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Join us for the Mother's Day Ethical Night Market this Tuesday in Blackburn!

Join us for the Mother's Day Ethical Night Market this Tuesday in Blackburn!

This week we had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Laura Tepe, co-founder of the Ethical Night Market, which hosts the best of Melbourne's ethical shopping all in one beautiful community market.

The next Ethical Night Market is just around the corner, with the Mother's Day market happening this coming Tuesday the 24th of April 2018 from 3:30-9pm! As Laura explains, there will be clothing, accessories, children's toys, and of course, homewares!

Aquamarine Home will be a stallholder this Tuesday and we can't wait to meet all the wonderful customers in person and share the love for everything ethical and sustainable. Watch the interview to find more about Laura's vision as well as all the details about next week's market.

Watch the video interview:

Listen to the audio:

Read the full transcript (click here)

Alison Rentoul:
Hi everybody and welcome to this week's episode of Aquamarine's interview blog. I'm Alison Rentoul, the founder and CEO of Aquamarine and I'm being joined this week by Laura Tepe who is one of the co-founders of the Ethical Night Market.
Hi Laura.

Laura Tepe:
Hey.

Alison Rentoul:
I'm so excited to have Laura here, we are gonna be joining you at the Ethical Night Market, which is coming up on the 24th, is it the 24th of April?

Laura Tepe:
Yep.

Alison Rentoul:
So very, very excited to get along there and find out what it's all about and super excited as well to grab you in these crazy hectic weeks in the run up to it. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your very busy day, no doubt.

Laura Tepe:
No, thanks for having me.

Alison Rentoul:
So Laura, tell us the story – how did the Ethical Night Market come about and, for the people who are watching, what is the Ethical Night Market, where is it gonna be, how did you come up with the idea, what's the background?

Laura Tepe:
So a group of friends and I, we'd kind of been watching some documentaries and attending some talks about ethical consumerism and learning a lot about the issues behind how clothes are made and how products are made and following along, I guess, the commodity chain. You know, people in factories, the farmers, people selling it and seeing how the products that we buy every day are made. And a lot of the time they're made relying on, basically, the exploitation of the world's most vulnerable people, whether that's farmers in villages or women working in factories, they get paid next to nothing, it's usually really harsh, tough conditions. Hours are crazy long, they often have to move away from their families and their kids as well. And sometimes there's also health concerns and diseases and that type of thing, particularly in the farming villages, coming through the water systems and all those kinds of things.

So as we started to learn more and more about the issues of the products that we buy every day, we started to think about what we could do to potentially raise awareness and also create an opportunity for people to buy products in an ethical way, and put their values in their purchases. So we thought about a few different things and eventually, it was coming up to Christmas time, I think it was around September 2015, and we just thought, "Why don't we do a Christmas market? We'll bring in some stall holders and advertise it on Facebook".

We expected maybe a few hundred to turn up, maybe, you know. If we went hard on our friends list maybe we could get a few of them to come along and in the end it just took off. So we held our first market in Warrandyte, which is quite popular for markets here in Melbourne, so that certainly helped. It kind of escalated really quickly on social media, which is really exciting, and I think we had about 2000 people come through the doors.

Alison Rentoul:
Wow!

Laura Tepe:
Yeah, so it just seemed like people wanted to find ethical solutions, they wanted to find ethical gifts for Christmas and it just seemed to work! So we held it the first year as a Christmas market in 2015, and then we did 2016 in Blackburn.

Alison Rentoul:
How many stallholders did you have at the first market?

Laura Tepe:
The first one was around 40, I think it was. This is going back a few years. So around 40, and then in 2016 we bumped it up to 60 to 70.

Alison Rentoul:
How did you find them? Did they find you or was it sort of word of mouth? How did you know where to look for them?

Laura Tepe:
So the first year we did a lot of asking around. There were five of us in the first market, so we had a few connections that we started with but sometimes we were messaging people on Etsy, trying to really present our case. It was an unknown market so people were a bit unsure what to expect, we didn't know how many people would come. But once the first one worked well, from there it's just been a ripple effect.

So now we have all of our stallholders come to us and sometimes we have to say no to them because we can't fit everyone in. So yeah, we've got heaps of people wanting to be a part of it and I think the reputation's kind of building amongst ethical producers and businesses as well.

Alison Rentoul:
I heard about you guys through Veronica Sherman from Happily Made. She was raving to me about it! So you guys were all uni students at the time, are you still uni students?

Laura Tepe:
Yeah, we're all uni students. One's working full time but we're all young adults – low 20s kind of age group.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah. That's so fantastic, I just love it. And so you did 2015, 2016 and did you do it last year as well?

Laura Tepe:
No, so in 2017 around the Christmas period, we had a lot of stuff going on in each of our lives and, yeah, so it just got a bit hard and we didn't want to commit to that and not do it well. So we put it off Christmas and we thought we'd like to do something in the first half of this year instead. So we were thinking about whether we do it around Easter and then we thought "What about Mother's Day? Because people are buying gifts anyway, why don't we provide kind of ethical alternatives to that". So this is the first time we're trying a Mother's Day one. Who knows how it will go but it seems to be going alright on social media and that at the moment, which is cool.

Alison Rentoul:
Fantastic. And it's gonna be in Blackburn again, isn't it this time?

Laura Tepe:
Yep, yep. So it's One Church in Blackburn, so we held it in 2016 at the same place and it looks to be a good venue for us so we'll probably stay there for a little bit.

Alison Rentoul:
Fantastic, and roughly how many stallholders do you think you'll have this time?

Laura Tepe:
So this year we've got about 50, I think, at the moment. So yeah, slightly smaller than the Christmas one but I think it'll still have a nice feel to it. We're also changing the time a little bit, doing a bit of a kids afternoon, after school type thing as well. So yeah, experimenting with a little bit on this one, which will be cool to see.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, and it's a Tuesday isn't it. So what were the thoughts behind that?

Laura Tepe:
Yeah. So our first market, we held it mid-week. I think it might have been a Tuesday or a Thursday, the second one we did the same thing and we actually received a fair bit of positive feedback that it was a mid-week one. Firstly it didn't compete with weekend markets, there's a lot on Saturday and Sunday, and we didn't want to take away from that or try and attract people to a small market like ours, at the time.

So the mid-week one was, we kind of just fell into that and then we've stuck with it ever since. Yeah, I think people, especially families, sometimes have their weekend sport and that type of thing, so sometimes an evening one suits people and particularly, if we've got a big enough time period, people can pop in after school or whatever, which is handy.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. I'm so intrigued to see who's gonna come, and whether it does work having the Mother's Day as opposed to the Christmas when you've got all sorts of different people buying for a range of different people, or whether it works just people coming to buy for mums, or whether they just go there anyway to check it out and see what's there. And how did all the stallholders respond? Did they all do good business at the two ones that you've held so far?

Laura Tepe:
So our first year we were blown away by the feedback from the stallholders. Some of them were saying "We've been to markets for ten years and this was the best one we've been to". We did have a low stallholder fee and we had more people than we expected turn up. So, I think the profits were quite good for all the stallholders and I think the second year as well was quite successful for them.

I think the people that go along to the market are people who do care about ethical purchases and, yeah, I guess if there's not so many options in mainstream shopping centers, they're gonna want to do all their Christmas shopping at the markets so, yeah, seems to be a win for everyone, I think.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, it's just such a fantastic idea and it's one of those ideas where it seems really obvious. It's sort of like, why hasn't everybody already thought of this? But that's when you know that you're onto such a great idea, when it comes across that way and you kind of go, "Well, actually everybody should be doing this". And, in fact, that's one of the reasons why we are in the business of what we're doing because we believe that, actually, all business ought to be ethical and sustainable and that should be the norm, rather than the exception. But it's such a cool thing to bring all of those like-minded people together, both the stallholders and also the visitors that are interested in trying to connect with those products and find alternatives that they can feel good about buying and for them to just have everything all together in one place. It's brilliant. I love it.

Laura Tepe:
Yeah, absolutely.

Alison Rentoul:
So, what kind of things might people find at the market?

Laura Tepe:
Huge variety, we have a lot of candles and soaps and jewellery, and a bit of clothing as well. A few, foodie type gifts. Children's toys as well, we get a few of them. So a real broad range, which is cool.

Alison Rentoul:
And homewares, of course.

Laura Tepe:
Yes, homewares, absolutely!

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, fantastic. And what are the sort of age ranges of the people that come along to the market, like are there any sort of demographics that you noticed? Are you capturing that sort of information as well, the people that are coming through?

Laura Tepe:
I guess, if you look at the social media it would be probably young adults, young mums, that type of thing. We do get a real mix, probably more women and probably even mums of older children, they kind of bring them all along and come with their daughters and that type of thing, so it'll be interesting to see how the Mother's Day one sits, whether we'll get some more young families, kids buying for their mums and that type of thing. But yeah, it's kind of a real broad range of people, which is cool.

And I guess us, as the organizers, we're young people, so we invite our young people friends and so, yeah, that kind of attracts them and brings them into the mix as well, which is good.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, well that's really interesting. It definitely does seem to be quite a strong female trend, in this area. But yeah, hopefully the men are also catching up to take part, and hopefully the kids will tell their dads, you know, "If you want to get Mum something she really, really likes, that will make her really happy!".

Laura Tepe:
Absolutely. Yeah, hopefully we will have some mums come along and point out the things they like and then go grab food while their presents are purchased.

Alison Rentoul:
Fantastic. So, I mean you guys, this is obviously not your full-time job, you're all trying to concentrate on your studies and other things. What are you studying at uni?

Laura Tepe:
I've just finished my Bachelor of Arts, history and international studies. So a bit of that international studies kind of tied in to some of this ethical stuff as well. At the moment I'm starting a Master of Theology. I'm quite connected in with my local church, which is the location of the market, so yeah. Kind of going down a different path now, which is exciting. But yeah, just testing the waters on a few different things at the moment, as people do. We often try a few things before we settle. So yeah, that's me.

The other coordinator for this year in Melbourne is a physio, and the third coordinator is living in Brisbane studying business, I believe. So she'll come down for the night.

Alison Rentoul:
Right. Okay. So are you guys just all friends, is that how you ended up doing this together?

Laura Tepe:
Yeah, we started off as school friends and then a couple of them jumped out and the other girl that come in was from church. Just a bit of a mix, we just kind of had some conversations and saw some interest in different people in our circles, so yeah. All been friends before the market.

Alison Rentoul:
That's awesome. So do you kind of feel like there's a real trend in your age group towards buying more ethically and sustainably?

Laura Tepe:
Yeah, I would have thought, generally, there's definitely more awareness, even education in schools and at university as well. There's definitely a bigger push for being aware of where things come from and not just accepting the norm. In terms of purchasing, I think the biggest thing we struggle with is it can be expensive, sometimes the alternatives. Sometimes it's easier to buy cheap, fast fashion. So it's, I guess, convincing people that putting in a little bit more money for a quality item, rather than buying bulk quantity with a quick turnover rate, particularly clothes and that. Yeah, that's probably the biggest thing, the biggest challenge for our age group – encouraging people to think about their one purchase rather than purchase five things over the year of the same item.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah, absolutely, because there is such a strong pull for disposable fashion, fast fashion.

Laura Tepe:
Absolutely.

Alison Rentoul:
In that age group as well and it's something I was talking with a friend about recently, the whole sort of social media presence. Everybody's got that pressure on them that you get photographed at every event that you go to, and you can't wear the same thing to every different party that you go to and stuff like that anymore. Like we used to be able to, when I was your age. Because nobody really took pictures of you, or it wasn't posted all over social media.

But I have really noticed, talking to people in your age group, that there is a resurgence of interest in this, which is fantastic. It was something that was actually really high profile early in the '80s when I was a teenager, or becoming a teenager, with the rise of The Body Shop and all of those big organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and we were all really passionate and excited about fair trade and ethical and sustainable, kind of, purchasing and then something happened, it all just sort of got eclipsed by the '80s and the '90s and the dotcom bubble and everything. It's like everyone just got distracted and, I don't know, forgot about it or something. So, it's wonderful to see it all coming back into fashion, if you'd like. But it isn't, I see it less of as a fashion trend and more of a, kind of like, a consciousness, like an awakening of consciousness that the whole human race, hopefully, is undergoing and moving towards a much more conscious model for existing, co-existing on this planet. Which is awesome.

So, as I said this isn't your full-time job, is there any kind of a ... do you guys see a future business model in this? What are the plans for the further development of the Ethical Night Market or is it just going to continue to be a fun thing that you do, once or twice a year?

Laura Tepe:
Yeah, it's hard to know. It's hard to know whether, just because it worked in Melbourne in the eastern suburbs, whether that's transferrable to other locations. With my friend in Brisbane, we've considered, do we try something interstate. But, yeah that would be something we'd have to probably think pretty seriously about, it would be starting afresh with new stall holders and, obviously, don't have a reputation elsewhere, apart from Melbourne. So at the moment I'd say we're probably just gonna stay in a similar area, build up a little bit more there.

I think the biggest thing for us would be considering doing multiple a year. I'd love to do another Christmas one this year, maybe even the year after we'll look into a winter one and a Christmas one, something like that. I think building momentum throughout the year would be the most helpful thing for us at the moment. So yeah, no idea how things will pan out but I suppose we can also look into different venues. If we fill this one and we're running out of room that could be the next exciting thing.

So yeah, it's probably just a bit of experimenting, seeing how things go, but yeah. I think this is something that can work a few more times for us as we build it up.

Alison Rentoul:
Fantastic, that sounds really great and it's so wonderful, as well, to see that it has grown so organically and that it's just been borne out of your shared passion and enthusiasm and then you've had so many other people jump on board with the idea and support you and I just love all of that. And I think there's so much potential for development of the idea, you know, depending on which direction you wanna take it in and whether you want to even franchise the model you could possibly think about doing that or, as you say, replicating it in other countries or in other states yourselves. Yeah, I mean, tons of ideas for how you could grow the idea, if you want to. You could create your own ethical shopping mall, maybe. That'd be an interesting concept.

Laura Tepe:
That's the dream.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah. So yeah, to finish off, what is the dream? What would make you feel like you had done something that you felt really, really proud of with this project?

Laura Tepe:
Definitely think around the awareness piece, in particular. So one of the things that we did the last time we ran the market, was advertise it quite strongly in my church community, because it was at the same venue and that type of thing. And yeah, it was amazing how it kind of just clicked with people, like it was the first time they'd heard about it or the first time they'd seen a solution to the issue that they could actually be a part of.

So that really opened my eyes to the importance of advocacy and awareness and sometimes it just takes people hearing it once and suddenly they be more conscious with their decisions that they make at the shopping center and that type of thing. So I think for me the biggest win would be people not just coming along to our market, but also taking what they've learnt or what they've seen out into all of their shopping experiences, I suppose. And yeah, imagine if everyone in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne who's been to the market suddenly started to look beyond that to make all of their purchases ethical. I think that would be, yeah, a huge win and an honor to be a part of that, kind of, movement.

Alison Rentoul:
Yeah. Wow, what a fantastic ripple effect that would be and it's 100% possible as well, because I think once people's eyes are opened to all of this it's impossible to close them again. You know, once you start to sort of actually think about it and realize that all of these objects that you're surrounding yourself with, and things that you buy, they have to come from somewhere. Somebody has to be making them and how are they being made, what are they being made from? As well as, how are those people being treated? Once you've started asking those questions, you can't not want to ask them, you know?

It's now like they're burning questions that I have in my head every day that I'm at the shops, and it literally is offering people solutions like trying to find ways that they can shop without having that kind of icky question in the back of their minds or feeling a little bit uncomfortable about this purchase. It's like, you know, here's a purchase that you can feel really, really good about and know the provenance all the way down the chain and know that it's literally not costing the Earth.

Laura Tepe:
Yeah, for sure.

Alison Rentoul:
Well it's been so interesting chatting with you, Laura. And I'm sure that we could chat for hours and hours about all of this, definitely singing from the same hymn sheet. But yeah, I'm really, really looking forward to being part of the market this year and meeting all the other stallholders as well, I'm so looking forward to that. And getting to meet all the customers and the people who are coming along. For us at Aquamarine, it's gonna be the first time that we've actually had a physical pop-up shop, because we only launched in December last year so we've only been online up until now, so I just can't wait, personally, to get face to face with people as well, and actually chat about our products and get feedback from them and all of that sort of thing too, so thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to be able to do that.

Laura Tepe:
No, I'm very excited. We have a bunch of new stallholders but also ones we've had other years so, yeah it's a good chance to connect and reconnect with our favorite ethical businesses.

Alison Rentoul:
Fantastic. Well everybody who's watching, if it's before the 24th of April 2018, make sure you get yourselves down there to the One Church in Blackburn. And it starts at three o'clock, is it?

Laura Tepe:
3:30 until about 9 pm.

Alison Rentoul:
3:30 until about 9 pm on Tuesday the 24th of April at One Church in Blackburn. The Ethical Night Market. We very much look forward to seeing you guys there. Thank you so much Laura. Take care and have a great, great event.

Laura Tepe:
Thanks for having me. Yeah, can't wait!

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To find out more about the Ethical Night Market please visit their website, www.ethicalmarket.org or their Facebook event here. We hope to see you there this Tuesday the 24th of April at One Church in Blackburn!

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Where do you shop ethically? Do you prefer markets over shopping centres? We would love to hear your reflections on this in the comments below!

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