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The Big Design Market, Melbourne’s annual independent design showcase, has made the move to Sydney to stage its inaugural event
Credit: Supplied

Forty-five minutes after opening the doors on the Big Design Market’s inaugural Sydney event and Simon Obarzanek can barely contain the good news.

They’ve already sold out of limited edition designer showbags to the 2,000 people who’ve so far streamed through the doors at Moore Park’s Royal Hall of Industries. It’s a figure that bodes well for the event’s first year in the city, and so far it appears to be on schedule to match Melbourne’s numbers where, now in its fifth year, the market attracts around 60,000 design enthusiasts, shoppers and bystanders desperate to soak up the event’s atmosphere (and catering) over three days.

In previous years, many of those have been from Sydney, meaning the Melbourne event has been reliably at-capacity since its earliest inception as MarkIt@FedSquare, an illustration-based market that began by featuring 30 designers in Federation Square eight years ago. At the time, the event’s overwhelming popularity began to pose a threat to the safety of its visitors (“You couldn’t walk from stall to stall,” recalls Obarzanek), necessitating a new home and a change of tact.

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Handmade ceramics by Bridget Bodenham and the Trilogy plant hanger by Capra Designs, made in Melbourne from powder-coated steel, pictured with eco resin pots 
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“The Big Design Market is not your handmade crafts market,” says Obarzanek, a commercial turned fine art photographer whose work is now included in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria. “It came out of the need for designers to be able to exist. They needed another outlet other than a string of boutique stores and once a good quality design market came it opened up a new opportunity for people to enter the area.”

Due to popular demand from shoppers, stallholders and designers, and Melburnians desperate for a little breathing room, the Big Design Market is staging its first Sydney event over the coming weekend followed by the annual Melbourne event the following week. Both are being completed on a scale that’s increased dramatically over the years, with the event also evolving to encompass a diverse curatorial offering from the likes of Elke Kramer, Bridge Bodenham and Georgia Perry; large scale art installations from Benja Harney (of Paperform) and Penny Ferguson (of Min Pin), food and drink stalls from Porteno, Messina, Mary’s and Young Henry’s, Archie Rose Distillery, Starward Whiskey and All Day Donuts, as well as designer run workshops from hosts like Sibella Court and Gemma Patford.

“We’re trying to create an experience that you really can’t get [at a] shopping centre,” says Obarzanek. “It’s not just a shopping show from designers. Often people will walk out with nothing but will have had a great meal, listened to music, [and been] exposed to new designs from new brands.”

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The Arvo top in Basalt printed on silk crepe de chine by Variety Hour and a handmade Lion Snuggle cushion and Elfie Elephant from Miann & Co.
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Over 1200 applicants submitted their work for consideration in this year’s events across both states, competing for 450 placements across categories as diverse as jewellery, clothing, furniture, kids toys, stationery and more. Despite whatever misconceptions you may have when it comes to the scale of the local industry, Obarzanek believes that the volume and quality of the submissions is testament to the maturation of Australia’s design scene. “Designers now can make a living out of their work on a small scale because they have online stores, [wholesale, market stalls] and events like ours, so there are a lot more designers out there. I don’t think it could’ve happened 15 or 20 years ago because there was no opportunity.”

Multidisciplinary designer Beci Orpin is one such designer who has been involved with Big Design Market from the beginning, and will return this year to “teach a crash course in making stamps,” which she hopes participants will replicate with ease at home not only to personalise their upcoming Christmas decorations but also because “making things is fun and good for your mental health – for real!”

Orpin, whose client list now includes global brands like Mercedes Benz, Universal Music and Mount Franklin in addition to collaborations with fellow Melbourne design titans Miso and Tin & Ed, says that it’s great to see a market that still supports local design and presents it in such a dynamic format. “Being a smaller label [means it] can be hard to get your stuff out there, but I really think The Big Design market brings the best in boutique, independent makers together. As a market-goer,  you’ll be able to see labels and products [that you] have probably never seen before – especially with this being the first time it has happened in Sydney.” 

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Designers Beci Orpin (at left) and Gemma Patford (right) will share their creative processes, knowledge, insights in workshops at the Big Design Market
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It’s a sentiment echoed by Jess Wright, one half of textile design collaborative Home-Work, who are also presenting a workshop introducing students to “the joys of block printing” in both cities after participating in the last three events.

“It’s not only amazing for the public to have a one-stop-shop for all the awesomeness Australian design has to offer, but it also serves as a yearly reunion for all the designers and makers,” says Wright. “It’s always choc-a-bloc with emerging designers, as well as the more established Aussie design icons. I know it’s a cliche but there really is something for everyone.”

For better or worse, that ‘everyone’ also includes “a lot of visitors from large discount chain stores,” says Obarzanek.

“We do find a lot of the products are on their shelves within six months. That’s just the way it is. When you come up with original ideas and your price is a bit higher and you don’t have the large manufacturing and distribution chains that they do then that’s what’s going to happen when you come up with great things and other people recognise it. Everyone realises that if you’re an independent designer [then] you don’t have the same business model, but you do get a lot of return because you spend more time on the creative process.”

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Clockwise from top: Hand painted ceramic platter by artists Rowena Martinich and Geoffrey Carran of Martinich&Carran; an original Dutch paper origami shade by Studio Snowpuppe from Paper Empire; and jewellery from the Linear Collection by Maekar
Credit: Supplied

As such, events like the Big Design Market feel more vital than ever and, if those visitor numbers in the first hour of the Sydney event are any indication, the feeling is widespread.

“I don’t know that it’ll keep up but we’ll see,” says Obarzanek. “We’re very happy with our first event. You don’t know if anyone’s going to show up so we’re all quite relieved. Our plan is to return. We just want to see if Sydney wants us to return. We’re ahead of schedule for that and we’d love to come back and make it bigger. I like the look of the Hordern Pavilion next door!”

The Big Design Market will remain open from today until 9pm in Sydney at the Royal Hall of Industries in Moore Park, before running all weekend. The Melbourne event will take place at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens from December 2-4.

You can find more information for both events, including opening hours, workshop times and booking information here.

Tile and cover image: Home-Work/Lara Davies

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