The minds behind the food & fashion markets in Zurich

Katja Weber & Vania Bibel

Meet Katja Weber and Vania Kukleta, the two ladies contributing to reshaping the food and fashion market scene in Zurich!

Name it and they’ve done it! Of course it wouldn’t be fair to leave out their incredible network of people who help them every step of the way. Collectively they are revamping, if not transforming the social map of Zurich.

Of course being a woman I was inclined to mainly focus on them being a killer duo of strong ladies. But to my surprise and delight, from the start of our interview they insisted on the crucial complicity with their ‘boy’ counterparts 🙂

We met the last day of the Christmas market in Bellevue. Needless to say they were exhausted, but gracious enough to give me some time 🙂

KATJA & VANIA 

How did you get started in this world?

Vania: While studying Art I also worked as a Trends Scout and organised events for young opinion leaders. From then on, I slowly got introduced to the world of events. I worked a lot in night clubs producing concerts, shows and artists hospitality.

After graduating I started doing my own marketing in my attic and it became a huge success. I then started producing events around products.

Then months later I met Katja at a club through friends!

Katja: I was born in Germany and earned a degree in Economics. I moved to Switzerland in 2006 to work in Finance. In 2008 when we got hit with the financial crisis, I quit my job and decided to do something else. 

So a few months after we met, we began planning our events series at the Rimini Bar. We named it Montagsmarket because we were given Monday nights to produce something. So what better than our own market?

Each Monday had a different topic like Chic and Elegant, Street Wear or Summer Party.  We had to find designers who would match those themes and knew how to sell their products. Luckily the weather cooperated that first summer and attracted tons of locals every Monday. That market definitely helped put us on the map. And having the right mix of people together certainly helped. After the summer, the event got established as the place to gather, socialise and discover new designers. For us it became the place to network and find new people with new and different ideas. It was very interesting to witness how people connected and to watch their projects evolve.

Then after our first season, we launched our first Christmas market at Club Mascot. The year after, we founded our own flee market. Then gradually, every season we added more events and festivals, one of which was Heiliger Bimbam. That market took a life of its own and grew exponentially with the help and attention gotten from our local and influential bloggers. 

In 2014 we launched our first Street Food Festival, and today the Christmas market at Bellevue!

It sounds like everything just came together so organically. Was it always as easy as it sounds?

The two of us like to work on projects which we identify with and are passionate about. Everything came “out of our belly” so to say! I don’t remember ever having a strategic meeting!!  We don’t plan very far ahead usually. So the fact that we know that this Christmas market will recur for the next 5 years is pretty new to us!

Food was always big on our list but Swiss regulations make it very difficult to start anything that is food related. But last year, things began to change and a lot of people started owning food trucks. Then almost naturally new people with similar views and energy joined our group and our collaborative synergy helped us attain new goals in uncharted territory.

Any challenges at all? What advice could you give someone who would like to do the same thing as you?

There are a lot of challenges that’s why it makes sense to work in a group because everyone brings their own skills, network and funds.

For instance in the case of the Christmas market, if you realise at the last minute that you need a lot of stuff that you had not planned for, all you have to do is to go to the partners in charge to have it taken care of. (i.e law, manufacturer, electricity, …)

What’s the toughest thing?

1- Authorities – getting licenses and permits is short of a miracle!

2- The weather! It makes it almost impossible to plan events – it impacts people who plan their activities according to the weather, which seems to be a daily conversation topic here! 

3- Electricity is a big stress too! It can blow if it rains or if too many people use power at the same time.

Has anyone ever discouraged you?

All of us are very confident about our ideas! So anyone who comes and tells us not to do something because the idea is bad would be the one discouraged! They can try all they want but it may take a very very long time 🙂

To be believable you must mean what you say and walk the talk! Be prepared and think your ideas through so you don’t have to defend them.

Where do you get your ideas?

At bars!!

It really is a combination of different ideas from different people and places we visit.

How many are you?

I have been asked this so many times! how many are we? Depends I guess. Six plus all the different partners who come in as needed. 

The two of us have experience in doing markets and handling vendors and the ‘boys’ have a lot of experience doing Pop-Up events, big productions, like the Fondue Chalet at the Christmas market. 

Who’s the Boss? 🙂

Our roles vary per project.  When we met we had different ideas on how markets should be but our differences helped us grow. In the beginning we used to do everything together but after the first year we separated our tasks.

If we have to say it then Katja is the Decider and Vania the Executor 🙂 It all flows really well because of our strong belief in our ideas. No need to convince or push each-other.

How has Zurich changed?

It has become more and more open, especially fort the immigrants, start-ups and creative people. Because of its Protestant background, there are a lot of rules to respect and follow. With immigration and gentrification also came new values and ideas – with the flux of people coming and going, new ideas are generated all the time. 

Zurich was always a Finance city and not so much of an art city. But when people have a lot of money they want to spend it having a good time. They want options when they go out.  The old and new, the conservative and liberal alike all want the same thing in the end: fun, culture, good food, style.

How about failing in a place like Zurich?

Mobility in Switzerland is very low. In Germany for example the attitude resembles most the States’.  Mobility is part of life which also makes it exciting, but in Zurich for example people are apprehensive about moving around because it would also mean standing a chance to fail. The market is very small and chances of running into the same people is great. So if one fails, they would have to face the same people over and over again. 

But we know people who failed multiple times but gained immense respect from their peers because of it. Zurich is behind but as mentioned before it has opened up a lot and soon the ‘non-failling policy’ mentality will also adjust. Hopefully soon!

Have you ever fallen?

Oh I’m sure but I guess not as hard to remember it:)

We’ve had many challenges to overcome like bad weather or not enough people showing up, but thankfully nothing worst than that. Plus we never invest a lot of our own money. Our projects aren’t capital intense which makes it much easier than when you have to invest a lot of your own money. 

What if I want to start my own market? What should I do?

Start meeting and talking to as many people as you can now!

Each person will connect you to their connections and before you know it you will have a whole new network to tap into.

Future plans?

At the moment we are planning our holidays!!

Then sequels to our Street Food Festival, the Christmas market and our own personal projects. 

And last but not least, try to establish self-standing formats so we are more organised!

Any favorite spots in Zurich?

We don’t go out!! We have no free time!

But in the summer, Bade Enge and in the winter, the Helvetiaplatz area.  Sorry for the short list!

 

 
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