Four-and-a-half years ago, Fiona Lester was busy on the market circuit where she sold handmade goods ranging from heat packs to baby and toddler clothes, depending on what she needed herself at the time.
She began to tire of the routines of a regular stallholder – having to constantly set up and pack down tables and drag boxes around, as well as being at the mercy of the elements.
So from this frustration, the permanent and indoors The Markets Wanniassa was born.
Fiona and her husband, James, run The Markets Wanniassa, and with nine children between them, there’s always been plenty of help on hand. The youngest of them – aged 10, 13 and 15 – are often found in the store.
“Having grown up in a large family, all the kids are very sociable and great with customers,” says Fiona.
She says working with her partner has largely been a good experience.
“It was difficult at the start, especially when we had a big, blended family, but we have always worked well together as we complement one another,” says Fiona.
“He’s the calm, logical one and I’m the emotional ideas one.”
The Markets Wanniassa, like many businesses of its kind, started life as a collaborative pop-up. Fiona got a group of mums together who were in very similar situations to her – all doing a bit on the markets circuit – and they split the cost of a three-week lease.
From there, The Markets Wanniassa really took off.
Around 60-70 per cent of its products are sourced locally in the Canberra region, but during Victoria’s extended COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, a few creators who could no longer do the markets in the southern state got involved with the Canberra business.
“I wanted to only stock Australian-made and designed products from small businesses,” says Fiona.
A recent passion of the couple is working closely with Indigenous businesses and suppliers. James is a proud Worimi and Wonnarua man, and although he affectionately calls Fiona the ‘white honky’ of the family, she’s also excited about sharing Indigenous culture.
“I think it’s really beautiful and it does need to be recognised for what it is,” says Fiona.
The Markets Wanniassa stocks a range of Indigenous bush tucker foods from Indigiearth, Wild Hibiscus and Kakadu Plum Co, alongside colouring-in books and tea towels by Larry Brandy, an Aboriginal storyteller.
Part of this initiative has been a new partnership with the Canberra Indigenous Business Network, and Fiona says they’re very proud and excited to have joined the fold.
She adds that they hope to find more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses or creators who want to work with them through this partnership.