Temples and Markets online gift store for ethical Southeast Asian brands was founded by Judith Treanor. I chatted to her about the importance of shopping ethically, buying gifts that tell stories, buyer’s regret, and her favourite Southeast Asian designers.
I was thrilled to bits when Australian Judith Treanor reached out to me a few years ago to tell me about her Temples and Markets online gift store, an ethical shopping site that would focus on Southeast Asian brands. She said she was coming to Cambodia and asked if I’d help plan her research trip and introduce her to local designers, artisans and business owners in Siem Reap.
Now, if you’re a regular reader of Grantourismo you’ll know that we’ve long been advocates of responsible travel – in fact, we launched the site in 2010 with a mission to inspire you all to travel more slowly and more sustainably, more locally, and more experientially, all of which we see as being interconnected and being more responsible ways to travel.
Promoting sustainable and ethical shopping has always been key to that quest – whether it’s encouraging you to buy locally made products to support small businesses, to buy beautiful handcrafted things made by local artisans, designers and artists to keep traditions alive and support local arts and crafts; to buy ethical, eco-friendly, recycled, vintage, and up-cycled products to help our environment; or to buy fair-trade handicrafts rather than mass-produced tourist tat to protect workers.
Indeed, aside from Cambodian food, one of the things that I’m most passionate about in Cambodia is the long rich history of arts and crafts – most evident in the exquisite stone carvings, bas-reliefs, and statues at the Angkor temples, but also in silk-weaving, wood carving, lacquer-ware, basket-making, and more.
When I craft bespoke itineraries for clients or host the occasional tour, I love nothing more than introducing them to places such as Kandal Village, where beautiful boutiques such as Louise Loubatieres’ offer handwoven blankets and handmade ceramics crafted in villages around Siem Reap, or jewellery workshops such as Ammo, where young Cambodian designers create unique pieces of jewellery from brass bullets, such as the stunning signet ring, top left.
So I was delighted to help Judith and, three years later, I’m thrilled to see how her Temples and Markets online gift store is continuing to grow. And now she’s also established the Pop-Up Collective, another initiative aimed at supporting and promoting artisans, designers and small businesses. I thought we were long overdue for a catch-up and it was time for you to meet Judith Treanor.
Temples and Markets Online Gift Store for Ethical Southeast Asian Brands – A Chat with Founder Judith Treanor
Q. What motivated you to launch your ethical shopping site Temples and Markets?
A. I’ve been fortunate to travel, shop and eat my way around Southeast Asia for 20 years. I’d always return home to Australia wearing a unique piece of jewellery or bag and people would literally stop me in the street to ask where I got it. From there I conceptualised the idea to expose the amazing artisans and designers in the countries I loved to a broader market outside the region. The catalyst for turning it into a reality was my first Siem Reap visit in 2015 and a chance meeting with Rany, the jewellery designer and owner of Graines de Cambodge. Her story and resilience inspired me. I knew there were many others with similar stories of hardship that has spurred their creativity. I wanted to share their stories and creations with the world. Hence my tagline is “every product has a story”.
Q. Why is it important for people to shop ethically when they travel?
A. We’ve all seen the footage of that horrendous factory fire in Bangladesh in 2012 or we’ve read stories of child labour and learnt about the environmental cost and social cost of fast fashion and mindless shopping. This is not sustainable for our planet or our society. So when you’re lucky enough to visit a country and take time to get to know the people who welcome you, wouldn’t you want to do your bit to support them in a way that makes a tangible difference to their lives? The only genuine way to do this is to purchase products that have been made ethically by locals who have been paid a fair wage. Benefits of this are felt by the families and in turn their communities.
Q. Why the focus on Southeast Asia?
A. The countries of Southeast Asia found their way into my heart over 20 years ago when I was an older-than-most backpacker and they have never left. I am a little bit addicted to the spicy food, the smells, the luxury resorts, the beaches, the contrasts between a serene spa and a crazy tuk tuk ride, and, of course, the welcoming people. I have been asked to showcase brands from other countries that I haven’t been to, but I don’t feel I could tell the stories of their products with as much passion if I haven’t visited those places, and seen firsthand where the products are made, whereas I have travelled all over Southeast Asia and have a special connection to the region.
Q. I love the name Temples and Markets – they’re two of my favourite things in the world – how did that come about?
A. It took a lot of brainstorming with friends and family. I wanted something that summed up Southeast Asia and the cultures and contrasts that you find when you visit countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. It was my husband who suggested ‘Markets and Temples’. That didn’t sound right but the instant I swapped around those words, I knew I had the right name for my online store.
Q. Did you have a retail background or just love shopping?
A. Yes, I started my post-university working life in the buying and merchandising departments of House of Fraser and Debenhams in London. I migrated to Australia via Southeast Asia in 1997 and changed career paths. I had my own interior design and renovation business before launching my Temples and Markets online gift store. I guess you could say life has gone full circle and I’m back sourcing products for retail. I do love shopping, though, particularly when I’m travelling, as I have an eye for unique pieces. And I love that when you bring home your purchases you bring back the memories with you.
Q. What do you look for in a souvenir or memento of a place?
A. I don’t buy the mass produced tat that you see over and over in one location. Instead I buy lots of gorgeous pieces that you can only find at that certain place. I spend lots of time on holiday shopping local designers for clothes or shoes and buying from artists or craftspeople I find in markets or off the beaten track. For instance, one of my favourite purchases was two gold on black canvas Buddha sketches I found in Hua Hin, Thailand about 18 years ago. I bought them for the equivalent of AUD$10 from the teenage artist in the night market. I went back there to find him a couple of years later but no trace sadly. It cost about AUD$200 to frame them back home but they are hanging in pride of place in my hallway.
Q. When you travel, do you dedicate time to shopping or is it more serendipitous?
A. A bit of both really. I love relaxing by a pool or on a beach, as I’m a bit of a sun worshipper. Reading a book in the sun, then cooling off in the sea is one of my absolute favourite things. That means I have to dedicate time for shopping to make the most of my time at a destination. The good thing about holidaying in Southeast Asia, of course, is that shops and markets are open at night so I can relax during the day and shop once the weather has cooled down.
Equally, I can’t think of a holiday where I haven’t been stopped in my tracks by something in a shop window when I’m walking to a restaurant, for example, and then spent the last day of a holiday rushing all over the place to buy those things I’ve seen. I don’t want to suffer what I call ‘buyer’s regret’ – that feeling of missing out on things I wished I’d bought and never get the chance to again unless I return to that location. Buyer’s regret is another reason I created the Temples and Markets online gift store, as I know many other travellers also feel that way when they get home.
Q. What sort of things do you seek out for Temples and Markets?
A. I only sell pieces on Temples and Markets that I love myself. With years in retail, then in design, I’ve developed an eye for unique products and I gravitate towards colour. Secondly, I’m actively seeking out accessories, jewellery or home decor that have a story behind them, that have been ethically produced, and that have a designer edge. They have to reveal a connection to where they came from. As the ethical shopping movement grows in force, I’m also seeking products that are made from sustainable, recycled and interesting materials. For instance, I’ve just launched a range of bags made from washable paper from Vietnam, which I came across earlier this year, as I knew this was exactly the type of product that would appeal to my customers.
Q. Any shopping tips or lessons you’ve learnt from your Temples and Markets buying trips?
A. To head away from the big shopping malls and shop where you’ll find local designers and artisans. Spend time talking to the makers and designers and find out about the person making or selling the products you’re looking at. Take Singapore, for example, it’s a major shopping destination, but most people wouldn’t realise there are many local designers and makers in Singapore. There’s a gorgeous street called Haji Lane where you can find many of them.
Q. Do you buy gifts for family and friends when you travel? Many people find it challenging.
A. Yes, it’s definitely hard. My advice: don’t buy something tacky, buy something that represents the soul of a location, something that will transport your family member or friend to the place you’ve just been. Buy something that has a story attached to it so you can share that story with the person who is receiving the gift.
Q. What can shoppers expect to discover on the Temples and Markets online gift store?
A. We have home decor that brings back wonderful memories of Southeast Asia – everything from colourful Buddha statues made from sustainable materials or table and bed runners reminiscent of a resort spa or luxurious hotel room. Bags for men and women handmade from recycled or interesting materials and handcrafted designer jewellery with a story to tell, made from sustainable materials such as resin or up-cycled ceramics. There are accessories for men, such as handcrafted cufflinks or bracelets – often men get forgotten when it comes to gift buying, but not on my site!
Q. What are some of your favourite Southeast Asian labels?
A. Jewellery by Senhoa – the story of the Senhoa Foundation sums up the ethos behind my store and their crystal jewellery designs are stunningly beautiful. Senhoa jewellery is individually handcrafted by women who have been rescued from dire circumstances such as human trafficking. Senhoa’s passion is to create opportunities for them to earn an income, share their stories and raise awareness against human trafficking and exploitation. Home decorative gifts from Wa Gallery. I’ll never forget when I first saw the display of flouro Buddha heads and figurines in the window of WA Gallery, when I first visited Siem Reap. I knew I had to have them in my store.
I love Tanmydesign in Hanoi and, to certain extent, Temples and Markets has become an online version of Tanmydesign. Many of the local Vietnam brands there stock are now in my store. I discovered Valerie Cordier’s unique bags when I was in Tanmdesign with my friend Laura from Chula Design. She introduced me to Valerie and I’m thrilled to showcase her brand of bags handmade from Vietnamese tribal fabrics and interesting up-cycled materials. I love Valerie’s tagline: “all my bags have a past, with the wearer they’ll have a future”.
I adore Mekong Plus in the Central Vietnam town of Hoi An, which is my favourite place on earth. It was there that I first discovered the Mekong Plus basket bags in the window of their shop. Mekong Plus employ underprivileged women in remote and rural regions of the Mekong Delta to handweave the bags from sustainable water hyacinth. Basket bags are a huge trend right now but the Mekong Plus bags have a point of difference – their leather detailing gives them a more luxe design.
Q. Christmas is coming… any cool Christmas presents on the Temples and Markets online gift store?
A. Mums are pretty easy to buy for and I have gifts for Mums of all ages and tastes. I love Zsiska’s resin jewellery from Thailand or jewellery handcrafted from silver and recycled bomb fragments from Laos by LOVEbomb. For the woman who has everything, I recommend the shrug by Future Traditions from Vietnam. This is a scarf that doubles as a cropped cardigan, made from jersey fabric, which you can literally roll up and pop into your bag and bring out when the weather cools down. It’s the perfect travel gift. For the executive Dad, you can’t go past the one-off resin cufflinks from Singapore designer Analog which come in a myriad of colour choices. For boyfriends or husbands who are little bit boho or hipster, I recommend the leather bracelets by Singapore based designer Gnome&Bow.
Q. Any plans for a bricks and mortar Temples and Markets?
A. Well… in the last year I have formed the Pop Up Collective in Australia. We’re a growing movement of makers, designers and vendors who’ve come together to shake up struggling bricks and mortar retail by sharing pop up shops and curated marketplaces. Having shared pop up shops selling Temples and Markets products over the last three years I knew the way forward was to work together with other business owners to offer consumers a different way to shop.
Pop up shops are good for local areas and local communities and good for the economy. They are a fantastic way to support small businesses and give small business owners the opportunity to gain exposure and sales, particularly if they normally only sell their products online. I’m currently curating a Xmas Gift Extravaganza, with around 50 businesses, including two of my favourite brands from Vietnam who will be showcasing their brands. It’s on the 8th and 9th December in Collingwood, Melbourne.
Q. Goals? Dreams?
A. I’d love to see the Temples and Markets online gift store become the world’s go-to destination for ethical shopping online. Through my store I’m creating an ever-increasing circle of women internationally who are affecting each-others’ lives through trade. When one woman buys a beautiful necklace made by a woman in Thailand, for example, she is literally making a tangible difference to the life of the artisan who made it. My dream is for this circle to grow and grow, so I can share my successes with the wonderful people who have created the products I sell in store. I’ve always wanted to affect positive change in the world. Through my business I hope I can do that in a significant way.
Products featured on the Temples and Markets online gift store (not to scale), top left to right: Male signet ring made from recycled bullets by Ammo; colourful beads resin necklace by Zsiska; Lotus de Luxe accessories bag by CushnArt; Boho slouch bag by Future Traditions. Bottom left to right: Light camel backpack made from washable paper by Pretty Simple Bags; Chance luxe pearl and crystal multi-wrap bracelet by Senhoa; Window shutter beach bag from Trunkh; and Donatello Sapa black and pink clutch bag by Valerie Cordier