Photography provided by: Blackbird Markets
Though Melbourne has a vast array of markets, only the unique ones stand the test of time. Now entering its fourth year, it would seem that the Blackbird Market in Fitzroy is, indeed, unique.
“It came about for totally selfish reasons,” Courtney Johnson, the market’s founder, explained. “There are a lot of markets for artisan and vintage but we wanted a place to offload vintage as well as sell knick-knacks and focus on craft.”
In 2009, Johnson and a friend started what is now a curated, monthly market—named for her favourite Beatles song— showcasing local talent in contemporary design, handmade jewellery, home wares, fashion, illustration and various crafty trinkets.
“We’ve had to be careful to retain that uniqueness,” Johnson said. “Melbourne is so creative and there are a bunch of places for people to share their brand so we try to reinvent Blackbird and be consistent in finding great stuff.”
The market has since evolved into a tight-knit community that Johnson, who now lives in Sydney, maintains with the help of her parents and friend, Georgia Dale. Cape Lounge, near the corner of Brunswick and Johnson, has been the Blackbird Market venue for all four years. Johnson says the open, light-filled space has always worked well, however, the indoor venue means a limit on the number of highly coveted vendor stalls.
“There are 15 stalls and only about three of those are regulars, so we curate it to be a changing line-up of artists,” Johnson said. “It’s really tricky keeping it fresh and finding unique products but that’s also what makes it work.”
Though the stalls may be regularly changing, the atmosphere does not. Johnson credits the small space with making the environment what it is: intimate. For a short time, they experimented with including bands and other live music but it proved to be too noisy and took away from the relationship between the vendors and the audience. “We are so focused on the creators, giving them a space to build and grow their brand and the opportunity to connect with a broad audience.”
Johnson admits that she had no idea about running a business or a market before initiating the Blackbird Markets and was lucky how organically it caught on and has continued to grow.In an act of modern entrepreneurship, Johnson “strongly embraced” social media to help spread the word and promote the work of her stallholders. “We use [social media] to do profile pieces, display galleries, share DIY ideas. We’re working on the website right now and would like it to be a destination for people; an online presence for craft, design and local creators.”
The Blackbird Market website will eventually act as a platform to highlight the crossover of skills within the artistic community. Johnson envisions it as a place a graphic designer can offer steps to make a rosette, an illustrator can post a chocolate cake recipe, or any other of the infinite combination possibilities can be shared.
Despite her desire to retain the small community she has created with Blackbird Market, Johnson recognises that there is opportunity to expand and cultivate new initiatives. In Sydney, she has started Lonely Hunter, a market focused on design and local contemporary pieces, rather than vintage or imported. Like Blackbird, it’s an idea that she hopes to develop into something larger and possibly replicate in Melbourne.
“People have been contacting me, wanting to come from Melbourne to Sydney for the design market so it’s definitely something I think has the scope to expand,” she said.
But at the current moment, Johnson is just focused on and excited about the next Blackbird Market, to be held this Saturday, August 10, from noon to 5 p.m. at Cape Lounge 298 Brunswick Street. Not only will she be organising the event, but she will also be selling her own handmade jewellery.
“My boyfriend and I make these broaches that are veggies or fruit. It’s just something we wanted to try,” she laughs. “It’s so much fun to watch someone pick one up and then you talk to them about it. That creativity and talking with people is something you wouldn’t get in a big space. I love that we have created that.”