We have connected before, many years ago, when I was a student and Anna needed someone to sell DEW Water and BOS Iced Tea – the perfect summertime job in Durban. The I Heart Market has doubled in support and stalls since then. From 12 stalls at the D.L.I Hall in Greyville Racecourse to 130 local traders outside of Moses Mabhida Stadium, the soon to be 11-year-old market, and its founder have sewn a thick thread into Durban’s counter-culture to commercial shopping.
Before I Heart Market Anna ventured deep into the underbelly of the business world. “My first business that I started was when I was 26 and I was a chef,” she tells me. “I travelled around the world before that and spent some time in London, New York and Australia.”
On her return to South Africa, she lived and worked in Franschhoek as a chef, but luckily for Durban, she returned to the east coast. “I got just completely burnt out and I came back here [Durban] and I started a restaurant which was called Manna, which is where Market [Restaurant] is now.”
“At the time I thought I really knew what I was doing,” she says. Working on a ‘shoe-string budget’, and finding a niche in the market. Anna had a knack for running a business.
“We became very famous for our fish cakes, which were actually my grandmother’s recipe. I said to my mom once, ‘what would you like me to put on the menu?’ and she was like, ‘I want gran’s fishcakes!’”
Learning to self-parent
With her family’s secret recipe and her natural charm, she kept Manna alive and a vibe for three and a half years. However, during this time, Anna began to notice sharp pangs in her fingers, was feeling exhausted, experienced pains in her joints and had an intense sensitivity to light.
“I realised something was seriously wrong, I realised I had chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, and the doctor booked me off for a year and a half.”
By taking time off work, resting, and learning to manage her time, Anna coins her new-found approach to her self-care lifestyle wonderfully, “it’s like self-parenting,” she calls it. “You know a two-year-old doesn’t have a buffer zone, they go from okay to so exhausted, they [begin] screaming and shouting.” She has adjusted to a way of life that decreases stress and she has adopted an anti-nine-to-five attitude whilst still maintaining her professionalism.
The same self-parenting approach can be applied to small business owners and entrepreneurs, says Anna.
By valuing her time and managing how she works in order to be mentally and physically at her best, Anna has been able to make things happen, and this is how I Heart Market came to being.
The start of I Heart Market
During her rest interim, she travelled to Cape Town and witnessed the successful, vibrant market scene there. “I came back to Durban and thought we really need to do something like that here,” Anna remembers. With the market being a once a month event, she could manage her chronic fatigue and look into getting the market started, with the vision of creating a platform for edgy crafters and makers.
The first market was outside Bean Bag Bohemia, on the pavement of Windemere Road. Each month more traders came, and so a bigger space was needed. From Bean Bag to St. Mary’s Church Hall, to the D.L.I Hall. Moses Mabhida, which has been the main station for the market until July 2019, approached Anna and her team and asked them to set up shop.
Whilst the market was going, she ran a number of businesses. She started Unit 11 with friends, a beloved space that remains in the collective memory of live music aficionados of the 2010 – 2012 period. The Plant, Station Drive, The Morning Trade and those I heart Durban parties, are a few other spaces she has left her mark. The market, however, has been her main gig, and the unpredictable nature of it intrigues her.
“There is an ebb and flow that you can’t control,” Anna tells me. She explains that it becomes exciting each month as new traders are brought in and new marketing strategies are tried.
Anna is careful to curate a market that has ‘extraordinary products’, and so as much as they do receive many applications, by considering the quality of a product, authenticity of a traders brand, and just that extra special something, Anna says, “that’s what sets us apart, there is no tat.”
The growth of the market and success can be attested to her shrewdness, but also by allowing things to happen on their own steam. “It was something that was more organic when it comes to running businesses, there is definitely this sense like, you have a child and at some point it kind of takes on a personality of its own.”
As time has gone by, and the market has become cemented into Durban’s sub-culture, she notes how since 2009 versus 2019 it has become easier to run a business, “we are in a really nice space now, there’s lots of resources to be able to assist us with those processes, you can do a little course, you can get a business coach.”
All of which she has taken full advantage of to continue her own journey, “having a business coach was super valuable for that and being able to get really valuable insight from them.”
Being a business person, woman and self-starter, Anna has learnt that seeing her value is important, “over the process of doing coaching, getting more into that seat of power, and being comfortable with it and not feeling ‘I’m the big cheese,’ it is not about that, it’s you steering the ship.”
Lessons she’s learnt
She stresses the importance of knowing the value of one’s business, be it a recent endeavor or more established small business. “Not knowing your value in the business, and undervaluing yourself, and not allowing yourself and your business the space and the power to own it.”
Anna’s holistic approach to self and work, being gentle and kind in both spaces, reflects through in how she tells her story. For herself, Anna is keen to dabble with herbal medicine. “I really love the chemistry side of it. I like how certain constituents and certain herbs react to certain chemicals in your body, and that’s why it would be really good for you.”
With her chef experience and chronic fatigue, the two parts of her life would marry well, and we could get to sample her herbal creations at the next market? For now, much like Anna, the Market is changing, with new partnerships (including with Yoco) and possibly a new venue. The recent change is what keeps Anna on her toes, and what makes her a savvy business person. Look out for a new market experience, unlike the one we all know, as I Heart Market and Anna Savage level things up.