View Point Handmade Gallery is an amazing space dreamed into reality by the lovely Jess. Her shelves showcase a diverse range of gorgeous handmade products, many of them locally sourced....whilst her upstairs gallery space sets the scene for exhibitions, art parties & pop-up stores. This is the full version of the Q&A that my Bendigo Magazine article was based around...be sure to visit and say hello :)
I love the rainbow stairs up to the gallery above your store (which has, by the way, an incredible outlook over Bendigo!)…it must be an amazing feeling having the `blank canvas' of a space that you make your own…were your ideas for what you wanted VP Gallery to be defined from the beginning or has it evolved along the way to what it is now?
The stairwell is my explosion of colour, I am normally drawn to bright colours and wanted to express that in a really fun and playful way somewhere that it wouldn't distract from the art and craft we have on display. The only hard and fast rule we set down when we started designing the layout and style of the gallery was the idea that the retail and gallery space had to remain fairly neutral, to allow the art and handmade goodness to take centre stage. The rest of the design process was one built from resourcefulness and necessity. That makes it sound really drab, it was actually a huge amount of fun! We were operating under a shoe-string budget - so a lot of our fittings are secondhand, re-purposed or some creative ingenuity of the crew that was involved in the redesign! We hosted working bees with my friends and family, my (roller) derby team came along and help paint the whole place, my Aunt sewed the curtains...it has definitely come together because of the amazing support network I've got around me! The space has evolved from the original vision, and is evolving still! We've got so many plans for it...we're adding a cafe in a few months, we'll also be launching our outdoor area (complete with a little stage for acoustic music sets) at the same time and looking to add workshops into the gallery space upstairs. Each of these additions will mean a re-think of how we're using the space we have and making sure it's fulfilling it's potential.
Have you always known that you wanted to own your own business in a creative field or was it something you learned about yourself from other experiences?
I've always known I wanted to be my own boss - I work in a very fluid way and find that I get the most done when I'm working on a project that I can do my own way, that's part of the freedom of working for myself. For the past 5 years I've been raising my daughter Elliotte and that has made me more motivated than ever to be a positive role model for her, to build a positive space that encourages creativity and show her the success you can have when you work really hard for the things you want in life.
Is there such a thing as a "typical day" in the life of a gallery owner? What aspects of the day to day running of a business centred around creative souls do you love the most?
There is no stock-standard day for me, there are activities that I do every day (emails, social media, accepting in or sourcing new stock and chatting to customers for example), but each day the things I work on outside of these can be so varied! One of my favourite parts is finding new makers and artists; I love unearthing people that are creating amazing and unique things and having the ability to share these treasures with others! I'm also really excited about the new addition of classes, workshops and meet ups - I get a real buzz from the idea of building a more creative and resourceful community. If we can teach people skills and give them a space to meet other creatives then the possibilities from there are endless!
How often does the array of hand made goodies (and their makers) for sale in your store change?
Every day or two we will have a delivery of new stock or one of our local makers will drop in with a few pieces. With over 80 makers in the retail area, it's a constantly changing offering - the newest stockist we had come in arrived yesterday and there are two more scheduled this week, but on the flip side I've also got some wonderful stockists that have been with us since the doors opened a year ago. I think describing our product range is one of the hardest things for me, it honestly feels like we have a little something for everyone. We've got everything from clothing to soap, from jewellery to lamps. We do try to curate our offerings, we won't bring in two very similar makers and we have a waiting list for certain craft areas (jewellery for example) and we have an emphasis on local. While we do have some Melbourne and interstate stockists, if we have someone approach us doing something similar locally we try to get them in wherever possible.
What can you tell us about the connections you've made with your customers & makers?
We have customers who've been coming in since the first week we opened; some have become close friends, some have been valuable resources - sharing advice, connections and support along the way, some have even come out of the crafting closet and admitted to being a 'maker of things' and have been added to our collection of stockists! Every day that we're open I seem to have at least one conversation that expands my understanding of Bendigo, art and handmade or just people in general - everyone who walks through my door has something to offer and it's so exciting to always be learning from and connecting with others.
Do you think that the trend of buying handmade has become less of a temporary `trend' and more of a change in people's behaviours/mindsets…and therefore more of a permanent option when looking for gifts etc?
While handmade and independent design are definitely 'hot' at the moment, I don't think they ever really went away - the internet has made it a lot easier for the makers to reach a broader audience, giving them the potential to create a sustainable businesses, coupled with customers becoming more aware of the impact their purchasing choices make. People new to the store will often remark with relief "Ah, now I have somewhere to buy unique gifts!" - people seem to be tired of buying mass-produced, environmentally questionable, disposable products. Originality is now highly valued and is much easier to find in one of a kind, bespoke or limited run handmade items.
Customers want to support Australian based producers, working within their local communities to create items with this level of individuality that you can't find at one of the big retailers! I have noticed big brands attempting to buy into the handmade trend, `craftwashing' their items and co-opting the 'look' of more sustainable business practices. This really gets me down sometimes because they have the handmade 'look', while pricing the actual handmade items out of the game with their factory made, mass-produced items. But I then remember that one of the main reasons people purchase handmade is because consumers are demanding higher quality goods that will last longer than items typically factory made. I'm positive about the future of handmade in Australia - the demand for well made, individual, mindfully produced items is only growing as more people become disillusioned with mainstream production methods and swing back to supporting local, cottage industry makers!
What influence do you think social media has had on this?
The internet has been a huge game-changer in this way as well - social media has allowed us to reach a much broader audience than we would have been able to afford using traditional marketing methods. It has also allowed us to connect with our customers more regularly and personally. A great example is we have a dress maker who produces the most stunning vintage reproduction dresses who has a very loyal following at the store. As soon as I post on Facebook that we've had a new delivery of her dresses we have women posting 'See you in half an hour!' We've built a real community online and I love sharing sneak peeks and stories with our online supporters. More broadly blogs and social media have been used to raise the profile of independent design and have catapulted it to new heights, in terms of promoting individual makers and encouraging the community to choose local/handmade/independent as a conscious decision.
How have you found it being part of organising the exhibitions upstairs…what kind of things about this side of it (as opposed to the store side) do you enjoy the most?
I am loving including art and artists in the mix, via the gallery upstairs. Exhibition openings are one of my favourite aspects of running View Point, there is always such a buzz surrounding opening night! We've been trying to shake off the notion that openings are only for those that move within the art world. We've taken to referring to our openings as 'art parties', they are a celebration of creativity and a hugely social event - our most recent opening was a group show to celebrate View Point's first birthday complete with cupcakes, fairy bread and goodie bags for the attendees! These events are generally open to the public and we encourage anyone interested to come along and it seems to be working; we average at least 100 to an opening, something we're really proud of achieving within our first year. It's the bringing together of creative people to share and celebrate that gets me the most excited about our venture and our openings provide the perfect opportunity for this to occur!
What would you like to see VP Gallery become in a few years time?
In a few years time I'd like to see View Point with a very full events calendar; from openings to workshops to off-site events - it's these things that help to build the creative community, which is the cornerstone of our business. I have so many exciting ideas to explore, but first I need to focus on getting the renovations finished and launching our cafe. Once this is completed I'm looking forward to bringing in some additional staff, this will free me up to work on the bigger ideas, flesh out our calendar and unearth more creative and talented locals! I'd like to think that we're building a name for ourselves as a valuable addition to the arts and culture scene in Central Victoria, something that we want to continue to grow.