It’s 8am on a Sunday morning as we walk through the gate and onto the green oval of Coolum State School. The Pacific Ocean is a mere two-and-half kilometres to the east and I can smell the salt and feel the gentle sea breeze tickling my face.

From Monday to Friday, this field is buzzing with typical school activities as children run, play and laugh. But come today, the open space has been transformed into a different hive of activity – a business community with more heart and soul than what is typically associated with an economic hub.

The Sunshine Coast Collective Markets is more than your average market. At its core is a sense of connection to community – a true village vibe that is a rare find in these modern times.

“People feel a sense of home when they come to the markets,” says owner Candace Lynam. “They are seeing familiar faces, listening to local musicians, eating yummy food, all in this sense of a village.

“There is a strong sense of localism and we are really fighting to maintain it. We are seeing it firsthand with the beautiful people who come out to the markets to shop locally, to know those in their community.

“I am encouraged on market days when I see all these creatives with this place to connect with one another and showcase their work to the community. That’s the beauty of the markets, building up one another’s businesses. It’s about backing them, giving them a go. That’s the Australian mentality.”

Candace and her husband Kodan recently took ownership of the markets, but have managed the collective for the past two years. To say they are committed is an understatement. Talk to any vendor and they will tell you the same thing – the Lynams live and breathe the markets, and strongly support each creator.

On market days they rise early, leaving their family farm in Montville at 3am to ensure they arrive before the stallholders. This allows them time to set up the community spaces and welcome the vendors individually before the day of selling begins.

“I’m third-generation Sunshine Coast,” Candace says with subtle pride in her voice. “My grandparents settled here in the 1950s on a pineapple farm in Montville. We ran a family business for the past 70 years… that started my passion for small business. I believe in building a sense of community, especially as we grow into a regional city.

“With our vendors we try to contain it to Sunshine Coast people. We are really careful at curating to maintain a sense of showcasing local creatives. We want to be able to support artisans.”

Market-goers won’t find imported products or carbon copies when they browse the 60 stalls. Instead, there is a treasure trove of unique, hand-crafted wares complemented by local produce and foodies.

Each vendor is an artisan, investing hours of planning, designing, making and marketing into their craft. For some,
it is a full-time job. For others, this is more hobby than work.

Lauren Diamond is one-half of Auburn Designs, makers of resin jewellery and wares. She and her sister Kathryn Simpson made the daunting decision to leave full-time work to create their own future. That was five years ago, and they haven’t looked back.

“I’m a teacher,” Lauren says. “I had a career, but my eldest is now five, and I wanted a job that would let me stay home with her. I really wanted to stay home and have more children.

“My sister already had a small business but she wanted to do something else. We are both crafty and we wanted to make something with a no returns policy. Earrings are one size fits all.”

On the day we speak, Lauren is busy at work in the pair’s small studio (the sisters recently purchased houses on a shared property). Her hands are covered in resin. “They are always covered in resin,” she laughs.

Auburn Designs has grown from making earrings (it has more than 1000 different designs) to creating resin wares such as vases decorated with beautiful floral creations. The women purchase offcuts, twigs and petals from local Coast florists, and then dry and dye with colour to produce unique displays.

“The resin is hand poured and all the flowers we use are real,” says Lauren. “It’s a passion project part of our business. We try and keep our handmade goods affordable. We think of the people shopping at the local market, the people keeping our business going.”

She adds, “We are Australian made; we have no imports.”

This has meant the sisters have fared well through the pandemic. A shortage of goods coming into the country resulted in an influx of stockists connecting with Auburn Designs and their local product. This means their creations are now stocked around the country.

“Small business like this is not for the faint-hearted. I’ve created so much more work for myself. When do you clock off?” Lauren says with a laugh.

“It’s all about growth. We will be starting our production for next Christmas in January. It’s just the two of us, but it takes our whole family to keep it going.”

The markets are also a family affair with Lauren’s three children constants at the stall.

Meeting and chatting with customers is a highlight. “It’s the nicest thing when people say, ‘you make these? Oh wow’. We see the back end. To have a polished, finished product and people to appreciate and admire that it’s a real skill is wonderful. You don’t think that when you are at home making it.

“The Collective Markets are so unique and give us that ability to connect with people. As busy as we are, the most important thing is connecting with our shoppers and creating for them.

“Being a handcrafted product, people know they can’t buy it anywhere else. We have such an overwhelming choice, but it means we have something for everyone.

“Next year we plan to do a few collaborations with other artists, featuring their art on our earrings. It’s a small business community within the markets.”

A few stalls over and another creator is tidying her stall table as she greets potential customers. Her table is a sea of colour – pink, purple, turquoise and mustard yellows. With so many fun and quirky options, it’s difficult to select just one pair of Claire Saint-Smith’s polymer clay earrings.

Claire, a medical receptionist, is also the creative behind One Small Squirrel – a hobby business she began in 2016. “My partner had a band, his guitars and his motorbike and I thought, why does he get to have all these hobbies and I had nothing.

“I loved big bright earrings and thought I would teach myself how to make them. I look back at old photos now and cringe, but I had to start somewhere. I made things I liked, played around and kept going with it. I can’t believe where I am now.”

There are around 500 sets of earrings currently in her stock – all designed and handcrafted by Claire alone. She produces her art on days off and in the evenings, and can make 30 earrings in a five-hour period. In terms of styles, she follows her heart and is inspired by colours she is “drawn to”.

“I started because I wanted to be able to wear things I liked. Even now, I probably still think of this as a hobby. I have so much respect for makers who create as their full-time job.”

From the Caloundra Bulcock Street markets, to the Sunshine Coast Collective Markets – where you will now find her once a month – Claire, like many, has become a staple on the local scene.

James Ferguson is another artist who has thrived thanks to the region’s support of market vendors. He is the man behind Elemental Formations – a nationally recognised business celebrated for its bespoke crystal lamps.

“It was really a one-man band,” James reflects. “It was just me at the markets making jewellery at first. Wire-wrap jewellery and that was initially what I started with. I got more into the jewellery and then went on to make the first lamp, and effectively came up with the NLP – the national lamp plan – about two years ago.

“The NLP boosted us. It was recognising that we had a product that sold better than any of the crystal stuff we sold before.”

Elemental Formations now has 50 employees and has sold close to 30,000 crystal lamps. Each one is handcrafted, which means they are each one-of-a-kind. There are 20 to 30 people in the Woombye workshop on any given day, shaping the ethically and sustainably sourced Brazilian crystals into distinctive creations.

“The lamp, I knew it was special. Weeks after I made the first rounds of them, I’d sit there at the end of every day of making, looking out across my field losing my mind a little bit, thinking my god, what have I done? I’ve created a monster. These lamps are the future.”

James’ jewellery creations gave way to the lamps – he has created only a handful of pendants in the past 12 months.

It was the crystals that first drew James in. At the time he owned a handyman/landscaping business, but had always had an affinity with alternative therapies and esoteric medicines.

“Couple that with a creative desire and it [making] was something that really fulfilled a need for me.

“My personal mission statement is to create sustainable, profitable and multimillion-dollar companies to invest in and implement large-scale sustainable change to help raise the frequency of humanity and the planet as a whole.
“I’m not doing it for the Ferraris.”

He has already started a small farm and small food company with the goal of growing to decentralise the food network to bring food back into the community. There are also plans to invest in solar innovation. It may sound ambitious for a man who began his journey selling at the markets, but James’ story of success proves how from small things, big things can grow.

“I started at the Eumundi Markets and went to Caloundra after that and did the Twilight Markets,” James says. “The markets have a great demographic and are definitely a way to serve the local community. It’s inspiring to see communities created here on the Coast such as these markets.

“The community here is absolutely incredible. I’m so fortunate and inspired by the likeminded individuals doing the work here on the Sunshine Coast. Here on the Coast people are busy; they are getting things done.”

Candace Lynam agrees. She believes the region is a melting pot of successful creators who deserve the same recognition as any retail business owner.

“My hope is that we retain that sense of community as the Coast grows bigger and that markets always provide a platform for small business on the Coast. I back small business and want to see them succeed. I’m inviting the local community along on that journey to help small business grow and flourish,” she says.

Caloundra Twilight Markets
Set against the dramatic background of the sun setting over the ocean, the markets are held along the Bulcock Beach Esplanade on the last Friday of the month from 5pm to 9pm. There is a selection of food and artisan stalls.

Beerwah Tower Green Market
Wander down Simpson Street and browse the range of creations at this monthly market. Presented by the Beerwah branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association, these markets are nothing short of traditional. Everything is hand-baked, handmade, hand-sewn and hand-grown – you will love it!

Cotton Tree Markets
Touted as the ‘artisan markets’, this creative-filled shopping experience is held every Sunday from 7am to midday at King Street, Cotton Tree.

Peregian Markets
Held on the first and third Sunday of every month, 7am to 12.30pm, these markets are an eclectic mix of handmade art and craft, as well as upcycled goods, produce and food. Visit at Kingfisher Drive, Peregian.

Sunshine Coast Collective Markets
These markets are held at the Coolum State School, Barns Lane, every second and fourth Sunday. Shop local and get into the festive spirit at the annual Christmas market on December 12. Open 8am to midday. The Collective also hosts a pop-up market on the school holidays near the Alexandra Headland skate park by the ocean. Check the website or Facebook for details.