After a successful three-year run, Australia’s Sunshine Plaza (Maroochydore, QLD) and TAFE Queensland East Coast expanded their collaborative efforts to include a more creative twist. Previously known as The Fashion Incubator, the pair recently re-introduced their shopper-student initiative: The Creative Incubator.

Continuing to offer TAFE students the opportunity to gain exposure and practical experience in a commercial retail environment, the new and improved program allows multiple creative industry faculties to be part of its monthly pop-up market. A positive for both parties, the expansion provides shoppers with a greater product offering and gives additional students a platform to showcase and sell their one-of-a-kind work. Launched in early March, the market now includes a mix of photography, ceramics, paintings, drawings, and homewares. Scheduled for the first weekend of every month through October, The Creative Incubator features local up-and-coming artists and strengthens community connections. The initiative, which TAFE fashion teacher Amanda Knights described as a “wonderful launching pad,” helps to better both the skills of the students and the reputation of the vocational school.

“Following the success of a similar program at another Lendlease managed shopping center, Cairns Central, Sunshine Plaza met with the Sunshine Coast TAFE Queensland East Coast campus to put forward the program. It was met with great interest given Sunshine Plaza’s position as the region’s premier shopping destination,” said Kylie Riches, marketing manager.

In order to shift interest from students to shoppers, Sunshine Plaza promoted the program via media and public relations activities, social media competitions, and TAFE student involvement. In past years, with fashion as the original main force, students had the chance to share their designs in the center’s fashion parades and assist backstage.

Well received from the start, with a growing collection and developing interest across the center’s key customer bases, the pop-up market primarily attracts those visiting for another reason or just passing by. Given that the market is monthly and one stall only, the marketing manager says it has less of an impact on overall center traffic. However, group feedback from TAFE could suggest otherwise. Since March (and post-expansion), the students have experienced a rise in browsers and buyers, as well as some of their busiest weekends. With a larger, more diverse collection now available, customers have more products to choose from and more reasons to check it out.

Due to TAFE students’ enthusiasm and commitment, Sunshine Plaza has encountered few challenges while planning and promoting the program. Thanks to its change in content, one minor setback has been solved. “[Each piece is carefully crafted by the students, [so] it can take time to build up their product ranges and stock for sale. However, with the evolution from fashion to The Creative Incubator, this challenge has been addressed], noted Riches.