Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

Handmade and great for the city

Emma Macdonald

It started back in 2008 as an idea to elevate the status of some up-and-coming Canberra designers.

Now it is a multi-million economic boon for the city and its craftspeople – drawing visitors from across the city and region four times a year.

Founder and owner Julie Nichols (pictured above, center) had a vision and a business plan. With a background in the RAAF, hospitality and having run a small millinery business, Julie wanted to shine a spotlight on small and dedicated artisans producing bespoke goods. In a society which often worships at the altar of shopping malls, it was a refreshing change for Canberra at a time we were just finding our hipster straps. Julie took a leap of faith and managed to pull 35 stallholders together in the Albert Hall.

It was the start of the Handmade Market juggernaut, which has since outgrown the Albert Hall (and the Yarralumla Woolshed and the Kamberra Wine Company and the Convention Centre) before finding a permanent home at Exhibition Park.

Indeed, it has grown to the point where Handmade Market now draws more than 120,000 visitors a year and is one of the largest tourism events on the calendar.

The very first Handmade Markets at Albert Hall.

With 2018 being the tenth birthday for the now thriving market community, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr congratulated the Handmade team on creating “a local business that makes it easier for Canberrans to support other local business”.

“It’s fantastic for our economy as these figures show, but their commitment to giving back to the community is just as impressive.”

This is a reference to Handmade’s policy of not charging an admission fee but of encouraging gold-coin donations for local charity greeters who collect donations at the front of each market.

Through this policy, Handmade has played a part in channelling more than $100,000 dollars into the coffers of some of the city’s most worthy charities – from Vinnies, to Dragons Abreast, Menslink, Share the Dignity and Send Hope Not Flowers.

Rockstars and Royalty at one of the first Handmade Markets at Yarralumla Woolshed.

“Handmade Markets is a Canberra institution. A great place to shop and a great place to take visitors,” Andrew added, noting that the weekend market had a sizeable impact on tourism income as shoppers come from both the Canberra region and interstate to buy directly from some of the city’s best artisans and producers.

With its adherence to a focus on the ACT region, Handmade now hosts more than 260 indoor stalls – making it one of Australia’s largest indoor markets. Merchandise includes everything from homewares, to fashion, gifts, and accessories. The gourmet food and drinks hall is enormous – making Handmade almost as much a place for a day of feasting as it is for buying goods.

Julie’s philosophy is a simple, but powerful, one.

“We support Australian small business. This market provides a platform for creative artisans to sell their designs directly to customers, allowing them to speak first-hand about their products. Connecting the two creates such a positive atmosphere, it’s hard to describe. But we see the result in numbers.”

To celebrate Handmade’s tenth year of operation, a fifth market will be held this year with events scheduled for March, May, July, October and December.

Now employing a staff of five and gaining a loyal tribe in social media as well as publishing a monthly newsletter and an online magazine, Julie is keen to see the Handmade brand continue to thrive.

“Not all markets are pitched at the same level of ours – we work really hard to curate the best of the region and to make sure that our stallholders are providing a quality product. You don’t come to Handmade for mass-produced imports.”

“You come for creativity, quality, workmanship and sensational customer service, and an interactive relationship with stallholders.”

the essentials

What: Handmade Market Autumn 2018
When: Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 March. Doors open at 10 am and close at 4 pm
Where: EPIC Exhibition Park, corner of Flemington Road and Northbourne Avenue, Mitchell
Entry: Free but donations to charity collectors are encouraged
More information:

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author