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Handmade with heart

Ashleigh Went

Julie Nichols is no stranger to a market.

Originally a milliner by trade, Julie knows first-hand what it’s like to support yourself as an artist.

“I come from a Defence family and we’d been in Canberra for a really long time, and when we moved I did markets elsewhere and saw how amazing they could be. But when we came back, I couldn’t support myself how I had always done through markets. I thought, ‘well rather than complaining all the time, why not do something about it.’”

Julie enrolled herself in business studies and event management at Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT). One year later, armed with the knowledge she’d acquired and the support of a teacher, she set about her pursuing her dream of establishing a market.

“I decided to have a focus on a handmade product so that there was real niche. I knew Canberra was a discerning marketplace — its people are well educated in what they want to buy and how they want to spend their money.”

“There were lots of hurdles – 10 years ago, people in Canberra weren’t at all supportive of holding events in streets or parks or public spaces.”

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Julie tried Gungahlin and various spaces throughout the city, but to no avail. She took matters into her own hands, hiring Albert Hall and on November 22, 2008 she held the first Handmade Market where 36 stallholders attracted 2,000 people.

“I remember that day because it snowed!” Julie laughs. “It was packed and it was quite obvious from our first event that it was going to be quite a good thing.”

One of the 36 stallholders was Rachel Evagelou, now Julie’s business partner. The duo have built on their knowledge of markets and artisanal products, business savvy and a whole lot of hard work to grow the markets over the years.

The venture quickly outgrew Albert Hall, and when renovations began the pair decided to move the event to the Yarralumla Woolshed. Despite being a beautiful venue, Julie says it was “dirty, hot, and dusty”. With no cooling or heating and parking facilities that were inadequate for the now throbbing crowd, Julie and Rachel decided they needed an indoor venue.

Next the market moved to the Kamberra Wine Company, and then the Convention Centre (NCC). With this move came fresh challenges, including the inability to have food and wine vendors. The crowds had become so large that they threated to break NCC’s fire code. When renovations began, Julie and Rachel set their sights on a new venue: Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC), where the Handmade Market calls home to this day.

Rachel and Julie

Rachel and Julie. Photo by Martin Ollman. 

The event has grown from just one hall to two, and brought back food vans, wine, chocolate and more.

“We’ve gone from 36 stallholders and 2000 customers to 220 stalls and 27,000 customers over the two day event” says Julie.

They also opened the Handmade Canberra store in 2010, a Canberra-centric boutique which, over its six years of operation, grew to be a destination loved by visitors almost as much as the local community.

It’s not just the customer base that’s recognised Julie and Rachel’s work. The team has won a number of awards between the Handmade Markets and Shop Handmade Store, including the Telstra Business Australian Capital Territory Start-Up Award in 2013.

While Julie and Rachel say it’s certainly rewarding to have their work formally recognised, it’s their ability to give back to the community that the team find most fulfilling.

With over 25,000 people coming through the doors at each event, you can imagine the profit that could be made from charging an entry fee. However, that was never Julie’s intention. Every market, Julie has a charity to greet customers at the door and accept donations.

“Share the Dignity had a stall at our last markets where you could bring tampons and pads, and they collected more items at that market than they had collected anywhere in Australia,” says Rachel.

“For us, that’s awesome and something to be proud of, but it’s something the Canberra community can be proud of as well.”

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The St Vincent de Paul Society also ran a blanket drive at the markets in the lead up to winter where they collected blankets, sleeping bags, food and toiletries.

“They were blown away – they said that the donations that they had collected over the June markets would meet Vinnies blanket drive’s needs for over three months. That’s going to make the world of difference to people over this very cold winter that we’ve had.”

In addition to supporting charities, Julie and Rachel are able to provide valuable support to artists, producers and other stallholders who are new to the markets.

“They might be stay at-home-mums or public servants, we have professional artists where that’s their primary business, we have retired people… it’s really lovely to see all these businesses at their different stages and being able to help them,” says Julie.

“It’s wonderful to hear their stories where they’ve wanted to leave their job and it’s their dream to do this, and with markets like ours they’re able to make a really good living from what they’re doing and selling their product. It’s awesome to be part of that journey.”

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Over the course of the years, Julie and Rachel have developed relationships with long-term stallholders including Vicky Kidd-Gallichan of Rockstars and Royalty.

“We have designers who’ve got their works in the Powerhouse Museum, who’ve won awards over in Paris, we’ve had some designers go to New York and write patterns for Vogue and do all sorts of things. It’s really awesome to see and gorgeous to hear about their successes” says Rachel.

The next markets will be held this weekend on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 September, with stallholders including artist Surfing Sloth, Time Flies Designs, Bob Window vintage textiles and more; plus food and wine vendors including Barbell Bintong and Kurbside Kitchen. Dragons Abreast will be on the door collecting donations for their work in supporting breast cancer survivors across the country make a transition back to active lives through dragon boating.

What’s next for Julie and Rachel? Their newest venture, The Local Larder, will be opening early 2017 with a focus on local food and wine producers.

“We’ll still have the beautiful gift shop but it also means you’ll be able to sit down and have a meal or a great coffee, buy some of the product in the retail space, maybe have a beautiful cheeseboard and matching wine looking over Glebe Park” says Rachel.

“We are really excited” says Julie.

And we can’t wait!

the essentials

What: Handmade Market
When: 10am to 4pm, Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 September 2016
Where: Exhibition Park in Canberra, Corner Flemington Road and Northbourne Avenue, Mitchell
Web: www.handmadecanberra.com.au

This is a sponsored article. To read more about sponsored articles, click here

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Ashleigh Went

HerCanberra ACTIVE Editor Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. As someone who loves champagne and cheese almost as she loves a sweaty workout, she's all about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. She can usually be found with her nose in a book, planning her next adventure, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue. More about the Author

  • Susan Arney

    What a fabulous Canberra icon the Handmade Shop was & the Handmade Markets are…undoubtedly The Local Larder will be welcomed with open arms too! Can’t wait for it to open in 2017…this weekend can’t come soon enough either as I can get along to the fabulous market at EPIC (my first for this year!!). Thanks Rachel & Julie ~ two fantastic women! ?

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