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The Urban Makers Revolution

Meet the market curators at the forefront of a movement breathing life back into London's shopping scene.

In a climate where even major high street names struggle to compete with the increasing power of online shopping, there’s a blossoming retail trend that’s bringing shoppers back to London’s markets in their throngs.

A new wave of designer-maker markets are emerging to fulfil a growing desire from shoppers to buy locally, sustainably and to make a real connection with the products they buy and their provenance.

At the movement’s forefront are Urban Makers. Hosting designer-maker market pop-ups since 2015, they now have a talented collective of over 500 makers and independents regularly appearing at their events.

We caught up with founders Ilka Dickens and Julia Redgrove to find out why makers are making the world of markets go round…


Tell us how and why Urban Makers got started?

We met initially through our children. We were both on maternity leave and we crossed paths at the children’s centres in Bow, East London. We soon realised that we were both makers (Julia designs jewellery and Ilka designs stationery and prints)  and bonded over our love of design. We were attending other markets independently in North and South London and soon got chatting about how great it would be if there was a market in our local area – the rest, as they say, is history.


Were the events a huge success from the beginning?

Yes! We started out in a local church in Bow which was a great success, but as demand grew, we knew we had to find a larger venue where we could trade on Sunday too. The Ecology Pavilion in Mile End Park was the perfect choice for its size, natural light and views over the park. We were blown away with the success of our first Spring Market we held there in 2016. There were so many talented independent designers in the area, eager for the opportunity to sell their wares locally and there had never been an event like this before in the area, so the locals were very keen to visit. This soon led to invitations to curate markets at other events and festivals in and around London.


What is the ideal stall mix of a dream Urban Makers market?

We always try very hard to get the balance right when curating a market. We want to offer something for everyone so when you come to our markets you’ll find everything from skincare, homewares, art, accessories, clothing for kids and adults, stationery and delicious food, such as cakes and chocolates. We also really love unique, sustainable and ethically made products.

As part of our application process, we encourage ethical and sustainable choices, such as naked greeting cards (no plastic wraps), plus thoughtful and considered packaging.

What sets you apart from other markets? Why would someone visit an urban makers market?

We wanted to create a community of designer-makers, where we bring creatives together in a social environment in which individual craftspeople can thrive. At each of our markets we guarantee buyers and sellers alike, a large, eclectic lineup of designers united by a love of their craft. We are very supportive of our makers and are always on hand to offer advice in the lead up to the market and help with the setup on the day. We hope this support enables designers to show their products at their best and this shines through to the customers.


What kind of people do you find your markets appeal to?

We always have a great cross-section of customers at our markets. Makers markets are family events so we often get the whole extended family coming along. They are keen to understand the process of how the designer makes their work and they love getting involved in workshops and seeing and learning how a product is made. In Old Spitalfields Market, our guest market attracts a huge array of tourists and locals, strolling through East London, eager to find a quirky gift or accessory for themselves or their home.


Do you think independent makers are ahead of bigger brands when it comes to responding to shoppers’ desire to shop more sustainably and ethically?

Independent businesses are run by people – not by boards, stockholders or algorithms, so you get a different kind of care and quality in their product because their work is a reflection of themselves. Shopping independent is also an ethical choice. Homemade is sustainable by its very nature. Our designers make products in small batches, use less or no single-use plastics, upcycle, recycle and don’t test on animals.

As part of our application process, we encourage ethical and sustainable choices, such as naked greeting cards (no plastic wraps), plus thoughtful and considered packaging.

Many larger brands have a long way to go before they can claim they are both sustainable and ethical, as adapting our ‘fast fashion’ culture into a more eco-friendly process takes time and money that not all commercial brands are prepared to spend.

Why do you think people come to shop at your markets, rather than online, on makers sites such as Etsy?

People come to our markets for the experience and the buzz. Meeting the makers, discussing how the product is made, the process and inspiration, it’s all part of the experience. Giving money directly to someone who made the product, and seeing how happy it makes them, is a rewarding experience – you can’t get that feeling online. Our markets have become a weekend destination (and now Wednesdays too), giving everyone the chance to see the products first hand, socialise with our community of creatives and enjoy the food on offer too.


What part do you think makers play in the future of London’s market and broader retail scene?

Makers markets have grown in popularity in the last 10 years and we hope this continues. It’s not just small businesses driving this – it’s the customers who want something different, an experience that can’t be replicated in a department store. Big retailers have wised up to this and are offering workshops hosted by small brands in store. We think it’s a great meeting of minds and everyone involved seems to get a lot out of the experience and relationship. We hope this relationship will encourage retailers to buy from small brands and support their local designers.


You’ll find Urban Makers at Old Spitalfields Market on the first and third weekend of every month. This month sees the launch of their brand new weekly ‘Samples and Seconds’ Wednesday market.