Recently, bazaars and markets have become especially popular in Beijing; even schools will host charity sales and performances at shopping malls for a cause. Beijing parents enjoy the annual international school bazaars in their yearly search for Christmas presents. But what many might not know is that the vendors smiling from across the table are all connected in one large group called the Beijing bazaars and markets WeChat group.
Just two years ago, finding information about pop up markets was even more difficult than it is today, as they were not as popular. Anita Boladeras manages the group, in which other vendors and market hosts share information about upcoming bazaars and markets.
“I remember going to these markets and seeing the same people over and over, so I asked, ‘Is there a place where we can get this information?’”
Boladeras, designer of Flora & Fauna, decided to make the group then, even with just a handful of people.
Caroline Nath, maker of Bonne Nani Jams and Chutneys, added that when Boladeras suggested the group, “It was the beginning of markets then.” Her first market was at Farm to Neighbors, back when the platform was small and held “at the old Modernista on Baochao.” Only three other markets held permanent spots as organic food handicraft markets.
The group has grown to over 400, and markets are available several times during the week.
“We really like to keep it quiet and very useful. There are just a few rules, no stickers, keep your introduction of yourself short and keep it really useful, only market and bazaar stuff,” Boladeras said.
Too much spam, and the group would stop being useful for them, as many have livelihoods attached to markets. “Some people will shamelessly advertise themselves… but there are a few of us who help Anita out and keep the guard up so that this group stays the sacred space opened by vendors for vendors,” Nath commented. She then added, “Sometimes we are impolite, but it is for the good of all.”
Choosing the Best Handicraft
But now the bazaar and markets industry is booming in Beijing, with over twenty bazaars filling up calendars in December alone. Now might be a good time for future vendors to consider if they’d like to get into the market for this busy season next year. But how does one know what to do, or at which market to start?
“If you’re interested in getting into bazaars and markets, I would say pick something that you’re passionate about and what you can handicraft. If I didn’t design it or make it by myself, I don’t find that it’s very interesting, there’s no difference between buying and selling,” Boladeras mentioned.
“The markets are quite different sometimes, in terms of the crowd, organization, atmosphere, variety and quantity of vendors, promotion by organizer, and [customer]demand,” Kicki Fremmer, Designer for meijile clothes, explained.
She noted that sometimes people are just there to browse, or the pollution and weather do not encourage people to get out of their apartments. During high seasons, like before Christmas, there’s business for everyone. Interestingly, she added, “food vendors are always considered different; the table fees for them are super high.”
Boladeras agrees, “You need to select what fits you, and you need to just try. Right now is an easy time because there are so many bazaars. I analyze how much I’m going to make and if I can pay the fee, since the fee can be from nothing to RMB 1000. I personally won’t go to a bazaar where I have to pay more than RMB 300.”
Nath believes it’s most important to have passion for both the process and final product. “People, Chinese or others, who come to small markets look for human contact. Handmade things hold a sense of belonging to a community, sharing food, life, and creation together. Markets have existed since the beginning of time and with globalization and hypermarkets, we have lost not only the human touch, but we don’t know where or how our food and products are made.”
“The love of small as beautiful and homemade… is making a huge come back in China,” and Nath enjoys “presenting clients with culturally different culinary experiences.”
Not all vendors are making handicrafts in their spare time. Victoria Kong, Founder of Yellow Pummelo, continued and expanded her business thanks to the “incredible positive responses from attendees/customers” at the bazaars and markets. Due to the increase in artisan and handicraft markets, especially with a rapid growth at the beginning of this year, Kong was able to transition into focusing on growing her brand.
“I find more and more people, both foreigners, but especially local Chinese, want to develop a relationship of trust and not just purchase mass market products.” This year, Kong or a member of her team have been able to participate in a market every week.
Yellow Pummelo has been approached for market opportunities in Tianjin, Shanghai, and Xiamen. “The markets have been incredible opportunities for us to connect with people one-on-one, to share our products with them, and get their feedback.”
With the momentum, they were able to start selling online, providing products for a few retail locations, and just opened up their own studio space.
Finally, we were curious, how can customers make the best use of their time at a bazaar?
First, browsing clients should feel free to ask questions of vendors, even when the product is more expensive then you would expect.
“If it seems a little expensive, I remember that someone actually took the time into making the craft,” Boladeras explains. When speaking with the diverse customers in Beijing, there’s no specific culture that defines a “good customer,” as Boladeras explained, “I find that Chinese customers will stick around and look more once they find out the stories behind different items. While European customers, at least, they just want to look around, and if they want something, they’ll ask.”
Nath would encourages customers, “Find out where the product came from, who made it, why they make it a certain way, and you will have a wonderful experience.” Customers really do have a strong say in what small business owners provide in exchange for their buying loyalty.
“Another tip for the customers is to look for modern concepts, find the difference within the offer.” Fremmer added, “Some vendors pursue sustainability, work with natural products only, or products of their home country, (I’m thinking of patterns from Ghana, wool from Scotland). The personal and very individual story, or the idea of local characteristics to share with the world.”