rom like musicians Arianna Grande and Justin Bieber, to athletes and musicians like Odell Beckham Jr. and Pharrell, celebrities just can't get enough wearing the unique stylings of Cactus Plant Flea Market. CPFM is a brand that’s grown to notable heights on the streetwear scene, and when big names like this wear a CPFM piece, we notice it.
And, you should notice CPFM’s fresh take on streetwear too. Because this apparel brand is made from a designer who prefers to stay out of the limelight and let's the artisanal clothes do the talking, we wanted to take closer look at what makes Cactus Plant Flee Market so special.
Where CPFM Bloomed
The brainchild of Cynthia Lu, who worked with Pharrell as his assistant and stylist at “Billionaire Girls Club” and “i am OTHER”, CPFM first appeared online at cactusplantfleamarket.com on Jan. 1 2015. Back then, the fledgling site flickered with animated GIFS of Pharrell’s behind-the-scenes life (getting a haircut and hanging out with Karl Lagerfeld) and performing onstage in front of hundreds of thousands of fans.
Before launching her line, Lu scoured Parisian flea markets to find vintage apparel and accessories to remake for Pharrell to wear. This artistic, upcycled, DIY aesthetic would fuel CPFM’s vibe. At the start, Lu designed one-of-a-kind pieces for her friends.
This included headbands and custom graphic tees she printed on Hanes x Supreme shirts. In June 2015, when Pharrell accepted his CFDA Fashion Icon Award, he told his “genius assistant” to “listen to your instincts.” That’s when the brand really took shape.
As a side note, if you’re wondering where the name Cactus Plant Flea Market came from, here it is: You already know about the flea market part. Liu’s friends call her “Cactus” or “Plant.” In an interview with GQ, Pharrell expands on Lu’s nickname: “Cynthia is a beautiful name, but when we were working together I was like, ‘Man, this doesn't really match you. It puts a lid on your energy.”
After Lu told him she’d been called “Cactus” at a prior job for taking in an unwanted cacti, he said, “I was like, ‘That's it, you're Cactus. You're short, you're sharp, and you’re not easy to touch. And in the driest of times, you're the one with the water.’ ”
And that “water” turned CPFM into a unique streetwear brand with an artisanal vibe. One of Lu’s first product releases was a yellow t-shirt with an embroidered cactus, of course.
The Clothes (and Shoes) Do the Talking
Interestingly, Lu stays out of the spotlight and does almost no press for the brand. That’s why celeb sightings like Offset, Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi and Tyler, the Creator wearing CPFM are such a big deal. Pharrell remains one of Lu’s biggest fans, creating a fanfare especially when he wore her “Ye Must Be Born Again” hoodie.
In 2019, CPFM and Lu worked with Nike—their first collaboration transforming the global sports brand’s VaporMax 2019 reimagined with a crude Swoosh made of garden wire tied on the side panel, followed by other sneakers and an oversized hockey jersey and teal anorak, worn by LeBron James and Drake.
CPFM quickly made an in-demand name for itself—making motocross racing gear for Alpinestars, tour merch for The Rolling Stones, Pharrell, West, the A$AP Mob and Kid Cudi. Lu even collaborated with streetwear OG Stüssy for a limited-edition Independence Day run. Another much-wanted CPFM product is a custom enamel-and-diamond friendship bracelet Lu creates with Jacob the Jeweler.
If you’ve taken a look at CPFM's catalog, much of the streetwear brand’s appeal comes from its unexpected combo of asymmetrical typography and graphic imagery, along with hand-dye treatments, embroidery and puff screen printing. CPFM’s signature look is melting yellow smiley faces and puff print phrases on staple streetwear pieces like t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, headbands and hoodies.
With the help of Nigo, creator of the urban clothing line A Bathing Ape, Lu recently expanded beyond t-shirts and sweatshirts with a ready-to-wear line produced in Japan called CPFM.XYZ. This line turns out slouchy satin flight jackets and purple shibori-dyed painter’s pants.
Your big takeaway: Cactus Plant Flea Market isn’t cut from the same cloth as any other fashion brand. Lu’s pieces are artisanal, artistic and one of a kind. Many of CPFM’s collaborations are ultra-limited-edition, as in there’s just one available – namely, a CPFM x Denim Tears pair of vintage sweats, with a yellow smiley face wearing a David Hammons African-American bandana.
Is CPFM the ‘Future of Streetwear?
The late, great Virgil Abloh, designer for Louis Vuitton and Off-White, sure thought so. Circa 2020, when the pandemic pushed many brands to rethink how they made, marketed and sold their clothes, Lu’s detachment from fame and the dog-eat-dog fashion cycle kept her in sync.
Her collaboration hugely successful and unique collaboration with McDonalds on an adult Happy Meal, shows Lu's ability to think out of the box. It also showcases her ability to lead streetwear into places it may not have ever thought of going before, which bodes well for the brand's longevity.
Abloh famously said that streetwear was going to die, followed by: “I firmly believe that Cynthia is…the future of it [streetwear]…She is the prototype for the next …epicenter of ideas…She’s a pure artist. The designs stand on their own, and they don’t need to be promoted. She doesn’t have to use hype.”