Making Spaces Marketplace is an empty space to creative space project. It operates under the umbrella of Pop Up Parramatta which is supported by Arts NSW. It is located in the heart of Parramatta CBD, and is home to over 30 emerging and established handmade Australian designers. It’s a retail store, full of creative and pretty things. Self representing designers lease the space within Making Spaces on a short term basis.

“Our philosophy is based on the idea of "makers helping makers" and our aim is to generate continued support of each other within the handmade community and promote our work to the wider community at the same time.” Kirrily Walker

How was the space first identified and who was contacted to secure it?

The Creative Broker of Pop Up Parramatta (PUP), Merryn Spencer, had procured the space as suitable for the PUP program and arranged its use. Our expression of interest and subsequent proposal to PUP had been previously approved and we were matched with this retail space.

What was required to secure the space?

To secure our space within the PUP initiative, we had to have a strong and detailed plan of what we would use a space for prior to allocation of one. It had to be flexible but also have a long term vision. To secure this specific space, we had to sign a lease and agree to some conditional terms. Because the retail lease we were signing was short term, we were required to have a lawyer to sign a Section 16 Certificate which says that we are not entitled to a 5 year lease.

What needed to be provided by you as hirer or user of the space?

Everything! Our shop front was disused and had been vacant for 2 years. So cleaning, signage (with the help of a friend), fit out and so on, was our responsibility.

What were the costs?

They had to be very minimal for several reasons: there was no guarantee that we would have the space for more than 30 days and our business model operates on a not for profit basis, so we needed Making Spaces to be self sustaining very quickly. The initial set-up contribution from each of us was $250. The items used to fit out the space are mostly repurposed objects (that’s a fancy way of saying we pilfered through hard rubbish!) and our own existing furniture. Whilst our financial outlay was minimal, the investment of our time has been, and remains, incredibly large. Our ongoing costs are those you’d expect with a retail space: rent, merchant facilities, electricity, packaging, promotion and the like.

What were the resources available to you?

We both had experience running our own small handmade businesses coming into this project, therefore we already had many resources available to us. Our own business knowledge and a steep learning curve has allowed us to be largely self sufficient. We also have the support of Pop Up Parramatta through their Creative Broker - this gives us access to mentoring and workshops as well as practical things like internet access, printing etc and the networking benefits of being part of a wider project.

Who helped you to fit it out?

A couple of mates with muscles! However, we mostly completed the fit out ourselves. We both live in the Blue Mountains and very quickly regretted our idea of painting all our furniture in gloss white enamel in the middle of winter! It took us two weeks and we never want to see a paintbrush again. Once it was done, we did gain a lot of satisfaction from the fact that we pulled a good looking store together from nothing, in the space of a fortnight. It has since evolved and looks more filled out and will continue to do so as our stock and designer list grows and changes.

What were/are the obstacles?

The temporary nature of the Pop Up project means a lack of security and certainty. It has forced us to develop a business model that’s portable should we be required to relocate. We have a conditional lease, which means we are not able to make any changes to the property in any way (like permanent wall hooks) so we need to be very creative at times when displaying wares. This temporary nature also means that things move fast and we had to set up quickly, and we always need to think on our feet to keep up with what our customers and designers need.

What were/are the risks?

Risks are an inevitable part of getting involved in a project like this. At first we weren’t sure if people would think our idea was valuable or worthwhile. Would designers trade with us? Would customers walk through our door (especially in a depressed economy and when we are not located in a prime retail position)? Yet we forged ahead and thankfully they did on both counts.

We work long hours between the shop trading hours and behind the scenes, so we need to be mindful of life balance and avoid burnout. Also, we have a rule: we are friends first, and business partners second!