The pop-up culture is back in Kolkata after a pandemic break. Youthpreneurs who had gone virtual are back to putting up physical stalls.
The Pujo edition of Rainbow Rhapsody held at Ganges Art Gallery, Ballygunge, and the Breathing Art Festival at Cotts & Coco, Jessore Road, drew an encouraging response. Two more pop-ups are lined up in December — the Winter Parab, a two-day lifestyle pop-up at The Beanshot Cafe from December 4 to 5 and The Backyard Pop-up organised by The Calcutta Food Co at 71, Rashbehari Avenue (opposite Lake Mall), from December 10 to 12.
Utsha Das, 29, runs The Calcutta Food Co. in south Kolkata with Rohan Sur, 30.
“We notice a general anxiety among people and yet they are very excited to get back to offline events. We look forward to people coming together in good spirit and advancing our idea of a ‘soulful, small-scale, sustainable lifestyle. We promote local brands and artists who work with handmade and handcrafted merchandise and art,” Das said.
Friends Suvra Saha and Oindrila Guha Majumdar, who run Cotts & Coco, an all-women-run cafe in north Kolkata and a start-up called Breathing Art that offers a variety of hand-painted and digital printed coasters, clay ashtrays, posters, and bottles, planned to celebrate the cafe's first anniversary by organising a Breathing Art Festival.
“We are firm believers of women’s empowerment and this was our small initiative. All of the stalls did well, too. At one point, it was a bit overwhelming because we didn’t expect such a response amidst this pandemic,” said Guha Majumder, manager of the cafe.
Bonolawta, a start-up by Utsa Saha, a second-year Visual Arts student at Rabindra Bharati University, had set up a stall at the Breathing Art Festival. She sold hand-painted and hand-embroidered tote bags, pouches, bookmarks, stickers, postcards, fridge magnets, notebooks and more. “The entire idea of being able to create art to the extent where people were able to associate with it at a very personal level is extremely fascinating to me. I started Bonowlata in a very small way, but here I am putting up stalls,” Saha said.
The pandemic forced most youthpreneurs to shift focus to online platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Orders were taken online and so were payments, packaging was done at home and delivered by the different online mediums.
Arjama Bakshi, a third-year Sociology student of Jadavpur University, and Bony Pathak, a second-year Political Science student of Scottish Church College, organised the Pujo edition of Rainbow Rhapsody, a pop-up that got more than 24 start-ups under one roof.
The two run an online art collective called Thahor. “This is our second pop-up. As organisers we have earned credibility and respect. Managing my academics and this is a big struggle,” Pathak said.
Jewellery start-ups ruled the pop-ups. Anisha Sarkar, a third-year BCom student at Bhawanipur Education Society College, started Kalavrit in January 2020 as an Instagram store before setting up a stall at Rainbow Rhapsody. She specialises in resin art on earrings, pendants, ashtrays, bookmarks, dishes and keychains.
Paulomi Dey had a stall at Breathing Art Festival. The 2017 graduate from Surendranath College started Paulomi Handicrafts last year during the pandemic. She sells jewellery — oxidised, mirror-work, clay and hand-painted ones. “Being a student of Arts I was always passionate about transferring my ideas on different medias, be it paper or fabric. I am a freelance portrait artist, so I tried my creativity on jewellery during the pandemic. I loved giving jewellery a touch of my art. Since this was my first exhibition, I was extremely overwhelmed,” Dey said.
Amrita Bhattacharya, a third-year BTech student of Meghnad Saha Institute of Technology, and Aditi Bhattacharya, a 2021 graduate from Shri Shikshayatan College, run Aamanat that sells handmade jewellery of all kinds. They have been operating mainly through their Instagram shop for the last two-and-a-half years before setting up a stall at Rainbow Rhapsody.
Students picked up on innovative ideas during the pandemic. Shruti Parthasarthy, a first-year master’s in Writing for Electronic and Digital Media student at Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, started printing photographs on seed paper as a sustainable alternative for regular postcards. “Once I designed my photographs into postcard prints, I decided not to print them on regular paper because I am also a sustainability enthusiast. I stumbled into seed paper, which is recycled from waste. Now I have also launched a new product called the Sustainability ABCs that can be used as activity cards to learn more about concepts associated with sustainability. I found a way to bring all of my interests together,” said Parthasarathy, who sold her products at Rainbow Rhapsody.
Srijita Bagchi, a 2020 Political Science postgraduate from Calcutta University, started Crafting Bunny, an endeavour to beautify old glass bottles and used kettles. She had displayed some of her creative items at the Breathing Art Festival.
Piyasha Dutta, a third-year Economics student of Vidyasagar College who had put up a stall at Rainbow Rhapsody, runs an art shop called Art Chitrakala. She sells digital and hand-made art.
The turnout at the pop-ups boosted the morale of the young entrepreneurs. “I loved the way everyone appreciated my work. It just boosted my confidence. I have learned resin art from YouTube during the pandemic. Initially, I was experimenting but gradually I mastered the art and then started creating products,” said Sulagna, a first-year master’s in Social Works from Chennai University, who had a stall at Breathing Art Festival.