Female Leader, Judith Treanor, Temples and Markets

Judith Treanor, Founder of Temples and Markets, reminds us of an intrepid modern day East India Company adventurer. With an irrepressible passion for South-East Asian design, Judith has created Temples and Markets to showcase the region’s emerging designers and artisans on a global stage. 95% of products are handmade. All are ethically produced and each comes with its own story. 

We caught up with Judith to discover what drives her entrepreneurial mission. We were transported by her stories.

Judith, why do you love South-East Asian design above all else?

I have travelled extensively throughout the South-East Asian region over the last 20 years. When I first visited South-East Asia, I was as an ‘older than most’ backpacker. It was at that time the people, the beauty of the beaches, food, history and the contrasts and contradictions that characterise the region, first found their way into my heart.  

I have always had a love for unique, colourful and vibrant design that speaks volumes about its cultural origins. Before Temples and Markets I was an Interior Designer and Stylist and my preference was always for the tropical palette. I am awestruck by the way traditional crafts and textiles are used in S.E Asia and how they are brought right up to date by talented designers.

What was the catalyst for deciding to become an entrepreneur?

I have always had an entrepreneurial streak. Previously I had a Renovation and Design company and pre-motherhood, an event management business. I love the idea that the successes and failures of a business are mine alone. Yes, I can work crazy hours, but I will be the one to reap those rewards. I love the flexibility that having my own business affords me. I can be there for my son, walk the dog, go to yoga, and work into the night or in early hours if that’s what it takes to have it all.

Where did the idea for Temples and Markets come from?

The idea of Temples and Markets has been forming in my mind for many years. Every time I visited Thailand or Vietnam, I’d return home to Sydney, be stopped in the street and asked “where did you get that?” about jewellery, or a dress I was wearing. Over time, I realised I could make these amazing finds from my travels available to an audience outside of the region.

The catalyst for turning the dream into a reality was a lady called Rany from Siem Reap, Cambodia. I discovered her jewellery on my first trip to that incredible small city. Rany’s boutique Graines De Cambodge is located in a small laneway. You’d never know it existed unless were walking that way or, as I was, enjoying a drink at the bar next door! 

Her small boutique window drew me in. The gorgeous necklaces in either red, brown or white were jewellery I’d never seen before. Each piece of jewellery is made from the hand drilled seeds that fall from native trees. Rany symbolises the resilience, creativity and strength so often found in the region. She had left Cambodia for a life in India but the marriage there hadn’t worked out and she returned, divorced and she found herself on the streets. She spent a long time working out how to drill through the seeds she saw on the roadside and finally was able to create this stunning jewellery.

Today she employs seven local village ladies. I knew after visiting Graines de Cambodge, that Rany’s was only one of many stories that had inspired beautiful designs. 

You represent many emerging artisans from South-East Asia. Which story would you like to share?

I have a big place in my heart for Vietnamese women, who are enterprising and hard working. I love visiting cafes and restaurants and watching women run the show. A feisty young woman runs the Friendly Shoe Shop in Hoi An, where shoe makers are literally everywhere. However her shop gets all the good reviews and PR and it’s not hard to see why. When I met her she told me “Vietnamese men are lazy, I want to be successful before I marry!”  

Chanta Theon is another. Orphaned during the horror of the Khmer Rouge, he now runs a social enterprise helping vulnerable Cambodians with disabilities, Angkor Bullet Jewellery. They create unique jewellery pieces that have been fashioned from recycled bomb casings leftover from the war. The metal from the casing is melted down and sculptured into works of art. From horror comes incredible beauty. Home based artisans are given fair wages, a safe work environment and education for their families. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?

As an online retailer, it’s tempting to try and be “all things to all people” to achieve sales. I now know that my success derives from marketing to the right audience. Temples and Markets is is aimed at the conscious consumer, the lover of unique and beautiful things, those interested in ethical fashion and homewares. Also, those who want to bring back the memories of their travels.

The challenge is how to reach those people, which I constantly work on. 

What has been your proudest moment? 

When Temples and Markets launched, after a year of sourcing, designing the site and sleepless nights. I received wonderful and positive feedback. 

Each time I send money to one of the Social Enterprises or Designers I support to order stock, I feel proud that what I’m doing is making a tangible difference to their lives, one purchase at a time.

I’m also humbled each time I am approached by new Vendors who want to be featured on Temples and Markets

What’s one piece of advice for future female entrepreneurs?

Don’t be afraid to let your business evolve. My original concept was to create a platform showcasing emerging S.E. Asia designers. It has broadened into a business with purpose, an ethical business that gives back. I am helping to trade artisans into a better life. I tell and share their stories. As Michelle Obama said, “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives”. 

Originally, I never intended to buy in stock and wanted Temples and Markets to be a low risk drop shipping online store. Now I buy in stock and I opened a Pop Up Shop in Sydney before Christmas 2016. 

Where should we travel in South-East Asia and what should we do there?

Everyone should visit the magical small city of Hoi An in Vietnam, a UNESCO cultural heritage site. A perfect holiday town with something for everyone, including a beach just outside of the main town. It is characterised by well preserved timber shophouses, ancient bridges and colourful lanterns which light up the streets at night. Hoi An is closed to traffic in the evening, so you can wander through the gorgeous laneways choosing which fabulous restaurant to eat at, or visit the myriad art galleries and design stores.

During the day, I recommend people watching whilst sipping Vietnamese Iced Coffee at a riverside cafe. Discover the beautiful temples and browse the local markets! Have shoes or boots made by Friendly Shop Shoes, and taste Hoi An speciality dishes, white rose dumplings and the Cau Lau Noodle Dish.

With a history as a trading port and commercial centre attracting artisans and traders from Vietnam and overseas for centuries, Hoi An is brimming with creativity. Enrol in Red Bridge Cooking School where you’ll visit a local market and organic farm to pick up herbs for your recipes, and learn to cook the best Pho I’ve tasted. Enjoy a dip in the riverside pool between dishes. Truly an experience to treasure forever.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Director

Jade Collins has 20 years’ global experience in corporate executive Human Resources and management consulting roles in the Mining, Energy and Aerospace industries, leading large scale, complex multi-million-dollar change management programs. Jade finds the combination of her HR, Psychology and MBA qualifications and her leadership experience is invaluable for increasing gender equality in leadership across industries. Jade was a member of the Queensland Government's Strategic Advisory Group for the Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative and the 2019 CQU Alumni of the Year for Social Impact for her work with Femeconomy.