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Getting to know… Judith Treanor of Temples & Markets

A curated store featuring the best home decor, jewellery and fashion accessories from South East Asia is the result of Judith Treanor’s many years of travel in South East Asia.
Tell us about yourself
Born in the UK, I spent 10 years in London before relocating to Australia in 1997. We have been here now for 20 years and I am proudly an Australian citizen.
After leaving university with a degree in History, the UK was having a recession and I found myself working in retail. I worked in buying and merchandising for two department store chains, House of Fraser (part of the same group as Harrods at that time) and Debenhams. I have been sourcing products on and off for 25 years. I think my studies in History have good relevance to what I’m doing today as I have been obsessed by humanitarian issues ever since. I believe life is a journey and everything happens for a reason.
Before we arrived in Australia, my husband and I spent 5 months backpacking through South East Asia and during that time the region found its way into my heart. We can’t go past a trip back there and I’m very pleased that I can source gorgeous and unique products for my online store.
I’m a mum to a 12- year old son, Callum, who makes me proud every moment. He is an actor and his goals are to have his own TV talk show like John Oliver, or to become a Sports Commentator. He has his own YouTube channel and recently made an anti bullying video. Just last week he was interviewed on ABC radio, which was brave and confident of him to share his own experiences. He is very outgoing and as an only child, he gets to travel to amazing places and eat at amazing restaurants, but equally he has a conscious knowledge of the world around him that we have instilled in him.
10 years ago, I had breast cancer at age 36. My son was 2 and although it was an early pick up it was considered aggressive due to my age and the size of the tumour. Simultaneously it was the best and worst thing to happen to me. Sounds corny but serious illness gives you a “wake up and smell the coffee” moment. I’m very much aware of how short life is and consequently I want to live my life with purpose, feeling contented and fulfilled. Travel, motherhood and breast cancer have shaped who I am today and I am intent on affecting positive change in the world through my business.
What motivated or inspired you to start Temples & Markets?
Travelling back and forth from South East Asia, I have seen some amazing places and have met some amazing people. I would come back from a trip wearing a piece of unique jewellery or carrying a handbag and people would literally stop me in the street and ask where I got it. When I’d say “Thailand” I would see their faces drop. I started to formulate in my mind a business concept that would expose the people I have met in South East Asia making incredible things to a wider market outside the region, and connect people back home with the emerging designers and artisans they wouldn’t normally know about.
The other thing was to bring back the memories of a great trip away. So often people have buyers regret after returning from travelling, they either think they’ve spent too much or don’t have the luggage space, yet when they get home they reminisce about the things they could/should have bought. That was so often my case so I decided to bring back those things we could have bought to people via an online store.
Additionally the website is designed to give people a feel of S.E Asia; there is a travel blog within it talking about food, hotels, stories of creative people and so on. There’s a growing movement towards ethically sourced and unique products and that was part of the motivation behind the concept too.
Explain the criteria you take in selecting the items you sell in your online store?
It needs to be ethically sourced, unique and over 95% of the products are handmade. A lot of people might be reading this thinking merchandise from Thailand, Vietnam etc would be cheap and nasty products; copy or fake items. I want to stress that our products are so far removed from that. They are artisan made products with a designer element to them. They are also products with a story. What sets the store apart is that I tell the story behind the products and the people who make them giving a face to the often-cold world of ecommerce.
The final criteria are that I have to love everything I showcase in store! The temptation is hard for me not to buy everything in my store for myself and I get such a buzz when customers love what I love. I like bold, bright and funky designs and that comes through with the products featured.
What impact is your business having on the artisans and creators of the products you sell from South East Asia?
Literally every product that is sold is helping to trade the artisan who made it into a better life. Despite significant advances in their economies and burgeoning tourism, Vietnam and Cambodia’s wages are still so very low at around $120 per month. 20% of Cambodians live under the poverty line and it is one of the worst places in the world for human trafficking, child prostitution and child labour, which indicates the level of desperation some parents must have. My store supports social enterprises in these countries that are empowering the locals, very often women, through training and fair work opportunities offering them a sustainable future away from their desperate poverty.
With fair work and developing skills comes empowerment and self-respect for the women, respect from their husbands in a male dominated society, and finances to give their children a decent education. That has a knock on effect to an entire community. We might think that buying one product from Temples and Markets won’t make a difference but can you imagine if one product becomes 1000 products, how much we can affect positive change in these developing countries.
However not everyone that I feature in the store are necessarily marginalised, they may be an emerging designer who wouldn’t be getting their products into a market outside of their home.
Your passion for South East Asia is undeniable, what have you learnt from its people?
A lot about how charmed our life is in first world countries. Locals from countries like Vietnam and Cambodia have immense resilience and creativity, despite their horrific recent history; they are incredibly entrepreneurial and hard working people.
There is a real artisan culture in S.E Asia and they are resourceful people who use the respect they have for their traditional crafts and add a modern touch to create a stunning bag or a bed runner that any of us here would be happy to have in our homes. They can make something beautiful from very little. For example in Cambodia, there are artisans who melt down bullets from the days of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s, and recycle the brass into gorgeous jewellery. Ammo is a social organisation run by an English jewellery designer who employs and trains 5-6 apprentices to make beautiful jewellery from bullet casings and gives them an opportunity to use their talents for an improved future.
Of course I’ve also learnt that their food is amazing, how they use fresh and simple ingredients to make phenomenal dishes. I love the street food and love how eating noodle soup for breakfast sets you up for the day.
Is there one person’s story that stands out the most, and if so, can you tell us about it?
Rany, in Siem Reap. I talk about her a lot because she is the catalyst for my business. In 2015 when we were in Cambodia we were eating in a lovely bar in a laneway. Two doors down I saw this striking jewellery boutique window adorned with red, white and brown seed jewellery. This was Rany’s shop. Her story is that she grew up in a big family, married an Indian guy and moved over there. 5 years later she came back divorced and had to leave a child there. Being divorced is not the done thing in Cambodia and she was kicked out of her parents place, practically homeless. The only possession she had was her scooter. She had never been to a design school but has design flair. She noticed the seeds that fall off the native Siem Reap trees, and thought she could do something with them. She tried to get a local builder to help but he brushed her off saying “it was a woman’s job”. Rany finally worked out how to make holes in the tiny seeds with a hand drill, after a few accidents in between. After I met her and discovered her gorgeous jewellery I thought her story so inspiring and knew there were so many stories like hers that I wanted to share with the world. Rany has since remarried and has 2 more children. What I love is that she now employs seven local village women and they sit on the floor in her workshop behind her shop drilling through seeds and making the jewellery that she designs. She used to have to find the seeds that she needed to be the perfect size and shape for her creations. Nowadays the villagers know her and find the seeds for her.
Do you have any practical advice for other mums looking to start their own online product-based business?
Absolutely, if you have a passion for something – go for it. Try to find a niche and do you research to see if there is a market for it. There are web platforms -Wordpress, Woo Commerce and Shopify that are almost idiot proof and if you know a bit of technology you should be able to navigate them.
There are some amazing women networking groups on Facebook that can offer help, guidance, and support!
Don’t try and do everything yourself as you’ll go crazy and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use your resources and people close to you for assistance in areas that will take the pressure off you – help with the kids or perhaps help with order fulfilment. My stepfather and son help me with packaging and sending, Instagram and adding products to the website. If you don’t have family nearby think about finding an intern.
Something in your life that gives you the most satisfaction?
My son. He has this confidence and acting talent we’re not sure where he got it from. He went to Russel Lea Infant School and from an early age the students go on stage and speak, instilling them with confidence with public speaking. He has a private drama teacher and this year, the first year he entered, he won some drama Eistedfodds. He has just been in a TV advert where he talked about food from around the world and is starring in a short film next week.
Favourite spots to visit in Sydney’s Inner West?
For dog walking I love Quarantine Reserve in Abbotsford or Taplin Park in Drummoyne. Café bones in Leichhardt is my happy place. I love About Life for organic grocery shopping and have a soft spot for Darling St Rozelle and Balmain as I lived in Rozelle for many years. My special treat is Endota Spa, which is a peaceful haven and feels akin to a Thai resort Spa. I love Glebe for its villagey feel and good restaurants. Saigon Express in Drummoyne offer really great home cooked food that is well priced. We love going to Marrickville and the best pho in the Inner West is found at PhD, our little Saigon!
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