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IT'S the most lucrative time of the year, as shoppers exercise negligible financial restraint, preferring instead to dive headlong into spending sprees for loved ones and themselves during the Christmas season.
And fairy lights-laden malls aren't the only ones pulling in the loose-walleted festive shopper. With oversized trees and Santa sightings being more cliched than Christmas-sy, retailers try to convey the spirit of the holidays through a more traditional platform: the Christmas market. This year, there will be at least five such markets popping up to ride on the Yuletide shopping frenzy. But rather than stocking up on mulled ciders and panettones in a quaint city square, expect to find gifts and products as eclectic as vintage tea services, pistachio butters and premium scotch - in locations such as a mall, shophouse and even a furniture store.
"The concept of markets isn't a new thing, but it certainly seems to have taken off this year with a growing pool of independent local makers, crafters and producers that have emerged," says Amanda Eng, marketing and buying director of Naiise. "Markets are a great way for small businesses and makers to reach out to audiences without paying exorbitant rents, and it also offers shoppers a fun environment to discover different products from different businesses."
An online store that specialises in well-designed products from Singapore and around the world, Naiise has previously held three pop-up events. Its fourth, just in time for Christmas, is held in Little India and includes floral art by Poppy Floral Studio, Asian-inspired furniture by Scene Shang, art showcases and murals by Kult 3D and Band of Doodlers, and fresh menus prepared each weekend by the likes of The Cajun Kings, Burnt Ends and Kith Cafe.
While organising a Christmas market appears to be a money-spinning concept for those who are at the helm - the organisers at Naiise actually do not charge a fee for renting a stall. Instead, they earn a consignment fee based on sales, motivating them to publicise the products of their vendors.
Furthermore, it has partnered with Club Rainbow for customers to purchase gifts that have been selected by the charity's youth, suffering from chronic and potentially life-threatening illnesses.
Taking the spirit of giving a step further is designer home furniture retailer Dream. It will not be charging any of its vendors such as The Attic Lifestyle Store, By Invite Only, The Letter J Supply and Mmerci Encore for selling their wares at its Christmas market taking place next weekend at its River Valley showroom.
"We don't generate any revenue from our Christmas Market. We invest in the set-up and publicity, but we don't ask our vendors to pay us anything," says Yung Ong, executive director of Proof Living, the parent company of Dream. "It's always been in our DNA to embark on creative projects and this year, we decided to bring something warm and exciting to our neighbourhood while also supporting and collaborating with some of Singapore's most talented and creative entrepreneurs."
But while there is a low barrier to entry - cost-wise, a stall at Clarke Quay's Christmas market only goes for S$60 a day - a spot at one of these markets doesn't come easy. In fact, scoring a stall is almost a stamp of approval of one's cool quotient.
"It's actually difficult to get a space in Public Garden Market as the organisers curate their vendors so if you're not interesting enough, too bad," candidly explains Lena Tambunan, owner of vintage homeware business The Vintage Parlour and a tenant at the monthly flea market. It runs every weekend till 14 Dec at TripleOne Somerset, Level 16. "It's even harder to get a slot in the Christmas markets but if you are a regular vendor and they are familiar with you and your product, you will be e-mailed in advance if there are slots available at their annual Christmas market."
Often, such enterprises offer greater variety for those seeking unique gifts or a fun outing.
Clarke Quay, which has been holding Christmas markets since 2010, works with flea market organiser For Flea Sake to shortlist artisanal products or even blog shops; while even Orchard Central has roped in homegrown nut butter brand The Hunters' Kitchenette alongside established names such as mall tenant Dean & Deluca.
"All the vendors are personal friends and friends of friends, whom we knew were like-minded in creating a great festive atmosphere for our Christmas Market, adds Mr Ong. "Some we met while we were out exploring their outlets, and others were introduced to us when they heard of our intention to do something different and special this Christmas."
With rental rates hitting astronomical figures, smaller players often have to resort to selling online - or participating in pop-up events to get the word out. Online retailers such as Naiise, for example, hold events in brick-and-mortar outlets for customers to meet the makers, participate in workshops and sample the products. For indie brands, participating in a Christmas market spells brisk business and massive exposure.
"Christmas is all about family, friends and loved ones and although I don't advocate festive buying just for the sake of it, I believe that people shop not just for themselves but mostly for the people in their lives," says Genevieve Lee-Woon, the founder of The Edible Co who is selling her Almost Perfect Granola at the Naiise Christmas market. "It's always nicer to give than to receive hence, the Christmas season is the perfect time to do so."
Apart from additional revenue from consignment and stall rental fees, organisers of Christmas markets help drive traffic to their respective venues with the festive event. The buzz created by the multitude of stalls, quaint products and marketplace atmosphere helps imbue familiar destinations with an almost traditional Yuletide vibe.
"At the Dream Market, shoppers can visit our stall and get their fill of festive fun with a glass of delicious traditional Reyka Vodka eggnog cocktail that will be sure to put them in a jolly Christmas mood," says Lee Ying Zhi, regional brand manager of alcohol producer and distributor William Grant & Sons.
The company will be retailing special gift sets that are not available anywhere else in the country, like a pack that includes two rock glasses and a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old.
For Far East Organization-owned shopping mall Orchard Central, which has been the overall winner in the annual Best Dressed Building contest organised by Orchard Road Business Association for three consecutive years, a marketplace event adds to the overall holiday ambience. It is hosting a Christmas market for the fourth time this year.
"OC Christmas Marketplace has always been an essential part of our annual Christmas celebration activities," says Eric Tong, assistant director of the Retail Business Group for Far East Organization. "Through the years, as we come up with different themes for our Christmas dress-up, the marketplace set-up will complement the overall theme, giving shoppers a holistic experience when they come to Orchard Central to enjoy the Christmas cheer."