The handmade market that replaced the old Wanniassa newsagency is such a welcoming space, its positive vibes envelope you like a hug when you walk in.
Every single corner is filled with beautiful, bright handmade treasures. Gentle sweet aromas and soft base notes of floral waft through the air, although with many candles, diffusers and sensory treats, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where they’re coming from.
If you actually wanted a hug, there is a strong chance that owner Fiona Lester would give you one. Wanniassa shops have been Ms Lester’s “local” for the last 21 years. Tucked away on Sangster Place behind Athllon Drive, this craft oasis, now permanent, is a perfect location to find some local treats.
Mother to a wee band of nine children, Ms Lester was at a loss as to what to do for employment after being an active stay at home mother and handmade artist for the last twenty-plus years. In June, her “work wife” and 2IC Frankie Jo Jo started to push Ms Lester into action around her dreams of a handmade market. The pair first met when Frankie saw Ms Lester’s car with fake eyelashes as headlights and said “I need to know this woman”. Both had children attending the same preschool and instantly found a connection and bond that now make it difficult to recall a time when they were not friends.
Ms Lester had the idea for the market many years ago and every time she walked past the Wanniassa newsagency dreams would flood her head about creating a space for handmade artists to collectively sell their products. Ms Lester wanted to challenge the stereotypes of a working and stay at home mother.
Late November, Ms Lester finally called the owners of the newsagency building to see if they might be interested in the pop up stall before Christmas. They absolutely were! Neither Ms Lester nor Frankie could have predicted the success of the shop.
“People have been constantly dropping by since we opened on the 2nd of December and saying they will stay until they find something to buy because they want the store to stay open,” Ms Lester says.
The operation started with only a few local artists selling in store and now has 19-plus individual artists selling handmade products. Ms Lester says the support has been “amazing, overwhelming and humbling”.
“Canberra’s community has spoken and we have decided that we are going to stay,” she adds.
The pop-up shop will close during January to reopen as a permanent fixture.
“This has been so exciting and a wonderful journey, but we will need people to continue shopping all year round to support the store and the local handmade artists in the store,” Ms Lester says.
“Our model is that we take a percentage of the product sale as rent, but we also offer the artists the opportunity to work in the shop and thus reduce their overheads.”
Ms Lester encourages interested parties to drop by the store.
Both Ms Lester and and her 2IC were thrilled to announce that as part of the refurbishment there would also be a craft room where all members from the community would be invited to come and learn craft skills or work in a collective to make local products.
“We would love to hear from anyone who might want to use the space,” Ms Lester says.
“This includes mother groups, older people in the community looking to use their hands and of course artists who might be keen to teach the classes.”
Ms Lester is herself a talented artist producing products such as dresses, ponchos, toddler teething aids and all types of stunning clothing. One of the most fascinating products Ms Lester makes is fix and find me bags, educational sensory tools and toys that assist children on the autistic spectrum, children with attention deficit disorder and people living in aged care. Frankie, a skilled artisa,n creates individual artworks with her resin, wood and crochet jewellery. Frankie also has a unique and comfy collection of beautiful scarfs and much more in the store.
List of current stores (additions being made daily)
- Big Stinky Dog – Bek McGrath – Pet collars and leads
- Daisy & Bird Lyndsey Longman – Reusable breast pads and sanitary items
- Z & Co Neda Luketic – Cold pressed soaps, lip balms and skincare
- Bamikbam – Frankie Jojo – Funky jewellery
- Two Little Gates Hayley Croft – Bibs, bib clips, blankets and nappy purses
- Mamma Fox – Amy Acheson – Children’s clothing
- The Candlemaker – Laura Ahearn – Candles (she is also the butcher next door)
- Motherly Instincts – Samantha Fooks – Maternity wear (Australian designed, not handmade)
- GG’s Flowers – Nip W – Socially conscious flowers and hampers
- What I made – Gemmie Alliston – Soft toys that are amazing
- Ella Lara Designs – Sarah Higginbotham – Hair accessories
- Love & Charms – Bec Turpie – Framed Prints, cards and accessories
- Vicki – Quilted blankets and pencil rolls
- Jan – Pure wool baby booties
- Nerrida – Terrariums and fairy gardens
- Louise – Machine embroidery and bunting
- Made for you by Fi – Fiona Langtry – Crocheted clothing
- Flossie Funky Fresh and Dangle – Fiona Lester – Children’s clothing and jewellery
Ms Lester and Frankie hope this is the start of a long relationship with the Canberra community.
“If you support us, we will stay forever,” Ms Lester says.
The Wanniassa handmade market is open 7 days a week, 10am to 6pm and on Fridays until 9pm.
Pictured at top, Fiona Lester and Frankie Jo Jo. Photo: Rachel Moore