The Department of Curiosities and Fine Things: Taking the craft market vibe in store.

  • News
  • August 11, 2016
  • Jenny Keown
The Department of Curiosities and Fine Things: Taking the craft market vibe in store.

Can you give us some background about the founders?

The Department of Curiosities and Fine Things is run by a small group of like-minded makers, Michelle Ransom (Circo), Mel Stothers (Wildflower Designs) and myself Andy (Fat Spatula).

Between the three of us, we help facilitate a retail space for a larger group of makers. We are creators ourselves and knew each other through doing various craft markets in Hawke's Bay and had previously created and help run a few markets ourselves.

As individuals we have different skills and strengths and we work well as a team while also having a lot of fun.

How would you describe the shop? 

The shop is a curated collection of some of the best local and national makers - it is all hand-made and has been made with care and aroha which gives the items that special un-defineable quality that attracts people to them.

A common comment from customers is how much they love the store and how they often tell friends about the place.

We needed a theme for the shop as we didn't want it to look like a market with a whole lot of different makers competing for attention.

We wanted a cohesive and novel experience for the customer and so we came up with the idea of the shop being an under-utilised and forgotten governmental department where the workers have taken to creative pursuits to fill in the time.

The desks have slowly filled with creations and the filing cabinets have been filled with art instead of forms. The shop has a retro feel with old wooden desks, typewriters and tea-trolleys as props. 

When and why did you launch the Department of Curiosities and Fine Things?

As the popularity of craft markets started to wane we looked at other ways to get our products in front of customers. We started off with a couple of pop-up shops in the months before Christmas.

These were really successful and proved to us that people were looking for an alternative to the big chain stores and wanting more items that have that human touch and were being created locally.

We then decided to carry on and have a go at a more permanent retail space and see if we could make it work year-round.

It was a risk but there was only one way to find out. Our pop-up shops had a small following of regular makers and customers and so we worked to build on this; we also wanted to make the selling model different to most stores and to make it a fair deal for the makers.  We launched the store in January 2014.

Too often the people actually making the products get the thin wedge of profits and as makers ourselves we wanted a fairer system.

We decided to charge a weekly fee for space in the store and then any sales made were paid directly to the maker.

This system works for makers as we take care of all the selling and promoting of their work at a fixed price and we are open 7 days a week - leaving them free to do what they do best, making great quality items.

Can you explain a bit about the makers - and how do you choose them?

The makers are key to our existence. They love what they do and are passionate about creating quality hand-made items.

We provide the space for those creations but the makers are what make the store special.

Makers and creators can apply for a space within the shop and as the curators we look at what they are doing and how well their work will fit with our ethos.

We try to create a good variety and so we limit the amount of similar products and we are protective of our existing makers.

We are always interested in quality work and new ideas and often we will put makers on a waiting list if space is not available at the time.

Can you talk about your showcase space?

In retail it is important to keep things fresh and our showcase space is a good way of doing this.

It is a space that we rent out to makers or artists to exhibit their works or test the market with an idea before committing to a long term presence.

It is close to our entrance and gets a lot of interest from passers-by. It gives people a space to show their work and it keeps our store interesting with changing displays and different artwork. It is a good for both parties.

What are your favourite things in stock at the moment?

There are so many favourites and it would be hard to pick one or two.

Because we have curated the stock, it is fair to say we love it all and one of the bonuses of working in the store is getting to see new items as they arrive.

It is interesting seeing what customers purchase and why they love a particular item.

It is also good to be able to tell a customer about the maker and how that item has come to be.

We have a strong theme of re-using and re-purposing items with a vintage flavour and customers love how items have a new lease of life with a contemporary purpose yet a nostalgic heritage. People tend to enjoy an item that has a back story. 

What are the challenges and conversely, the cool things about being an indie retailer in Hawke’s Bay? 

The challenges are the lack of support from a larger body and the general challenge of retailing in an ever-changing environment.

Hawke's Bay tends to be fairly conservative but I believe this is changing and the feedback from customers is positive and this keeps us going.

The cool thing is that we get to write the script, we can do things differently if we want and we can try ideas out.

We love that we support a greater group of people than just us three and that we are helping makers to make a living doing what they are passionate about.

Our end of town is slowly becoming the arty, creative end of town with lots of indie stores and it is attracting more and more people for that reason. 

What is your vision for the shop? 

World domination. We are slowly switching from a survival-mode to a yes-we-can-do-this-and-do-it-well mode. We want to grow our selection of fine things while also being fair to our makers and ultimately having fun in the process. 

​ ​

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