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October 11, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Going underground

Say the words ‘Frank Kitts Underground Market’ to the typical uncultured, lazy student (so, most of us), and the reply you generally get is “Huh? Is that like a veggie market?” But for the fair few brave enough to get out of bed on a Saturday morning, the Underground Market is a well-kept secret and is home of many of Wellington’s up and coming fashion designers, jewellery makers and purveyors of all things crafty. But where did this mysterious market come from? And how do you get in with the cool crafty kids?

The Underground Market is located, as the name suggests, in the underground car park of Frank Kitts Park. Every Saturday from 10am to 4pm it hosts an array of produce from local Wellington designers, ranging from clothing to jewellery to the hand-decorated cupcakes, that have been populating various Victoria University
cafes of late. Since its launch in December 2009, the market is close to reaching its aim of being Wellington’s
number two tourist destination (second to Te Papa), propelled by increased public interest in fashion and
design from events such as New Zealand Fashion Week, and the World of Wearable Arts.

Market Directors Helena Tobin and Wendy Jasper launched the market as part of their umbrella company Wellington Creative. Tobin and Jasper were “amazed that such a large and obviously creative city had no
weekly arts market”, and after three years of looking for potential venues, officially launched the Underground Market—with Mayor Kerry Prendergast cutting the ribbon and proclaiming it to be the “face of the Creative Capital”.

Stalls at the market vary each week—some, like Helen Underwood Jewellery and Zamm Lights, for whom craft
is a fulltime job, are there every week. Others—for whom craft is a guilty pleasure—come on a casual basis. And then there are others, like Rosalind Clark of Pixel Ink, who feel the market is a good outlet for raising public awareness of her Cuba Street store.

“Shoppers,” Clark says, “remember it and come back”. Clark is a designer who has made some impressive
headway since graduating with a Bachelor of Design in 2005. Pixel Ink, as well as hosting Clark’s illustrations,
and men’s and women’s design labels, is home to a rotating exhibition of established and emerging Wellington artists. Clark made her name as an illustrator after winning a Cleo Magazine t-shirt design competition, which she says inspired her to open her own shop. Her artwork will also be featured in the next edition of Curvy, which is akin to a bible for many young designers. Clark encourages students interested in the creative areas of design and craft to “stick with it”. While it is difficult, she says, sometimes “you’ve got to enter competitions [and display your work] to get out there”. And it is places like the Underground Market which serve as incubators for aspiring local designers.

For students interested in appeasing their creative side, Tobin and Jasper are always looking for new
stallholders. Jasper says: “There is the flexibility of being your own boss, so you can work more when your study commitments allow. At busy times, you have the potential to earn really good money. You will gain great business skills and experience that will aid you in any future career. And the type of service or product you wish to sell is only limited by your imagination!”

For those wanting to start a stall with the epic ideas of selling inflatable bouncing castles or a giant fondue fountain, Jasper mentions that stalls do need top quality presentation and approval is required from an application committee, so some ideas may be more viable than others. However, for those wanting to apply, the process is relatively simple, with application forms available on the Wellington Creative website.

As far as getting in with the cool crafty kids goes, Jasper and Tobin have some ideas about stalls they would like in future. “Hair braiding,” says Tobin, “and face painting” would be hugely popular; as would kids’ crafts, retro shoes and bags and gift wrapping. Even hand painted socks is on their wish-list of market stalls; a match made in heaven for the current influx of cute sock hipster fashion.

Jasper says that the trick is to “pick one thing and do it really well”. So perhaps my idea of hand-made Christmas cards is not the best idea, judging from their “success” at the third form high school markets. But for those waiting for the opportunity to show those Massey design kids how it’s done, the door is, apparently, open.

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