In a world where cheap, mass produced products are so readily available, getting a foot in the door as a new designer of hand made goods can be tough. But fledgling businesses like children’s fashion designers Melon & Goliath are finding that local markets such as Brisbane’s Young Designers Markets are the perfect place to not only build a customer following but also establish much needed industry contacts.
Gold Coast sisters Laura and Katherine Jukes founded their children’s clothing label, Melon & Goliath, in 2016, armed with a vision and backgrounds in creative design and fine arts.
The sisters design and sell their own products, and are only too aware that hand made items are time consuming to produce, which means it’s important their goods are marketed in an environment that doesn’t force them to compete with heavily discounted, mass produced imports.
“The biggest difficulties we faced were time and money… we both work outside of Melon & Goliath, so scheduling time can be tricky and money was the other big hurdle, everything costs money when [you’re] starting out,” Laura said.
Which is where local designer’s markets come in. By setting up a stall at Southbank’s Young Designers Markets (YDM), which is tailored for vendors who design or create the products they sell, Laura and Katherine were able to increase awareness of their brand, boost their online sales and build industry contacts.
“We found that designer’s markets are definitely helpful to get our brand out there and customers made through online sales will also come and support us,” Laura said.
The sisters said they were impressed with the results after holding their first stall at the Young Designers Markets in 2016 and have been regular attendees ever since.
“They [the YDM] have been a great market to attend,” Laura said.
“Southbank gets a lot of foot traffic and people may have already been in the area, which sets them apart from other local markets we’ve attended,” Laura said.
“We were lucky, finding some lovely people and businesses who have genuinely helped us grow our brand.”
Bluesky Management group set up the YDM, and managing director Ross Alexander said the market was the result of public demand.
“In 2006, we were operating the South Bank Markets and were receiving quite a few applications from individuals studying in the creative industries,” Mr Alexander said.
He said the group got increasing numbers of applications from younger designers and recognised a gap in the market for markets dedicated to promoting local, emerging designers.
“I visited a few of the design schools around Brisbane and worked out that we could rally a decent number of students interested in setting up a stall to create a niche market, so it found its feet fairly quickly and attracted a fair bit of media attention,” Mr Alexander said.
Mr Alexander said the popularity of the YDM had been increasing annually, and he expected this year to be no different thanks to Southbank’s restaurants and cafes providing a constant stream of ready browsers.
He said as the markets increased in popularity, Bluesky Management noticed it wasn’t just students and “young” designers who were interested in holding stalls there.
“We were getting regular feedback from people trying to get in the market who were older than the average undergraduate age student, but shared every other characteristic of an emerging designer.”
This is when the “young” portion of the market’s name shifted context to include not just young designers, but those with young or burgeoning design ideas.
“They were new to the creative industries and attempting to launch a new brand or label, so we changed our eligibility criteria to include people who might be considered new or starting out,” Mr Alexander said.
He said part of the popularity of the YDM could be attributed to the fact that they ensured the local culture’s changing tastes and new developments in the creative design world were represented at the markets.
“A market will work if it reflects and supports local culture, and people will continue to visit a market if it stays up to speed with current trends in design.”
Mr Alexander said stallholder selection was an important part of Bluesky Management’s role, and although merchandise quality was important, it was vital that stallholders were passionate about their products.
“The best stallholders and the ones who are most successful are the ones that love what they are doing and show it… customers are attracted to them and they get the most out of the market,” he said.
Mr Alexander said the growing popularity of online shopping had created a harmonious relationship between physical markets and their online counterparts.
“In recent years, online retailing and markets like the YDM have been very complementary, with most traders having online businesses,” he said.
“The YDM provides a shopfront where they can sell their work and promote their online businesses.”
Experienced artist and “feature stallholder” at last year’s YDM was Robyn Stewart, who owns Sunshine Coast creative design studio, Birdy & Clementine.
Ms Stewart has held stalls at the YDM many times and finds them effective in increasing sales and providing her studio with some much appreciated exposure.
“I do follow the big markets in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, so it’s important I prioritise, but I frequent the YDM as they are always very well attended,” she said.
Mrs Stewart, who creates original ceramic earrings and jewellery, and one-of-a-kind hand painted kitchenware, said she prided herself on the fact that she designs and hand makes all her own goods.
She said it was very important that organisers of markets such as the YDM actively promoted and fostered designers, as well as ensuring stallholders sold items that were designed or created by the people selling them.
“We are struggling in an environment flooded with imports and it’s important markets continue to support designers of hand-made products because it’s hard work creating unique pieces, especially having to compete with cheaply imported items,” Ms Stewart said.
“The public get sick of attending markets where they can say ‘well, that’s imported, they didn’t make or design that’, and that’s what is starting to happen at other markets,” she said.
Mr Alexander said the success of the Young Designers Markets had less to do with the promotion of the event and more to do with the city’s creative residents.
“It’s thriving and there are lots of people doing interesting things,” he said.
“The market is very accessible for showcasing creative individuals who want to get their work out to the public in a simple, cost-effective manner.”