up, Nike continued their work with Cactus, dropping a customisable Blazer Mid with a sponge motif, then an Air Force 1 tacked with oversized letters taken from the Air More Uptempo, and later, Nike x CPFM apparel like an oversized hockey jersey. More recently, CPFM have turned their attention to the Dunk, issuing up a crystal-emblazoned version and a Dunk-inspired silhouette dubbed the Flea 1.

cactus-plant-flea-market-explained

‘Overgrown’ Dunks

Now, Cactus Plant Flea Market’s new ‘Overgrown’ Dunk is leaving some of us scratching our heads. The shoe, covered in dense fur, comes with a tag reading ‘Please Trim Excess Material on Nike CPFM Flea 1 Before Wear.’ The hairy Chia Pet of a shoe channels Lu’s love for organic aesthetics and handmade, DIY twists, but more importantly, it shows her instinct for products that aren’t necessarily trying to be cool – they’re just trying to be fun. Just like most of the whimsical output we’ve seen from CPFM.Although it’s certainly not the reason for the brand’s success, Lu herself has avoided the spotlight and has never conducted an official interview since starting CPFM. Instead, she lets her designs do the talking, and right now, it’s hard to resist commenting on the bizarre but awesome ‘Overgrown’ Dunks.

Keep it locked to SF for all CPFM news as it surfaces. In the meantime, check out a history of Pharrell’s collaborations here.

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