LIVING Makers’ Mrkt is the antidote to mass production, with its personally curated selection of art, ceramics, fashion accessories, glassware, sculptures, vases and other artisan-made items. Lucire speaks to its founder, Kelly Thompson
One thing that COVID-19 has given us an awareness of is appreciating the better things in life. There’s a sense that life this century has sped up to an unsustainable degree, with our demand for the new, and the manufacturing techniques that generate it, reaching unnecessary levels. Who hasn’t marvelled at the quietness and the return of nature that some lockdowns have produced? Or just taking the time to unplug from consumerism—since we couldn’t really indulge in it as readily any more—and look at the finer things in life.
While we’re aware that some flocked to Amazon or Aliexpress to order items to make their home time easier, 2020 surely should be the year of finding those niche products made by artisans, craftspeople and small businesses and supporting them. In an age when Jeff Bezos rakes it in while nearly 20,000 Amazon staff members are suspected of having COVID-19, supporting the big same-again names could be regarded as anathema when there are artworks, interior items, clothing and lifestyle products to be enjoyed at Makers’ Mrkt (makersmrkt.com), an Australasian website personally cultivated from the best of what individuals and small businesses have to offer.
Curating the art, jewellery, glassware, manchester, accessories, ceramics, sculptures, soaps, candles, vases and other items is none other than Kelly Thompson, whose photography appeared in this magazine in the mid-2000s—indeed, Thompson’s photographs made the cover. Even then she was a talented illustrator, making her a doubly sought-after woman whose work more than spoke for itself.
Thompson moved to Melbourne, Victoria from her earlier New Zealand base, and begun phasing out her photography work. She began working as an artists’ agent, getting her knowledge about commercial art, before building up her illustration work, which now includes brand consulting and multidisciplinary design.
Chatting to Thompson and reminding her that her last contribution to Lucire was in 2007, she remarks, ‘I can’t believe it was that long ago—how things have changed since then!’ And she has found a good place in her career. ‘It’s been really fun taking my creative ideas and pushing them into different mediums such as designing for fashion brands, helping people with their interior spaces and developing branding packages.’
Creating Makers’ Mrkt was really an extension of what she was already doing with her illustration. These were always sold as prints via her personal website, and occasionally through other stores. She also knew colleagues in a similar boat, selling their wares directly. ‘It dawned on me one day that if you’re not in the creative community or are not lucky to know creatives like me, it could be really hard to shop small and find these amazing products. If you don’t know the name of an artist or don’t know exactly what you’re after, what would you Google and would you even find what you had in mind?
‘You’re also not helped by the fact that many creatives don't have the best SEO with their websites and are very often purely focused on making the work, not necessarily updating a web store!’
She explains, ‘I decided to build a site that housed the work of many creatives, to hopefully solve this problem and offer a curated library of talented makers all in one place. I also really wanted to help the artists, knowing how hard it can be to make a buck on your own, I wanted to build a community and help them make sales to fuel their growing businesses.’
Makers’ Mrkt began with Thompson’s own work—‘I may as well put them on Mrkt to try and tap into the Mrkt audience too’—and prints from fellow artists, selling affordable wall art. ‘As I became more interested in creating a beautiful home space myself, I started to think about ceramics and homewares and people I knew who made those kinds of products. Then it expanded outside of my friendship circle to makers I admired and it started to grow organically from there. As my interest grew, I started to notice more of what was going on around me, and now I’m fully immersed and there are so many people I’d love to add!’
In a short space of time, Thompson managed to get others on board. Her formula is simple: ‘I just ask people who I admire.’ She believes that being a maker herself opens doors, but generally, it’s her down-to-earth approach that helps seal the deal. ‘I’m a genuine person so my emails are very honest and filled with admiration. I just approach people like a human without a PR spiel, don’t promise the world, but offer to help them on their journey and place their work alongside the talents of others.
‘At the start, Mrkt was just a side hustle that I placed no pressure on and I think that was a lovely way to start it off and grow it organically, figuring out what works and what doesn’t without any weight of failure. Now I’m dedicating more time to it and have a clear idea of what works, what doesn’t and what I want to happen next, so it’s going to grow with new makers more regularly now.’
Despite her own illustrations having been the first step toward online selling, Thompson admits that it’s unusual for her to post them to Makers’ Mrkt’s Instagram account (@makers_mrkt). ‘To be honest, I always feel a bit weird posting my own work … it really is about the artists other than myself.’
Among those other artists is a familiar name, Deborah Sweeney, known to most readers as an international fashion designer who had been selling into retailers in New York and elsewhere. Lately Sweeney has been growing her career as a ceramicist. Thompson says, ‘I can’t get enough of her work at the moment—the interior stylists love her work over here! As far as surprises go, I don’t think that there are any similar to Deborah, but a few of the makers have followed a similar path, changing career to adopt a more creative way of life.’
Thompson’s favourites include some ‘Australian exclusives’ that were about to arrive during our interview, and which are ‘very colourful’. Others are the Kura incense holders, the Ella Reweti vases, and the Slowdown Studio blankets. ‘I’m also a huge fan of NZ-based Gidon Bing and his incredibly considered everyday ceramic items,’ she adds.
She has big plans for Makers’ Mrkt, expanding the product selection, and shooting her own interior campaigns so people can visualize the items in a space. Thompson also wants to develop a Mrkt brand of her own and scaling up the store. ‘It’s been going so well without my full focus so now I’m ready to see how far it can go with some dedicated time. I’m considering looking for a business partner or an investor, someone more interested in the back of house or someone who is passionate as I am about supporting creative community. We will see how that pans out.’ •
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