FK chats to Wollongong shop owner, Emma-Lee Crane about her store Milk Thieves
Tell us about your store Milk Thieves and what things we can expect to discover.
Milk Thieves is a little shop packed to the brim with predominately Australian handmade and independent designed goodies including awesome jewellery, accessories, paper products, magazines and art. It’s a space that feels like home with a big comfy lounge and cups of tea amongst the organised chaos. Something you can expect to discover is that you might come in to buy a gift for a friend and end up leaving with something for yourself instead! That’s how awesome our products are.
What was the inspiration with opening Milk Thieves?
I’d been whining to friends about everything Wollongong was lacking (there’s still a list! – patisserie anyone?) which included somewhere to buy handmade or interesting designed products – let alone good art, craft and design mags. The mall is packed with the usual chain stores and I knew there were frustrated people out there who wanted another choice – these people had to travel to Sydney or buy what they wanted online. So, I decided that instead of just complaining, I’d do something about it.
What kind of treats and treasures can we expect to find at Milk Thieves?
I don’t even know where to start…. We have lots of one-off handmade pieces from local designers that include quirky statement jewellery, soft toys, notebooks, purses, hair accessories and soaps. There’s a bunch of wicked Aussie indie designer goods including (more!) jewellery from designers such as Polli, Love, Angus & Celeste, Oh Deer and Made by White. We have fabulous paper goods from TMOD, Little Branch and Candy Striped Cloud, arty things from Third Drawer Down and artwork by super talented Australian artists. Add to that a sprinkling of magazines, books and zines – including the Frankie titles, *bespoke, Extra Curricular, Paper Runway, Wooden Toy and King Brown – and you have yourself a fine collection of stuff!
What is your favourite part about running your shop?
There are lot things that I love most about running my shop – but I’d have to say my FAVOURITE part is meeting ‘my people’. I love my customers. Hands down, they are the most impressive, lovely, loyal and diverse group of people I have ever had the privilege to meet. Some days I spend so much time talking to customers, shop neighbours, stockists and lost folk (this arcade is a rabbit warren) that I end up getting no ‘real work’ done. But that’s ok – I’d much prefer to have a chat than do computer work.
When you are not in your shop, what are you usually doing in Wollongong?
Hmmm… I’m a shop hermit and find I am here most of the time… that’s why I am stoked to have a kitchenette and a lounge in the new space – It’s just like home but without Kenny (my budgie) and my bed. I’m only half-joking about being a shop hermit. I do other things too – like co-organising the Wollongong Art & Design market with my talented purse-designing friend Sal from Chloe & Viscount. I’m one half of paper based jewellery label Flamboyant Joe – so I regularly find myself waste deep in paper off-cuts in my lounge room. Or I can be found drinking with my man at Yours and Owls, sipping Chai with lady friends at Lee & Me or getting the weekend started with a couple of cocktails at the Otis bar. But mostly I’m in the shop.
You also do Graphic Design – how do you balance the two jobs?
Poorly. This is why I am in my shop most of the time. I have only a couple of major clients and most of the time they are quite open to whatever I want to do (within reason) – which in graphic design land is like gold. I’m lucky that a lot of my work involves creating illustrations – which gives me a chance to get away from the computer and play with different creative techniques. I have a separate little ‘work room’ right near the front door, so when a customer comes in I see them and I can leave the ‘work room’ and go and play in my ‘lovely shop”.
What challenges have you faced running and setting up your own business?
I started my business with practically no capital – I bought all my furniture and display items from op-shops over time and all the stock I had was on consignment. The first challenge was to convince designers and artist’s to send me their goods for a shop that was starting from nothing. The biggest challenge, however, has been the shop space – I started Milk Thieves in what was my design office, which was upstairs in an old arcade in the Crown St mall in Wollongong. There was no space, no storage, access issues (up stairs and down a dark hallway), signage dramas and the shop leaked REALLY badly every time it rained. Drama!
What have you got planned personally and professionally for the rest of this year?
I have just moved into a bigger and better shop space – still in the aforementioned arcade – but this time no major leaks and I’m right at the top of the stairs! The old building is really cool and I want people to start exploring these lovely, hidden spaces in Wollongong. Other than that the next big thing is a trip to France and Germany later this month. It’s my first trip overseas, I’m going alone, I don’t know anyone and I don’t speak the languages. It’s going to be GREAT!!! This means for four weeks (from the 20th June) Milk Thieves will have very limited opening hours on Friday and Saturday’s only. Best to check the Facebook page (open to everyone) for up to date opening hours and dates.
All the Specifics
Milk Thieves Art & Design
Shop 9, 157 Crown St
Phone: 0413 516 044
Sunday – Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 10 – 5 pm
Wednesday: 10 – 5pm
Thursday: 10 – 7 pm
Friday: 10 – 5 pm
Saturday: 10 – 4 pm
One of my favourite shops ever! I have so much love for this store.
It’s true! Milk Thieves is AWESOME. In a town that time forgot, it stands out with a few other places (mentioned by Emma-lee) as an oasis of creativity and a place where the (many) creative forces in the Gong can show their goods in a retail environment. Go Thievez!!