Two Toronto vendor markets join forces for Pride Month pop-up

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Towards the end of 2021, when many COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted and indoor events were slowly making a comeback, local skateboard and apparel designer Ashley Champion was looking for a vendor market to sell her creations.

Having had success selling with her brands Ace of Dymondz and 416 Champion at a number of local Toronto markets, she reached out to them about possible Christmas markets, but didn’t hear back.

“I started reaching out to some other vendors I knew to see if they were doing something for the holidays — and they weren’t,” explains Champion. “So I said ‘why don’t we try and do something together?’”

What started out as a small pop-up with less than 10 vendors then quickly snowballed into a much larger event.

“I put out the application form and had over 75 people apply and I went ‘OK I guess we’re going to need a bigger venue’ … and that’s how the Toronto Queer Market was born,” she says.

The first Toronto Queer Market event, held on Dec. 18, 2021. Credit: Ashley Champion

Champion says she feels 2SLGBTQ+ artists and makers are underrepresented in other retail or selling venues and events in the city, which is another reason she decided to create the market.

“A lot of queer people depend on art for their income and a lot of artisans were really struggling during the pandemic … I just wanted to make more spaces for queer vendors,” she says.

She feels a curated event, specifically by and for 2SLGBTQ+ people, is more beneficial both to vendors as well as their audiences.

“A lot of queer vendors make queer-specific art, which is harder to sell in regular spaces, so just having the right audience for them, they have a lot more success with that,” she says.

After three successful solo events, this Pride Month, Toronto Queer Market is teaming up with The Welcome Market — another local bazaar series run by Cindy Chau, owner of vintage and novelty shop Finders Keepers.

The special Pride pop-up will be held on June 11-12 at the Academy of Lions on Dundas Street West. It will feature 40 vendors, food, drinks as well as drag performances.

Pride pop-up sign
The Pride pop-up sign is seen in the window of Academy of Lions on Dundas Street West in Toronto. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

Chau says both The Welcome Market and Toronto Queer Market have similar models of bringing together vintage resellers and local artisans under one roof, which made a collaboration between the two a no-brainer.

“I’ve always had the philosophy of community over competition and so … it worked out that Toronto Queer Market also has the same values,” says Chau.

Champion says she has also long admired Chau’s efforts toward prioritizing BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ vendors when she curates The Welcome Market events.

“[She tries to] make sure that her market is as inclusive as possible so that everyone feels welcome,” she says.

Together, they say they can reach a wider audience and also pool resources to support a variety of local entrepreneurs, both those who are just starting out and the well established.

“We wanted to be able to bring everybody together regardless of the amount of following and the size of the business,” explains Chau.

A small portion of each vendor fee will go towards marketing for the pop-up, and Champion says it will help all participants get more bang for their buck as a collective.

“To have 40 vendors pool that little amount together and then we can put that towards advertising — it’s so much easier than having to do that as one business. And then you get way more traffic for a lot less money,” she says.

The Welcome Market, May 28, 2022.
The Welcome Market event on May 28, 2022. Credit: Cindy Chau

Apart from sharing costs and reaching more customers, both Chau and Champion say they aim to foster a community of small businesses that can support each other’s success and they hope to inspire others to do the same.

“The way I see it, the more markets we have in Toronto the better. I don’t see them as competition but rather as more opportunities for small businesses — which should be celebrated. It’s been a struggle for us all to stay in business the past couple of years,” says Champion.

She adds that it is also important to have more markets that represent Toronto’s diverse communities.

“I would encourage others to start more markets,” she says. “I would love to work with others from marginalized communities and provide any help I can to anyone who wants to create their own market but doesn’t know where to start.”

Chau echoes those sentiments, reiterating that coming together as a community, rather than against each other as competitors, will create more opportunities for success.

“The main purpose of these markets is to bring people together, and obviously with a lot of markets going around, I feel like this collaboration is the first of its kind — and we want to show others that working together ends up creating something magical,” she says.

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