Sarah Thornton and Brooke Johnston weren’t looking to start a market. They just wanted to visit one.
“It just happened,” Thornton says. “We kind of dreamed up an event we’d like to attend as shoppers, bringing together designers and artists.”
Now in its eighth year, their creation, The Finders Keepers, is one of Australia’s largest design markets. Held biannually (each autumn–winter and spring–summer), it draws significant audiences in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane (with an Adelaide version launching this August) eager to support emerging and independent design.
“A lot of people travel from all around Australia, which I think makes it really exciting for Brisbane, because they get to see designers they haven’t seen before,” Thornton says.
The Brisbane incarnation of The Finders Keepers began in 2009. Before then the city lacked opportunities for designers to connect with consumers, reckons Thornton. “We have a soft spot for Brisbane,” she says. “It’s such a good vibe, everyone’s happy.”
The happiness is understandable. In 2016 The Finders Keepers returns to its winsome Old Museum digs with more than 100 stalls of art, craft and design, as well as food and drinks from vendors including Mangia Mangia Italian Street Goods, Concoctions Kerb Side and Veggie Patch Van, coffee from Allpress Espresso and Craft Coffee, and live music from Ruby Gilbert, Jo Davie and Alex Henriksson.
The 2016 market also includes a bunch of new stallholders. Local artists Lilly Piri and Mel Stringer will debut, peddling signature artworks as well as prints, brooches, postcards, zines, wall hangings, totes and wooden animals.
“The stall is a mini-exhibition as well,” Piri says. “I really like meeting people who have seen my work online and want to have a personal interaction.”
Piri describes the true appeal of The Finders Keepers as its authenticity. “Finders is probably the only market I would trust, in terms of quality of stuff, made by the artist,” she says. “A lot of [other] markets are just reselling.”
Perhaps that quality assurance taps into Thornton’s and Johnston’s designer backgrounds – Sarah in fashion, Brooke in jewellery (since 2014 the duo have directed sustainable jewellery and clothing label Polli). “We have a pretty high benchmark for quality,” Thornton says. “We always look at the materials designers are using, the techniques they’re creating, if the design is ethical – it’s all really important for us.”
Selecting hundreds of stallholders each year, Thornton and Johnston have a knack for picking trends before they happen. This year, it’s all about plant ceramics – “planters, macramé and stuff like that” – and handmade beauty products. “People are a bit more conscious about what they’re putting on their skin, not just what they’re wearing,” Thornton says.
The hardest part of the job is turning away prospective stallholders, Thornton says. For this reason, the organisers dedicate at least 30 per cent of each market to emerging designers with a reduced stall price, to help them get their foot in the door.
The Finders Keepers returns to the Old Museum on July 2 and 3 from 9am to 4pm each day.