Walking along the high street, I passed a pop-up shop window display with beautiful colourful handcrafted necklaces, clothes and bags. These are unusual products to see in Australia.
On closer look, the items were handcrafted in Myanmar and brought to Australia by CROSSROADS. Each item was quite unique and the shop was full of pre-Christmas shoppers looking for something special.
How the Idea of CROSSROADS Began
Travelling back to Australia from the UK, Peri Watkinson and Aaron Matthews spent six weeks in Myanmar. On their trip, Peri and Aaron saw that social business groups were selling handcrafted items to tourists. These businesses provide work and training for people living in communities with little opportunity available to them. Many of these people are very poor and have no hope of regular employment to break out of the poverty cycle.
Peri and Aaron had the idea to set up an avenue for distribution to Australian markets, believing this would help the social businesses to develop other outlets for their products and to benefit their communities with a more diversified source of income.
So CROSSROADS was formed. They decided that their focus would be on fair trade, fair wage, sustainable design and ethical business form. Their aim is to give back to each of the partner groups and their surrounding communities. To do this, profits would be spread into key areas such as medical assistance, skills training and tools/equipment updates for the partner groups.
Peri and Aaron arranged partnerships with seven social businesses which are sustainable eco-friendly producers. One partner is Flame Tree in Yangon, Myanmar, which trains unemployed disadvantaged women and street children in the art of sewing. Flame Tree provides work skills training, medical benefits, and assistance to start an individual business. Having these skills makes a huge difference in their lives and the lives of their families.
Once back in Australia, Peri and Aaron volunteered their time to work on building an online presence for CROSSROADS. They designed and built their own website and then set up a Facebook page. They decided to use Instagram to send out photos of their products, as their products are very visual and attractive so suit a photographic medium. They then began considering how to reach potential customers and to get the word out about their business.
First Pop-up Shop
A vacant shop was hosting pop-ups while looking for a long-term lease. The landlord offered Peri and Aaron the opportunity to use the store as a pop-up for a couple of weeks. They jumped at the chance to try something new with the aim of using the pop-up as a marketing tool to increase their brand exposure. The pop-up shop was in the main street of a busy shopping area, so there would be a lot of foot traffic going past.
Peri and Aaron started their two weeks by holding a launch party at the pop-up shop and invited their friends. By the end of the two weeks, Peri and Aaron had sold almost all of the products that they had brought back with them from Myanmar. In the run up to Christmas, customers bought gifts as well as items for themselves. Peri remembered one customer who bought a necklace for a friend and then came back a couple of days later to buy a similar necklace for herself.
More importantly for their business, Peri and Aaron were able to talk with customers to get valuable feedback on the products that they had in the shop. They gained a much better idea of the designs they should source as well as price points used. This is feedback that they were able to pass on to their colleague in Myanmar who is working directly with their social business partners.
Having sold most of their items, Peri and Aaron are waiting for more to arrive so that they can set up their website for online purchases and continue to build their online presence. They are also looking for more pop-up opportunities and are considering trying out a stall at local art and craft markets.
In the future, Peri and Aaron hope to partner with established shops, who will display and sell the handcrafted items in their stores. Through their colleague in Myanmar, Peri and Aaron also hope to work with groups to look into more sustainable methods of production and to reach other marginalised and at-need groups in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam.
You can see CROSSROADS designs at www.crossroads.design.
Interview with Peri Watkinson and Aaron Matthews, founders of CROSSROADS