Kelly Thompson from Makers’ Mrkt on the business of creativity

Makers Mrkt

Kelly Thompson, creator of Makers’ Mrkt. Image supplied.

Illustrator Kelly Thompson is well known in New Zealand for her beautiful, imaginative work and in late 2018 she launched an online store called Makers’ Mrkt that has grown to stock the artistic creations of nearly 40 talented makers. What started out as a passion project for Kelly has become an online go-to for shoppers looking for unique, artisan pieces from locally-owned, small businesses, including Jasmin Sparrow Jewellery, Black Blaze, Dean Toepfer, Ella Reweti, Slowdown Studio and of course, Kelly Thompson’s own collection of winsome work. Makers’ Mrkt is currently expanding its offering and looking to stock more local, up-and-coming and established, independent artisans.

We caught up with Kelly to find out more about Maker’ Mrkt, why it matters to support creatives and what advice she keeps referring back to?

How did Makers’ Mrkt come about and what has the response been like so far?
As a maker myself, I know how hard it can be to sell your product when you’re relying entirely on your own website. I realised a few years ago how lucky I am to be part of a community of creatives with access to beautiful products, I never have to hunt outside of my circle when shopping for myself or for gifts for others, shopping from independent designers and shopping small is very easy for me. I’m in a lucky spot! I started thinking about how hard it must be if you’re a person outside of creative community looking to shop small, or buy say ceramics for example if you don’t know a specific artist to Google. Often creatives aren’t that great at updating their web stores or making sure their SEO is thorough and there are just so many creatives, where does Jim the accountant even start if he wants to shop more consciously from the little guys? These thoughts were what spurred me on, I wanted to bring my world to the public and give them one site that introduced makers and new products regularly so they can just come to Mrkt and find everything in one place. I wanted to create a site that encouraged people to think about the people behind the product and the importance of supporting the creative community over mass-produced unethical items.

Can you tell us about the core ethics and values of Makers’ Mrkt?
Mrkt is very much about helping creatives grow their businesses and help get their names out there. It also intends to encourage consumers to think about how the products they purchase are made, educate them on the differences between mass-produced items and handmade or small run items and really encourage conversation about shopping to support creative community and also local community. I believe that every dollar we spend is a vote for the future we want and I would love to see a prosperous and inspired creative community in our future. 90% of Mrkt product is made by hand by the designer themselves often in small, limited runs, things are not readily available and the stock I order is often ordered months in advance and made to order. This is important, it helps people appreciate the value of the work, not everything can be available all the time, forever and at an instant, it is very much about time and quality and sustainable manufacturing.

How would you describe the Makers’ Mrkt customer and what do you think they’re looking for when they shop with you?
I think the majority of the Mrkt customers are thoughtful people, either people who wholeheartedly want to support people making beautiful things, or people who are trying to be more thoughtful about their spending practices. They are people who treasure the items they have and want their home life to be one filled with objects that make them happy. I think they are, in general, slowly piecing together a collection of things they cherish, I get the feeling that they’re quite considerate.

How important is it for creatives to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
It is so important and something that I have put a lot of effort into throughout my creative career prior to Makers’ Mrkt too. As a young creative in particular, it is so hard to find the information you need about what to charge, how to grow a business, licencing your work and it can be a very isolating journey, often with wasted years as you learn from mistakes that could have easily been avoided. As a young creative (I started as a photographer), I couldn’t find a single established photographer who would openly share knowledge, it was very much ‘I learned it the hard way, so you have to too’, while it is important to learn your own lessons and expect to work hard, a lot of the time this is a selfish and destructive attitude. I believe that we as a creative community are stronger in unison, more respected by clients if we are aware of what each other charges and we should see each other as companions not competition. There is definitely room for all of us so we need to help each other out!

Makers Mrkt

Artisan products available on Makers’ Mrkt.

How do you personally define success and what does it mean to you?
My ideas of success are very different these days, I don’t want everything, I strive to feel satisfied by my work and feel like I am contributing to something good that is outside of myself. Success for me is learning new things and feeling like I am moving, either mentally, or on a project or in my sense of self, success for me is being able to learn from mistakes and make change. I value positivity and sharing that positivity and also feeling content in where I am right now. Success is feeling like an effort I have made in any area of my life is paying off.

What are you most proud of doing?
Ooh a hard question! I am most proud of my ability to stay honest with myself. As far as my work goes, I’d say I’m proud that I can fail and not see it as a failure.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have a few, one of my first big international illustration projects was doing a full packaging and worldwide campaign including POS displays for an Escada fragrance, I just remember the complete joy when I won that pitch and the feeling like I’d really achieved something when I saw photos of it around the world. Working with Walker & Hall to create a jewellery collection was a dream come true as I’d never designed jewellery before and am an avid collector, I still need to get a piece for myself so I can have a little souvenir!

You’ve been involved in the fashion industry for a long time, in what way can the fashion industry be used as tool for good? Can feminism and fashion co-exist?
They can definitely co-exist, but only so if the brands who are making the clothing respect the work of the garment workers who are predominantly female and underpaid, working in poverty. It disgusts me how some brands pipe on about female empowerment only to disrespect the females making their product, this was perfectly demonstrated by Beyoncé when she released her first Ivy Park collection that was made in a sweatshop, it’s very obvious that when she sang ‘Girls run the world’ she didn’t mean her garment workers. It’s also important that through marketing strategies fashion empowers women and doesn’t make them feel like they are less than, I think the bigger brands often fail in these areas but the smaller and mid-sized brands seem to be more aware and inclusive.

The fashion industry can be a tool used for good, at a base level, fashion changes how you feel about yourself, an outfit can make you feel powerful, sexy, confident and greatly alter how you act throughout your day, women who feel good achieve more and live a more content life, it all brews from the inside and if a dress helps that’s great. Fashion also has a lot of power to change the state of our environment. If more brands invested in circular strategies and were actively considering the materials they use, treatment processes and where they are sourced from, this could wipe out a large part of environmental waste and risk to human health. Changes in these areas also directly human quality of life for the workers and those living in areas where production occurs. Fashion brands also often have an air of ‘cool’ and are aspirational for many, If they used this position of leadership positively to encourage consumers to think about various issues or things that are important to them they can have a lot of power to do good via their audiences.

Makers Mrkt

Artisan products available on Makers’ Mrkt.

What do you think we should all be doing as individuals to consume fashion more responsibly?
The main thing would be to think about where and how it is made and by whom it was made. A lot of brands are purposely vague in this area, if you ask the question and they remain vague then don’t shop with them because they’re probably hiding something. Also, shop less, don’t buy it because it’s cheap or a trend, buy it because you love it and will wear it and keep it for time, stop buying for the sake of it, buy it because it somehow enriches you, keep it and wear it in new ways for years to come.

There has been an increasing awareness from consumers and the industry about the issues around creating products ethically and sustainably. What factors do you take into account when you personally shop from other brands?

I never shop fast fashion ever, I don’t even enter the shops to tempt myself, if you want a cheap tee, shop vintage, or buy less and buy one that costs slightly more. I never just buy for the sake of it, I buy things that I know I’ll keep or things that make me feel something, never just buying something for a one-off occasion. I also, watch out for brands, they may look cool and ethical, but if they don’t have any information about their supply chain or production on their site I ask them, there are a lot of brands wearing great masks these days who are no better than fast fashion. I also never shop a trend, you’ve got to be true to yourself, do you like it because it suits you and it’s your style or are you just taking what’s thrown at you only to be over it when the next trend comes along.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you keep referring back to?
Don’t ever try to mimic someone else’s style (both in my wardrobe and my work), their style is theirs and you will never be as good as them at it, find your own way.

Where can we find you when you’re not creating and how do you relax?
Probably in my ever-expanding vege garden or out of my house (well when not in Melbourne lockdown!). I love to do reformer pilates to clear my mind and energise myself and my partner is in hospitality so when we are not working we are often sampling some of the delicious food Melbourne has to offer.

What are your goals for the future?
To go outside more, release my own line of home items and a small accessory brand. Just get in as much as I can really!

Images supplied.

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