Non-Indigenous people came to my stall and glanced over my creations. Many curiously asked about my upcycled jars on the shelf with bold black letters: “I’m not busting my ring for you”, “Big noting your black hole”, “Bigges Doris”.
Some laughed. Most looked even more curious. All went on their way without purchasing.
When mob came, they picked up the jars and laughed out loud. Told stories around the phrases, the stories got bigger and the laughs got louder.
It was my first Meeanjin Markets as a stallholder in Christmas 2019. I’d been a journalist and communications specialist all my working life, after graduating with a journalism degree in 1994. But I’d wanted to have a creative, mostly fashion business since I was a teenager.
My business Flashblak is a childhood nickname given to me by Murri kids growing up in Cairns. I loved op shopping and would buy one-off pieces and add my touch of eclectic style. I dressed differently to other blackfellas. They called me “uptown Murri” and “flashblak”. I wasn’t offended. I thought it quite funny that my outfits cost $5 – probably heaps less than theirs. I just liked to, 上手, dress flash.
I worked the May 2019 Meeanjin Markets as part of the organising team, looking after communications and media. I saw stallholders at various levels – beginner, emerging and more advanced. This is the purpose of the markets. Established in 2018 during the Commonwealth Games, they showcased 57 Indigenous businesses, 以上で 10,000 visitors spending more than $60,000 on handmade Indigenous products.
It was deadly to see such diversity, from T-shirts with political statements, to alcohol-free beer and beauty products, all showcasing Indigenous culture through creativity. Meeanjin Markets is really more a festival, with musicians, performers and panels.
I was excited to see so much creativity, passion, humour, tenacity and community in one small space, and felt encouraged to bring my dreams to life. I had a stall for the summer markets, as well as being part of the organising team.
Selling at markets is damn hard. You have to have enough stock; work out prices so that you’re not paying yourself $5 an hour (以下); have clear marketing; and be able to tell your story to potential customers hundreds of times over the two days.
I learnt A LOT at that market, about my businesses and about consumers. That’s one critical element of Meeanjin Markets.
I also got so much #BlakLove and encouragement from other stallholders. Blackfellas love to see each other succeed. I got so much advice, tips on selling, marketing and a new network to lean in to for guidance when I needed. Meeanjin Markets really is a family.
The following year Covid hit and the Meeanjin Markets team were forced to “pivot” (how many times did we say that last year?). We went online. HUSTLE! Websites were developed in weeks. We filmed amid Covid restrictions and pulled off more than 30 hours of programming showcasing First Nations’ stallholders and musicians.
Blackfellas adapt pretty damn quickly (OK, I was a little bit slower and got my website up on the second day). But I was promoting like crazy online. People interstate were hyped. A captive audience and supporters were ready to #BuyBlak.
For some stallholders, markets are their only income. Others work full time in the day and design at night on messy kitchen tables, chasing their creative dreams in the hope of it one day becoming a full-time job.
Nikki from Blakbird Designs was considering closing her business, fearing the impact of Covid. She works full time and creates late at night, after kids are fed, showered and put to bed. The majority of stallholders are women. This Meeanjin Markets 29 の 35 stalls are run by First Nations women. REPRESENT!
Nikki smashed it, and expanded her customer base to interstate. Other stallholders including Culture Weave pivoted (また) and held workshops online.
はい, Covid has hit small Blak businesses hard. But we are weathering the storm.
Consumers are starting to understand that #BuyBlak is more than just a hashtag. It is about supporting First Nations people’s sovereignty to express our identity, our culture, our community and our connections. It is supporting First Nations people’s sovereignty to build wealth and be active participants in the economy.
It is a privilege to #BuyBlak from Blak businesses knowing each purchase is upholding, protecting and promoting First Nations sovereignty.
I know consumers are getting this message, because the Meeanjin Markets held in November smashed everyone’s expectations. Most stallholders like me almost sold out. Some businesses sold more in the one day than over two-day markets.
We’re still going: you can #BuyBlak this Christmas, with many stallholders selling online. Our website lists all the businesses.
What I’m most looking forward to is seeing those stallholders, just like me two years ago, grow and become mentors to other Blak businesses around them. There are small First Nations businesses in every community, town and city – please seek them out and support them. Not just at Christmas but all year round.