At The Makers Fellowship pop-up coffee bar, the gorgeous aroma of a fresh brew forms the backdrop for wooden cubbyholes filled with sweet tarts from Ling’s Kitchen, salted caramel, peanut butter, choc mint and raspberry “brookies” (brownie cookies) from September Bakes, and pristine bottles of alkalised This Is Water.
That’s not an unusual scene at many cafes and pop-ups, which source bakes and other items from small makers. What sets this one apart is that The Makers Fellowship puts these makers front and centre, in a bold plan to solidify and drive the indie F&B scene.
The collective was conceptualised solely with this aim, bringing makers and industry players together in a concerted attempt at collaboration.
As much as it is driven by the desire to propel the indie scene forward, the roots of The Makers Fellowship also lie in romance.
When co-founders Chris Baradaran and Catherine Lum met and began dating, their time spent together was often in small cafes, independent restaurants and bakeries.
“There’s so much soul in the indie scene,” said Baradaran.
Late last year, he was taking a break from his strategy consulting and corporate finance career in London and South-East Asia, and doing some soul-searching.
When he met Lum, that path started growing clearer. After graduating from Les Roches Global Hospitality Education, she came back to Malaysia and worked first with home-grown hit Brew and Bread in Kota Kemuning, and later with the much-larger BIG Group.
“I saw the disparity in how much larger and smaller players could grow,” she said. And as the couple did their rounds of the indie scene, they got to know the people behind the brownies and breads, those who were making and roasting the coffee.
“We saw the issues the industry was facing, with so many cafes – even the good ones – closing down, and makers finding it hard to get sustainable revenue. We visualised how the indie scene will look in years to come, and could only imagine things getting worse. At that point we knew something had to change.
“So we started to look at the entire ecosystem of the F&B industry. When we talked to various makers, they all wanted the same three things: sustainable revenue, exposure and a community,” said Baradaran.
The duo spoke to over 70 makers, and found that in many cases, there weren’t many platforms available besides expos and markets.
“The problem is that mostly, those places are all about unconscious consuming, and people come and go without being able to learn their story, or form an emotional connection,” said Lum. “You need to build a relationship in a more organic, natural way.”
So they decided that the first step in their newly-minted initiative would be to build that emotional connection – that would start with bridging the gap between consumers and makers, the “bread and butter of the industry”.
There’s no fee to join The Makers Fellowship; a consultancy fee is only applicable if makers opt for additional services like marketing, branding etc.
It’s about collaboration, not competition, says Baradaran, and that has struck a chord with many makers in the last few months – 17, and counting. But it’s also just the first step for the ambitious Makers Fellowship.
Change in phases
“Once we had the pieces of the puzzle together, we wanted to see if our concept could get a strong reaction from the community, and so entered into our Proof of Concept phase,’ said Baradaran.
From August to September, they ran their pop-up cafe all over the Klang Valley, gauging the responses from various demographics. This became a “roadshow of stories”, at places like Publika, Plaza Arkadia at Desa Park City and co-working spaces like Co-Labs at Utropolis Marketplace.
Here, it’s all about generating that crowd so that they can spin the relationships needed – and that can mean setting up a large projector screen for an open-air movie screening, which they did at Plaza Arkadia, or holding workshops and talks to inspire a whole new generation of artisanal makers.
“We even did a latte art throwdown for amateurs, where we taught members of the public how to pull shots like a barista,” said Lum. “We also have various makers pop up and speak to people, like Tristan Creswick of Cloud Catcher Roastery.”
Now entering the next phase (Awareness), The Makers Fellowship is moving on to bigger venues; from Dec 4 to 17, they’ll be popping up at One Utama.
“Now, we’re leveraging on our makers’ and partners’ social media databases to build an even bigger community presence,” said Baradaran.
It’s all about creating the synergy between people that will spark collaborations and new ideas, build visibility and relationships between the consumer and the maker, and therefore encourage growth in the scene.
“From February next year, we’ll be scaling up – helping not only the makers under our banner, but all in the industry. And this all leads to our eventual goal, which we call the Game Changer.
“We see that many makers go from start-up to gaining exposure, to building a customer base and then plateau for years with many eventually closing down – we understand why and will aim to change this by removing the barrier to growth for makers.
“What we have in mind is to curate a space to incubate and accelerate the makers, something which hasn’t been done before. We feel that we’re best positioned to do this due to our experience but also from our journey through The Makers Fellowship, understanding their issues, building friendships and partnerships,” said Baradaran.
Check out more at themakersfellowship.com.