SMU lends a hand at international market

Saint Mary's University is providing training and assistance to students and vendors at the new international market

Jack Xu at his booth The Silky Pearl. (Photo: Kathryn MacDonald)

The smell of spices, warm bread and sugar wafts through the aisles of the new Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market. Fridays now have an international theme. Vendors from all over the world sell crafts, fair trade products and international cuisine from their home countries. It's five weeks old.

Sisi Xiao, 19, and her friend Jack Xu, 21, run a booth called the Silky Pearl. They are the only student vendors at the market. Delicate handmade earrings, chunky beaded necklaces, and turquoise bracelets are spread out over their table. Colourful silk scarves hang on the wall behind it. Xu is manning the booth while Xiao is in China for the holidays.

Xu and Xiao travelled from China together 11 months ago to attend university. They are taking the university bridging program at the TESL Centre at Saint Mary's University to improve their English before enrolling in classes full time. "[Sisi's] English is better than me so she may go to university first," says Xu with a smile.

Xiao's family makes most of the products that the Silky Pearl sells. She picks out some pieces of jewellery and brings them back from her visits to China.

Enlarge Map
This is a map of the countries represented at the market and what the vendors sell. (Map: Kathryn MacDonald)

Her family's jewellery is sold all over the world. Xu says many tourists visited their hometown and were interested in Xiao's jewellery. "They bought stuff and [brought] it back to their own country."

The other products they sell come from the large market in their hometown. Xiao picks out pieces she thinks might be popular with Haligonians and buys them.

The students received a lot of help from Saint Mary's Business Development Centre. The centre works with students who are interested in running their own businesses while going to school. Their services are free for all SMU students. Lianne Perry, manager of the centre, suggested Xiao set up a booth at the market.

SMU entrepreneurs

Perry says the business centre helps students from all disciplines. "A lot of students that we have who are interested in entrepreneurship, it's almost like a state of being, so many of the students are not necessarily business students."

Perry also works with SMU's Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) society. The group has also taken an interest in the international market. SIFE is developing a handbook for vendors that will include information on how to market their product, pricing strategies, and how to be approachable and interact with customers.

The vendors already received some training from Halifax's Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services, and SIFE hopes to build on that. SIFE plans to do one-on-one training with half a dozen vendors starting in the new year.

Two student mentors will pair up with a vendor to help with things like signage and finances. Perry says the mentors will be working as volunteers.

This extra training could benefit the students at the Silky Pearl.

Xu says that they aren't making much of a profit. When they first started out the jewellery was too pricey. "We think maybe these are the good products so they sell, but it's too high," he says. "So we didn't sell too much, so then we get the price lower."

Xu says it's Xiao's first time running the business and they don't have much experience. He says that the market is still very new and he hopes business will pick up as it gains popularity.

Until then, Xiao and Xu will be at the market every Friday.



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