• Guest Blogger

Supporting artists of India through an online flea market.

Deepannita Kundu writes about UNSEEN 4.0 an online flea market by Platform For Artists in partnership with Instamojo.

A few days ago, I had to buy some books for my college, as soon as I was given the list of books to be purchased, I went online and made the sale. Easy, right?

Later that evening, my friend called me saying that she was going to the local bookstore to buy the books and if I cared to join her. When I mentioned to her that I have already ordered the books, she sneered at me saying, “your VocalForLocal is only limited to hashtags on Instagram”. This was true. This made me uncomfortable, but I realised she was right.

We are well aware and conscious about helping businesses and supporting others, then why do we fail to follow what we preach?

When the world was stuck by COVID-19, and economies around the world were shutting down, people thought maybe the big capitalist ventures will suffer huge losses, and many international chain stores might be shut down. This is partially true. There were losses, and stores were shut down, but these multi billion dollar companies lost only a small margin of their usual revenue, and in no time they will start recovering it.

The main burden of the economic shutdown was borne by independent businesses that function on limited resources and are completely at mercy of their buyers. That tea stall, the home run bakery, the boutique run by the old lady, the wooden furniture shop, the stationery shop that sells cute supplies, that general store where you buy those scented candles, all of these and many more such businesses, bore the brunt of the lockdown.

Earlier this year, there were news articles about how the big clothing brands have not paid their workforce who mainly belong to third world countries. There was huge social media outrage by the young buyers of these brands demanding social and economic justice. Months rolled by, and things are back to square one. We continue buying from these brands, and we continue ignoring the local businesses run by sincere hardworking people.

These local businesses are sometimes the sole earning source of a family. These are passion projects started by individuals after years of deliberation. Often these are family businesses passed on generations after generations but are struggling to stay alive today.

Honestly, I don’t like the term ‘small business’, I think it misrepresents the amount of effort, hard work, and care that goes behind sustaining these businesses. But well, we live in a world where monetary value is the only parameter, and by those standards, the term 'small business' stands true. They do have limited manpower and economic resources, and thus they don’t enjoy the privilege of running in losses for a few months, because they don't have the assurance of a better tomorrow or the certainty of an economic boom.

Let’s go back to the little story I started with. After my friend came home from the bookstore she Whatsapp-ed me the picture of a handmade bookmark with her name on it that the shop-owner has given her for free. I felt even more guilty after seeing that book-mark, it was unique and meaningful, unlike the tons of Amazon bookmarks I find lying around my study-table. This is the essence of a local business, the bits of effort and compassion that make your heart smile.

I wonder what makes me spontaneously purchase online without even considering the local stores? Is it easier?

No, unless you consider wasting 4 hours scrolling through these apps, easy. And you consider the hassle of return and exchange and refund easy, or you enjoy the mass-produced run of the mill products. And the price is not a problem for most of us, because we spend much more than needed on these fancy stores and sites. I feel we have developed a habit, internalised capitalist consumerist behavior which prevents us from shopping at these local, home-grown, small businesses.

To bring a change and help these local businesses, Platform For Artists launched UNSEEN 3.0, a month-long online flea market, from August 13th to September 13th. The flea celebrated the works of 30 artists and helped them find a greater reach for their work. UNSEEN was highly successful with more than 60,000 visitors.

Encouraged by the love and support that UNSEEN 3.0 received, Pawan Rochwani and Kshitija Sarda in collaboration with Instamojo are back with UNSEEN 4.0 an online flea market for this festive session. This time it is bigger and better, there will be 50 artists from around the country, live on sale for 10 days from the 1st of November to 10th November. This time the stakes are higher, and they are aiming for 6,00,000 visitors.

Now, this is where you and I step in.

For once let us give the e-commerce apps on our phones with their fancy deals and bonanza offers a break. Let us focus on the artist and their work, their creativity, their passion. This Diwali, let us spare a few extra bucks instead of getting trapped into the ‘buy one, get one’ schemes.

So this festive season when you are thinking of gifting jewellery to your mother, try The Jhumkaverse or Mrttikka, or while shopping for Diwali decorations, try exploring Glad Decor or Spills’ n Sparkles or Joyous Beam Candles. Instead of buying those same generic t-shirts, give InkMuse by Prajakta a shot.

Well, it’s not plausible to list all 50 artists here, but that’s what UNSEEN 4.0 is for, to provide a platform, a common junction where you can discover and support work you admire.

You don’t remember the story behind that expensive dress from a brand but you probably remember the interaction you had while bargaining for the hand-dyed t-shirt you bought from that uncle. There is a story, a connection that you build when you buy from small businesses, these interactions add value to the products you buy. The same is true for UNSEEN 4.0, though the interaction is digitally mediated the essence is the same; to be a witness of someone’s hard work, to be a small part of someone’s story.

Speaking from personal experience, to recognise, acknowledge, and validate an artist’s work is the greatest gift you can give to them. A quick share on Instagram or just a comment on their website can lit up their whole day. And when you buy from one of these local businesses you are giving them a reason to do a 10-sec happy dance. Why would you want to miss an opportunity to make someone dance? I wouldn’t. Moreover, when we support these businesses we empower next-generation artists to follow their hearts and pursue their passion.

So let us make Diwali a little more joyful for these 50 and other such small businesses, let’s make a conscious effort and be as supportive as we can towards artists all around us.

A little effort goes a long way, and a small purchase could mean the world to them. It's time to show the same enthusiasm with which we fill our carts at Amazon, towards these artists! Visit UNSEEN an online flea market by Platform For Artists & support these small business owners.

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