Interview: Sarah Thornton & Brooke Johnston, founders of The Finders Keepers market

By Tess McCabe Today we interview two ladies whose business I'm sure many of you will be aware of, as either a visitor or stall holder. But how did The Finders Keepers market begin and what have been some of the highs and lows founders Brooke Johnston and Sarah Thornton have encountered along the way? Let's find out...


How did you two meet and what prompted the decision to launch a business together? Brooke and I met in the Summer of 2002 when she moved to Sydney from Lennox Head and started dating my cousin (who she has since then married). She was pursuing a creative career in jewellery design. We hit it off instantly, sharing an equal love of all things creative. At the time I was studying and working in the fashion industry.

It wasn't until a conversation in 2006 about how Brooke was frustrated at trying to launch her contemporary jewellery labe. At the time there was generally a lack of support and good places to sell for small labels. An idea sparked in us! We came up with our 'dream event' that would combine all the things we loved - design, art, music & wine in a friendly market atmosphere. We wanted to create a social atmosphere that supported creativity, community and inspired others. We launched The Finders Keepers just that with only 20 curated stalls, live music and a full bar. We had no idea how to run an event, or curate anything, we just learnt along the way.

We've always worked so well together, both sharing the same passions for creativity and community and we seem to have the perfect blend of patience, kindness and encouragement with each other that has made our partnership truly flourish.

How long has The Finders Keepers market been going now, and how has it changed over the years ? We're six years old now, and we've had our fair share of struggles and hurdles along the way! Finders Keepers we believe has organically grown, from just having a small offering of stalls in Sydney, to expanding interstate to Brisbane & Melbourne, and then improving and growing as the years go by. We've really learnt everything along the way and can credit our strength to learning from mistakes too and never giving up. We also have such an amazing community of supporters that really keep us going, when times have been tough we know how important our role has become for designers and shoppers alike!

It just started with the two of us, running Sydney markets, then when we took on Brisbane and Melbourne, we recruited two more event assistants and now we have a great little team of six part-time workers and a casual team who just do our events. Everyone in the Finders Keepers family has other jobs and creative roles. We love that.

What have been some of the challenges of keeping FK running for this long? Many challenges! Gosh too many to name... I think the biggest one was when we outgrew ourselves. Our markets were getting too big, and too popular (not necessarily a bad thing!), but it just meant the logistics of managing it all was increasing and then came the massive increase of expenses and demands.

Every event we got bigger and had to upgrade, and one point we were just scraping through financially and we couldn't get ahead. We had absolutely no money to invest in our next events. It was at this time we were facing major decisions and at a cross roads of being burnt out and ready to pull the pin. Sometimes those moments have to happen, we re-evaluated, re-worked our planning and asked for help to get us out of a rut.

It was a hard time, but it was also the best time for us to come out of it, and realise how strong we were at the end of it all.

What roles do each of you take on in the running of the business, and do you both work on FK full-time? Our roles have changed over time. Originally Brooke and I did most of all the event work, but we now have the amazing Alischa who helps us with the national event management and logistics (a life saver). This has given us a bit more of a directors role, which lets us oversee all the curation of the markets (which includes us going through all the applications and final approvals), new event concepts, vendors, seasonal artwork, decor, signage and marketing of the event. We still work very closely with Alischa on all the event decisions and direction.

I also work with our little web team and oversee all our website's blog content and social media. Brooke and I also have a retail venture, Follow, that Brooke mainly manages. Between being creative and everything else we do (I'm also a mum to a toddler), we would probably work on Finders Keepers around 3-4 days out of the week, and more in peak times.

What advice do you have for makers and designers who might be considering showcasing their work at a market this year? Give it a go! We always love seeing new designers and makers at the markets and if they are just starting out we have an excellent opportunity called 'debut' for the little guys to give the markets a go for the first time at a discounted rate. For more seasoned designers who are interested we also have a pretty thorough criteria and FAQ section on our website. We encourage people to learn more about what we do at Finders Keepers and what kind of talent we're looking for. We even have our tips and market guides that might help too.

Thank you Sarah and Brooke for sharing your story with us! If you're keen to apply to be a Finders Keepers stall holder, applications for the Spring/Summer markets in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are open now. And if you'd like to visit and see all the beautiful maker's products Sarah and Brooke curate for you, check out the market dates here!