Romaizie Mustapha, an indie entrepreneur, has seen some incredible vintage treasures sold at the pop-up collectors markets that he has been organising around the Klang Valley since 2016.
In a recent interview, Rom, as he is popularly known, lists down a huge British colonial-era train station clock from the Malayan Railways Limited days, vintage studio gear and film lighting from the days when Tan Sri P. Ramlee worked at the Shaw Brothers-owned Malay Film Production Studios in Jalan Ampas, Singapore, and a couple of rare Malay books and journals, as some prized discoveries that have sold for nearly RM10,000 each at his collectors market series.
“I’ve been putting together pop-up markets for over three years now, and I have seen how it has grown. The public now have an idea that pop-ups are not just about cheap bins and bargains.
“There are affordable things, there are pricey rare gems, but as a whole, people can discover an alternative shopping network where niche collector communities and vendors operate. Need a retro trumpet horn gramophone player? Somebody will have a lead,” says Rom, 34.
“The first few editions of my Collectors Market series were a real challenge. On paper, this idea of curating a market is great, but you also need good people skills to convince the ‘tribes’ to work together. It took a few pop-up markets to get the vintage/antique sellers and the toy/collectibles community to see the bigger picture of uniting for an event, which will benefit everybody,” he adds.
“These collectors markets are also an important source of income that helps small business. The markets allow vintage vendors and antique hunters from the small towns in Johor, Melaka and Negri Sembilan to create a ‘storefront’ in the Klang Valley for a weekend. We have seen antique vendors making between RM25,000 and RM30,000 in the early days of Collectors Market. Today, anything between a RM5,000 and RM10,000 profit is a good weekend. From a handful of organisers and speciality stalls, the pop-up market scene has become a massive ‘industry’.”
Rom, who runs the Collectors Market series, has created many spin-offs such as the Fuyoh series, the School of Collector events and also touring pop-up events in Johor and Melaka. On average, he organises seven markets a year, with some being strictly “all-collector booth affairs” and others expanded with “lifestyle” elements like live music and food stations. Rom mentions that he once did 100 booths for a pop-up in Melaka, but his average market is between 40 and 50 stalls.
“I can’t pinpoint the exact bestsellers, but if you have vintage local comic books, Malaysian vinyl records, to even classic local movie posters and old pop culture magazines, there is a chance you will make a killing as a vendor.
“Malaysians, in general, seem keen on archiving and documenting these days, people even pay huge sums for old local newspaper front pages and historical clippings. We have come a long way from just collecting old F&N bottles and kopitiam cups.”
Keeping things fresh
Rom can sit down and pull out a long checklist of the essentials in organising a pop-up market. But one of the most important things, he stresses, is to keep a pop-up series fresh, and to find new vendors (“I try to keep my events at 60% regular vendors, and 40% new content”).
He also agrees that there is no shortage of pop-up markets these days, but there rarely is a crossover crowd.
“I do feel that collectors aim for the collectors markets, they won’t go to the ‘lifestyle’ pop-up markets. It all depends on how you want to spend your weekend. If you want a treasure hunt, or if you need a fix of collectible toys, you know your destination. If you just want to hang out, shop a little and chill with friends, there are many pop-up markets and events catering to those needs,” says Rom.
These urban living pop-up markets, often held at a hosting venue on a monthly or semi-regular basis, combine the curated know-how of local handmade business, the variety and convenience of hip retail outlets and the buzz and atmosphere of a festive event.
One of the more high profile pop-up bazaars in town has, undoubtedly, got to be the Riuh series, which takes place for one weekend every two months in the Klang Valley.
What sets Riuh apart from other pop-ups is that it’s also a creative curated platform, offering workshops, live performances and showcases alongside the usual booths and food stalls.
Each iteration is also bound by a specific theme, which means that content is always different.
Riuh, a project of MyCreative Ventures under the Ministry of Finance, organised its first event in August 2017, and since then, has successfully organised 17 more.
According to Riuh head Melissa Low, this event series aims help local creative entrepreneurs with distribution.
“We had our inspiration from places like Portobello Market in London, and The Finders Keepers (design) market in Australia. But after some thought, we realised we shouldn’t just do a market, because that just helps the creative entrepreneurs. What about all the other talents?” says Low.
“We wanted to cover the whole spectrum of the creative industry. So we decided to call it a ‘curated platform’ instead of a market. It has four main elements. Pop up (for retail and F&B), Educate (for creative workshops), Performances (buskers to bands and cultural performances) and Exhibits (art and installations).”
The recent Riuh event, held at Sentul Depot in March, featured a 1970s themed event that fused the power of women and green, sustainable living. It attracted thousands to the venue over two-days and was heavily promoted on social media.
The good news is not everything in the world of pop-up needs to be a massive event.
Kabut In The Park (Kabut), potentially the most stripped down, no frills pop-up on the block, is unlike Riuh.
The Kabut series, founded by Evangeline Lim in collaboration with the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), was launched on the KLPac grounds last month. Kabut is very specific with the type of vendors it wants to work with.
The 32-year-old Lim says Kabut is “strictly for homeowners, everyday people and families who have decluttered their homes. Some vendors are reformed hoarders and shopaholics that have come to find the joy of more minimalistic,” a global phenomenon made popular by (Japanese author) Marie Kondo.
“Retailers and bundle sellers are not allowed. This is how Kabut ensures that items can be at a good bargain pricing … by selecting vendors with like-minded mentality that is in line with Kabut’s purpose,” adds Lim.
She says the first Kabut event saw nearly 30 vendors selling from their car boots at KLPac’s car park. The next Kabut takes place next month at the same venue. Something is definitely catching on with these car boot sales.
“With the inflation of living expenses and stagnant income ranges, consumers become more open to the idea of shopping at markets,” says Lim, a creative marketing consultant.
Where curation matters
Besides stumbling upon a good bargain, these pop-up markets, when curated carefully, offer a focused range of products. A collector can find almost anything at these markets. For instance, you don’t expect vinyl records at a handmade craft market.
According to Aida Salleh, founder of Joy Productions, part of the appeal of these markets come from this very fact.
“For shopping malls, in each one you go to, you can expect the same kind of things. They aren’t curated. When it comes to markets, however, most of the vendors don’t have stores. You usually haven’t seen them before, or maybe seen them on Instagram. So there’s a joy of discovery, of finding something that you’ve never seen before,” says Aida.
Joy Productions is a company which specialises in creating curated community markets for their clients. These include Sunny Side Up, a largely women-driven market based at Slate at the Row in Kuala Lumpur, and Maple Food Markets, a food market.
It also has its own brand of markets called Trader’s Markets, which runs at Publika in KL.
Aida’s company specialises in smaller, community-driven markets, usually set in concourse areas (of malls).
And while these pop-up markets are practically a haven for bargain seekers, who include young people attracted to the collectors market subculture, designers, vintage collectors, artists and even hotel owners, they are equally a boon to the vendors as well.
Many of these vendors often sell their items at flea markets or even at the pasar karat (sidewalk street market). However, curated and programmed events can help boost their sales and expose them to a wider range of buyers.
Azlan Huzairi, an antique collector turned dealer, says the traffic of buyers that visit Amcorp Mall’s flea market in Petaling Jaya is considerably low on regular weekends. The flea market at Amcorp, which started in 1998, has seen better days. But it continues to truck along.
“Many (vendors) complain that business is not how it used to be,” shares the 54-year-old Azlan.
He realised there was a need for a flea market reboot. He came up with the idea for the Collector’s Pick (the sixth edition was held last month), a three-day event which sees vendors “colonising” every floor of the mall, including the concourse area.
“Collector’s Pick has given Amcorp a lift. We get vendors from other states and some even from Indonesia participating with us. That attracts new people to the mall. Amcorp’s resident vendors also get to enjoy the spillover effect of fresh walk-ins and renewed interest from old customers,” he adds.
The sight of a traffic gridlock to get into Amcorp Mall during the recent Collector’s Pick weekend must indicate that having a “pop-up event” alongside a regular flea market works wonders. Azlan admits the pressure is on to keep up this momentum, but he is relishing the challenge.
“The number of visitors just keep multiplying, we even attract buyers from Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea. The sales jump really benefits all the vendors,” says Azlan, revealing that nearly 300 vendors are the norm at the Collector’s Pick, which occurs every four months at Amcorp.
The big picture
Most regular organisers in the pop-up scene will agree that curating and running a weekend event is no walk in the park. It’s a logistical nightmare. And when you have people who are new at this, it makes things … tricky.
Kabut In The Park is taking things slowly, it doesn’t need a huge crowd.
“The Kabut vendors are your typical homemakers, parents, students and everyday people. They are not trained in setting up, window display skills, and pricing. The organiser need to help these vendors learn and understand how to sell and market their car boot sale,” says Lim.
As for Rom, his challenge with the Collectors Market is to make both vendors and visitors happy.
“For vendors, we always try to attract more visitors so that they can make more sales. For visitors, they always want more content. Also, as a curated marketplace, we want every visitor to feel comfortable and not have it too crowded,” he says.
What about the future of pop-markets? Most involved agree that scene is evolving.
“Pop-up markets are here to stay, for sure. I do see vendors putting in a lot more effort and work into their products and packaging. They’re slowly growing to be different, which is great!” says Aida.
Azlan, however, is cautiously optimistic. While he stresses that the future is indeed very bright for pop-up markets, he believes compared to the US, Europe and Thailand, Malaysian pop-up market culture still has a long way to go.
“I feel like we are trailing behind. We are still new. For example, the Collector’s Pick is just 10% in size compared to other major pop-up events happening around the world. They have investors who want to make things big. However, many of our regular vendors who travel, have observed how things are done abroad.
“They are starting to adopt their style – organisation, presentation and promotion – here. Now, that’s a good move in the right direction,” concludes Azlan.