Few things express the eclectic style of Budapest better than WAMP, the weekly design market that offers everything from cool jewelry to gourmet food in an atmosphere buzzing with music and conversation.
In its seven-year existence, WAMP has become a favorite for style-conscious locals and visitors to Budapest alike, and it has now committed itself to defying the tough economic times and growing both in Hungary itself and around the region.
Károly Gerendai – known for transforming Hungary’s annual week-long Sziget music festival into one of the largest such events in Europe – paid HUF 1 million last year for a 25% stake in the business.
He is bringing not only his reputation and expertise to the project, but planning to invest an additional HUF 30 million into WAMP to fuel its expansion plans.
More than just a market
Gerendai told the Budapest Business Journal why he is now a part owner of a business that he has admired for some time.
“WAMP has two qualities; it has nice things – and this is because we select the designers and don’t allow just anybody to participate. Then the way it presents itself conveys quality: it is a coherent brand and in this respect it aims at being a lot more than just a market – it wants to be a real ‘event’.”
Gerendai believes it was vital for WAMP – which originally took place just once a month at different locations – to become more frequent and predictable, hence the introduction of weekly markets in a historical building on Váci utca.
He also intends to take the homegrown Hungarian brand into new territory around Central and Eastern Europe.
“If we want to reach the Austrian or the Slovak markets we should really organize WAMP there, in Vienna or Bratislava,” says the Sziget mastermind; he hopes to take WAMP to both cities this year and bring together Hungarian and local designers.
“You have to take the actual fair to the people – we don’t expect foreigners to travel to Budapest to see, and buy at, WAMP,” he explains, admitting that selling a music festival to an international market was less complicated than exporting this design fair.
From the bottom up
In a similar way to Sziget, WAMP has grown from humble beginnings thanks to the hard work of enthusiastic founders.
Réka Matheidesz, one of four friends who started building WAMP from the bottom up in 2006, says that she and her fellow owners see a like-minded investor in Gerendai.
Matheidesz, Kinga Moshammer and two other women who are no longer part of the business, set out to popularize little-known Hungarian designers by creating a platform for them to show and sell their works to the public.
The women’s inspiration for WAMP, which stands for Sunday’s Hungarian Design Market, came from the Old Spitalfields market in London, where Moshammer studied fashion.
The first event, organized on Erzsébet tér, turned out to be a great success and a novelty both for the local designers, whose output was suddenly in demand, and to eager shoppers who had been hitherto oblivious to their work.
“At the time, the Hungarian designers were totally obscure,” says Matheidesz, who has a background in economics and manages the marketing and communication side of the business.
“I can say that WAMP did a lot to bring the designers out of their studios and into the open – it looked quite good when they were all together in one place,” she says with a smile, recalling that first event in July 2006 when many of the 35 designers present sold out.
WAMP now works with some 700 makers of everything from clothes to chocolate, wine to toys, who take turns to sell their creations; up to 100 of them are present each Sunday.
New up-market venue
WAMP’s new venue is a 4,000 square meter multi-level shopping mall in a recently refurbished historical building on Váci utca. The shop units are empty for the time being, but the narrow corridors have been filled with the WAMP stalls every Sunday since February this year.
Regular fairs and the up-market venue are part of the development agenda, as is a move to focus each week on one “sector” of WAMP’s ever-expanding range of offerings, whether it be fashion, gastronomy or things for children.
Designers and craft-makers see WAMP not only as a place to sell their wares, but also as a major platform for marketing.
“If I wanted to put an advert in the paper it might cost me a few hundred thousand forints,” says Viktória Tisza, who sells flower-patterned swimwear for women.
“For me it is well worth coming here, even if sales only cover the rent I pay for my stand, because I get to be known.”
Krisztina Csősz, who makes earrings, necklaces and rings from colorful beads and crocheted lace, sells well enough to justify the trip into Budapest from her home in Szentendre.
“There are many foreigners here and that’s good. Hungarian customers like to buy the cheaper things. Now I make these rings, which cost only HUF 1,500, and they are popular with Hungarians. People like to buy something – instead of an ice-cream, they buy my rings.”
Marcus Goldson, a foreign artist based in Budapest who sells his poignant and colorful depictions of Budapest street-life and the places he travels to, talks with admiration of WAMP.
“It’s bigger and more professionally run” than it used to be, he says, although he adds that he misses the more rough-and-ready market-feel of the previous venue at Millenáris.
“This is a great building but people preferred being at the other location because it was more of a market space, you could leave the kids in the middle and wander off in any direction.”
The good news for Goldson and many of his fellow artists is that WAMP will move outdoors again during the summer months to Erzsébet tér, where the fair can attract as many as 13,000 visitors in one day.
Perhaps a larger concern for Gerendai and his fellow WAMP owners is whether this distinctive Budapest brand will translate abroad: they hope to introduce it to Vienna in the summer and Bratislava this fall.
“WAMP was a good idea at the right time and in the right place,” says Gerendai.
“These kind of design products are increasingly trendy; the problem, of course, is the recent economic crisis. This is why we are looking at other markets where people might have more money to spend on design.”
By Andreea Anca