Crowds piled into Hana House in Brooklyn, New York on March 16 as Friendship Market opened its doors to their first event. It was a full house with 48 vendors and activities ranging from a bingo card raffle, flash tattoos, friendship bracelet stations, and more. For a day of celebrating friendship, Christina Young, founder of The Bao Bae, put together Friendship Market to celebrate her shop’s fifth anniversary. Young reflected on the day and her experience running the show in a video call with EnVi.

Images courtesy of Ally Wei.

The Bao Bae’s Fifth Birthday

“You only have a fifth birthday once,” Young told EnVi over a video call, grinning. Young launched The Bao Bae back in 2019, two weeks prior to getting laid off from her job. From then on, she embarked on her self employment journey and has participated in numerous market and pop up events. 

Young had been wanting to do something big for her shop anniversary and this year she felt she was ready to take on a new endeavor. Through these markets, she made many connections with other vendors who soon became her friends. 

“That’s how I built up enough network to host Friendship Market,” Young said. “I just wanted to do something fun for my friends, so everyone that was a vendor at Friendship Market is an actual friend that I’ve met through my brand.”

Christina Young, founder of The Bao Bae. Photos courtesy of Ally Wei

Planting the Seeds

When Young first started her shop, she remembers looking at Wonton In A Million, a small business based around little dumpling characters through stationary items and more. Around the same time, Cynthia, the founder of Wonton In A Million, hosted an anniversary party for her shop. Since then, it became a goal to one day do something similar.

“She came toFriendship Market and I told her this story,” Young fondly explained. “‘I was really inspired by when you had your big banquet celebration, this is something that I’ve been dreaming about ever since I saw you do that.’” 

Young also gave credit for the idea to a market in San Jose, California called SJMADE’s Friend Fest. At the time, Young had gone to California, partially to experience market life. Though she had participated in a few markets in California, she had gone to Friend’s Fest as a visitor. She recalled the size of the event and the energy really influencing her.

“I wish New York had this,” Young said. “So that was also part of the inspiration that turned into Friendship Market.”

Photo courtesy of Ally Wei

Planning Stages

Drawing inspiration from Wonton In A Million and SJMade’s Friend Fest, the idea of Friendship Market sprung into action in December of 2023. Young had taken on the organization of the event completely by herself with the support and help of her closest friends as well as other small business owners.

“I wanted something to honor the theme of friends,” Young expressed. “So I brainstormed with my very close friend group […] We were brainstorming names for it, and we came up with Friendship Market.”

Young then pitched it as a “party” to each and every vendor. Completely curating the line up herself, she spent countless hours making sure everything was perfectly set up for not only the event and venue, but for the vendors themselves. She recalls spending a long time on mapping out the floor plan. Keeping everyone in mind, she meticulously arranged the tables based off of the vendor’s products and personalities.

 “I thought, ‘this person would probably become really good friends with this person, so I should put them together,” Young said. She explained wanting to make the event different from a typical vendor market, “where you get in, you set up, you sell, then pack up and leave.” She wanted to create a space where community can be fostered among the vendors as well as the customers. 

“By the People, For the People”

“It wasn’t too hard thinking of things to make the vendors happy because I’m a vendor, so I know what would make me happy and I’m putting myself in their shoes,” Young affirmed. 

Young’s efforts have much reflected back on her vendors’ experiences of the market. Friendship Market even stood out as a favorite amongst the vendors. 

“Friendship Market really reinforced community togetherness, and there was such a sense of warmth and joy the whole day,” Bernice Ho, an illustrator and printmaker, told EnVi via email. As a vendor, she had expressed enjoyment of vending alongside other kind and talented people. 

Rena Li, founder of Lotus Haus Studio, mentioned to EnVi,via email, of having many favorite parts about the event. One being surrounded by inspiration from others’ products and work. “Markets leave me either completely drained or invigorated, and I was heavily inspired after this event,” Li said. 

(Left) Bernice and her dog Pookie, (right) Rena Li of Lotus Haus Studio. Photo courtesy of Ally Wei

Another testament to Young’s consideration was giving vendors the space to explore more with their crafts. Vicky of vickyisdrawing, an illustrator and designer, decided to do live drawings which were a big hit.

“I told [Young] that I was interested in trying out live drawing about two weeks before the event and she was super supportive and considered that as part of the market layout,” Vicky emphasized. 

Young’s commitment to elevating the vendor experience was evident through the responses of her vendors. Much of their words had highlighted how taken care of they felt when recalling their experiences at the market.

Friendship Makes the Crowd

When planning the event, the thought of bringing in a crowd did not really cross Young’s mind. She was more attentive to taking care of her vendors and believed the rest would follow. She was met with a surprise, as Hana House became full at capacity by mid afternoon and queues of people wrapped about the building.

Photo courtesy of Ally Wei

“I just didn’t think it would reach that high,” Young recalled when talking about having to cap the amount of people entering. She worried about people having to wait in line to enter her event but with her friends’ reassurance and help with handling the crowd, everything turned out okay. 

Photo courtesy of Ally Wei

“I definitely did not anticipate it […] I think it’s a great testament to the line up and people wanting these kinds of events,” Young conveyed. With marketing for Friendship Market being consistent throughout the month of February, vendors were able to bring in their own audiences who were also introduced to other businesses. She also believed people were drawn to the idea of a friend themed event open to bringing along your pets and family as well.

Closed Doors Open Up New Opportunities

After a successful and huge turnout, customers have wondered about the next Friendship Market. Young grinned as she talked about people asking her about the next one. When planning this event, Young wanted to challenge herself to do something new and big and originally intended for it to be a one time thing. Despite coming off a high from the positive energy of the event and thinking of ways to improve, Young was still a bit unsure about another future market. 

“I think if I did it again, I would do it a little bit differently,” Young said. “I might partner with some of my really good friends that have organized other events so that we can combine forces and do it together.” 

The future is not set in stone, as Young still has ideas.

“There’s clearly a demand for it,” Young laughed lightly. “We’ll see.”

Group photo of all the vendors and volunteers. Photo courtesy of Ally Wei

Make sure to check out the Friendship Market Instagram to support Young and all of her friends!

Interested in checking out more AAPI businesses? Check out our article about Chicago based AAPI owned small businesses here!