Christmas markets 2015

barbican   barbican christmas market

Three weekends of Christmas market at the Barbican Centre


I admit that I am not a natural salesperson. I have always worked behind the scenes, and selling face to face is a ‘skill’ that I had to learn when I started this business.

I know that popping up once a year is not enough for a small business, but I am not sure if I can cope with doing several pop ups all year round. Having gained some market experiences in the previous years, I decided to apply for two Christmas markets this year and I was lucky to be accepted by both.

Six market days over three weekends may not sound like a lot to other vendors, but doing it solo with no car nor assistant, it was not an easy task for me. Despite feeling exhausted during and after the markets, the experience had been extremely positive and beneficial, and it made me realise that offline shopping is still important for businesses that sell physical products.


barbican christmas market

barbican christmas market

barbican christmas market


Aside from the rather dim concrete foyer, I thoroughly enjoyed selling at the Barbican. I found the staff very friendly (offering few of us free wine and food in the evening), and I loved selling among other like-minded designers, artisans and traders. Not only did we look out for each other at the market, we also bought from each other as a way of supporting independent businesses.


barbican christmas market

barbican christmas market  IMG_1892-compressed

barbican christmas market

Our jam-packed table is a far cry from our ‘minimalist’ website


Selling face to face enables me to see how customers react towards our products and provides an opportunity for me to talk to them directly. At the end of the day, the activity is about human interactions, and it is a skill that requires observation, patience and consistency. Am I able to convey my passion and enthusiasm to potential customers during our brief conversations? Probably not all the time, but I try my best without being pushy or aggressive. It turns out that practice does make a difference, and I believe that my communication and selling skills improved as the days went by.


imagination illustrated

kelci jun 

molly and the wolf

caliz london imagination illustrated growth rings

kelci jun  we make here

Top: My lovely neighbour Nina from Imagination illustrated; 4th middle: Nina’s beautiful illustrated Sagittarian notebook (my birthday present from her); 2nd row: Korean illustrator Kelci Jun; Bottom left: Kelci’s illustrations of bridges in London; 3rd row: Molly from Molly and the wolf; 4th left: Another wonderful neighbour Martha from Caliz London; 4th right: Chopping board from Growth rings; Bottom right: lino printed stationery from We make here


It is a shame that most of the independent designers and artisans I spoke to do not have retail outlets, and we can only sell our products online or via Christmas or crafts or design markets in London. London’s streets have become more homogeneous in recent years, with high streets being dominated by chained stores backed by big corporations; meanwhile independent shops are being squeezed out because of unaffordable rents. Judging from the sales and customers’ enthusiasm at these markets, it is clear that Londoners are supportive of independent designers and businesses, yet having a brick and mortar store in London is a far-fetched dream for most of us. Will things change anytime soon? I doubt it, so in the meantime, we all just have to find our ways to survive in a vast ocean with limited supplies and an inflatable boat!


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primrose hill designer sale  primrose hill designer sale

A popular one day annual event – Primrose Hill designer sale at St Mary’s church

Maze Hill Pottery’s open studio

Maze Hill pottery  Maze Hill pottery

Top left: The disused ticket office-turned pottery studio; Top right: Lisa Hammond’s beautiful Soda & Shino glaze pottery


London is full of hidden gems, not only they are off tourists’ radar, but many are also unknown to Londoners. Since I live north of the river, I am quite oblivious to events that take place beyond Bermondsey or the Design Museum. We Londoners rarely venture out of our comfort zones (i.e. the zones we live or work in), thus we are like tourists when we step into the unknown!

It was an invitation that brought me to Maze Hill Pottery‘s open studio in Greenwich. The 2-day annual open studio event provided a rare opportunity for visitors to purchase beautiful handmade pottery by renowned pottery artist Lisa Hammond and her apprentices at significantly reduced prices.


Maze Hill pottery

Maze Hill pottery  Maze Hill pottery

Top: Darren Ellis‘ pottery; Bottom left: Lisa Hammond’s Shino chawan tea bowl and sake bottles; Bottom right: The outdoor workshop area


The studio is situated in the former ticket office of Maze Hill Station, which opened in 1873. Lisa turned the disused office into a pottery studio in the mid 1990s and built the first soda glaze trolley kiln in the UK at the back of the studio.

The studio also offers pottery workshops and evening courses, where students can learn the techniques of studio pottery in a professional working studio environment.


Maze Hill pottery

Maze Hill pottery  Maze Hill pottery


I wonder if BBC’s “The Great Pottery Throw Down (the pottery version of the hugely popular TV show “The Great British Bake off”) has triggered the public’s interests in pottery?

Regardless of the TV show, the studio’s reputation and exquisite pottery pieces have gained support from locals over the years, and so all the best bargains were snapped up as soon as the kiln was opened in the morning! Luckily, I did manage to pick up noodle bowls and mug reduced to prices cheaper than the mass manufactured pieces from Habitat!

After some mulled wine and snacks, I left the studio feeling satisfied with my purchase, and the fact that I have supported a local pottery studio. London doesn’t need more chained stores run by big corporations, we need more independent stores and studios run by passionate artisans, craftsmen, designers, bakers, booksellers and even corner shop owners who truly want to make a difference in this city.

New product ranges from Japan

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Katamaku – an upcycled stationery and product range


In the last 2 months, we added three new product ranges from Japan, including: upcycled stationery by KATAMAKU, textile products by Tenp, and Sola cube and Sola Zukan by Sola.

During my trip to Japan earlier this year, I met up with Japanese architect Shimon Mioke from k2m design, the designer behind the upcyled brand KATAMAKU. The idea of the range arrived after the architect saw unused parts of industrial membrane used for constructing stadiums, domes and tents being thrown away. The designer and his partners decided to use these waste materials to create a new upcycled range to reflect the beauty of these materials in the simplest way.

Since the durable but stiff materials come in large rolling sheets, the easiest way to handle them is to cut and mold them. The designers took inspirations from origami and kimono, and employed these elements in their designs. And like origami, all of the cases can be reverted back to its original state – a flat sheet of fibre. Minimalist and functional, the KATAMAKU range also reveals what can be done with waste materials, which is crucial in changing our wasteful culture and behaviour.


IMG_1552-compressed Shimon Mioke

Left: Katamaku cases; Right: Shimon Mioke from k2m design


When I first saw the Tenp textiles range, I was instantly attracted to the unusual weaving patterns. I later learnt that these new patterns were created using the traditional sashiko weaving technique famous in the Tohoku region of Japan. I have seen Japanese textiles that feature this technique before, but I have never seen it done in a contemporary context. Last year, Japanese design studio Nendo also collaborated with Kyoto’s weaving house Hosoo to release a textiles range employing the same techinque, but in a more traditional style. 


sashiko-textile nendo Satoshi Takiguchi

Left: Nendo & Hosoo’s collaboration that features sashiko weaving; Right: Satoshi Takiguchi from Tenp


In Tokyo, I met up with architect Satoshi Takiguchi, who is the director behind the textiles brand Tenp. In 2013, Satoshi invited his friend, Japanese illustrator Toshiyuki Fukuda to collaborate with sashiko weave artisan Kenichi Ohazama from Miwa Orimono in Fukushima to create a range of contemporary textile products.

I love Toshiyuki’s abstract geometrical patterns inspired by flora and fauna. And due to the weaving technique, a large piece of textile is first produced and then cut into smaller sizes. Hence, each piece in the collection is unique, with no two products alike. The merge of new design and traditional technique is what I love about this range, and I hope that I can add more products (like stationery) from this brand next year.


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Tenp textiles range


Our last product launch of the year was Sola Cube and Sola Zukan from Japan. Since I love nature, it is no surprise that I would be drawn towards these tiny cubes that contain a preserved plant. Created by Japanese creative director Koichi Yoshimura from Kyoto who was inspired by artifacts seen at the natural history museum, the small 4 x 4 cm cube offers us a glimpse into the universe. The name ‘sola’ comes from the Chinese kanji character ‘宙’, which means ‘universe’ or ‘blue sky’.

Each cube features a preserved Japanese plant in transparent acrylic resin, and it is handmade by craftsman in Kyoto. Through trial and error over the years, the craftsmen use a vacuum kiln to force out all the air bubbles, which further enhances the beauty of the plant.

To accompany the cubes, a set of botantical learning cards was also created to inspire children and adults to understand the wonders of nature.


american sweetgum sola cube sola cubesola cubessola cube


I think it is a shame that many people in our world today don’t appreciate and respect mother nature. We keep destroying nature for the sake of technology and profits, and these acts would ultimately bring us inreversible consequences i.e. climate change. I hope that these small cubes would remind people that nature must be preserved rather than destroyed, and we must all act in our own ways to prevent further damage to our planet.


Upcoming Christmas markets in London

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Our advent calendar-inspired pop-up promotional card


This December, we will pop up for three weekends in London! We are very happy to be selected as one of the vendors to be selling at the Barbican this year. I have often visited the Barbican for events and exhibitions, so I am thrilled to be selling at such an iconic venue in London.

Our other one-day pop-up will be at St Mary’s church in Primrose Hill, a smaller and more local event, but I am sure it will be fun and quite family oriented.

We will be selling among other independent designers and traders, so if you are looking for something unique, then do pay us a visit or alternatively support your local Christmas markets if you live outside of London.

We look forward to seeing you at our Christmas pop ups this year!