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Crochet, clothes, cakes – Gen Z Indians are now small business owners on Instagram

New Delhi: Gen Z has often been called the ‘irresponsible’ generation, one that will choose fun over fortitude. But the pandemic has birthed a whole new army of Indian Gen Z entrepreneurs and small business owners on social media – selling everything from handmade letters to cakes to thrift clothes.

And they run their businesses doing what they do best – sharing, chilling and creating Reels.

“Gen Z is looking at a new portfolio of careers. They do not want jobs, they want autonomy and purpose in their career. Therefore, instead of finding power in pre-existing social structures, they are creating new ones online,” said Utkarsh Amitabh, CEO of Capital Ventures and author of Passion Economy and the Side Hustle Revolution. He explains how Gen Z, now aged between 18 and 25 years old, has been able to monetise doing what they love rather than chasing paychecks.

It’s about creating communities and then monetising them. “The magic of their business lies in the interaction of commerce, culture, and community.”

It’s not as if this young generation of urban entrepreneurs is giving veteran startups and business moguls a run for their money. Not yet anyway. For the most part, these ‘businesses’ are a hobby or a way to make extra income on the side while they get on with life.

Also Read: ‘Passion economy’ is the new buzzword that’s shaping the future of work

Crochet and customer base

Eighteen-year-old Nishma Soni from Ahmedabad, for instance, monetises her love for painting on Instagram, and offers customised designs on everything from plates and mugs to T-shirts under the brand name, Urrban Flowers. Expanding the business or making profit is not her end game as she wants to focus on her acting career and theatre. But Urrban Flowers offers her the space to paint and showcase her talent. Most of the products on sale are priced between Rs 250 and Rs 1000 depending on the medium, size, and customisation required. “Through my sales, I get back just a little over what I spend, but it just makes me happy to create things for people,” she said.

Nishma Soni| urrbanflowers
Nishma Soni| urrbanflowers
Artsy decorative multipurpose plate| urrbanflowers
Artsy decorative multipurpose plate| urrbanflowers

Many of these small ventures took shape during the pandemic and lockdown years of 2020-21 when college and school students found themselves with plenty of free time and nowhere to go. They were living their lives on social media, and tapping into that extensive and active network was the next logical step. Instagram, Etsy and even Facebook have levelled the playing field. Personal connections on social media are transformed into a consumer base.

It’s how Ayaan Shariq, 19, from Dehradun started his small business Lilacs in the Closet in May 2021. During the pandemic, Ayaan and his mother took to crocheting as a way to spend time productively. Gradually they became confident in their artwork and they decided to sell some of the crochet work on Instagram. The most expensive product currently on sale for Rs 850 is a cute green ‘froggie bucket’ hat complete with crocheted black and white googly eyes. Daisy keychains, sunflower earrings, bookmarks and crocheted lavender stems are some of the products that Ayaan and his mother make and sell online.

Ayaan Shariq with his mom| Lilacs in the closet
Ayaan Shariq with his mother| Lilacs in the closet

His online business took a hit when he returned to college, Ashoka University in Haryana’s Sonepat.

“But I put a stall during the Spring Haat, a one-day haat in the university itself, a marketplace for people to show their products to see the response from my target customer base, women between 18-24 years. Everything I put on the table—from bookmarks to keychains—was sold long before the day ended,” he said.

Crochet napkin| Lilacs in the closet
Crochet napkin| Lilacs in the closet

In today’s age of mass production and consumption, buyers are on the hunt for something unique that cannot be bought off the racks of fast fashion outlets. Soni’s customised art and Shariq’s crocheted jewellery tick all the right boxes.

A market for hand-written letters

Not every venture remains a side hobby. Some like Ahmedabad’s Soumyaa, 19, realised the potential of her business. She started Dessertelier to promote baking and eggless desserts via online platforms. “It’s already a small business, which we’re now working towards expanding to a cloud kitchen setup. We’re also aiming for physical outlets,” she says. She has been baking and selling cupcakes since she was 13.

Soumyaa| Dessertelier
Soumyaa| Dessertelier
Customized Cake by Dessertelier
Customized Cake by Dessertelier

Shariq, however, finds business on social media to be more efficient than brick-and-mortar stores. On Instagram, algorithms help your content reach those already interested in it. “You don’t need to have an inventory that is at the risk of being wasted, deadstock is reduced, and the social media algorithm helps you with your market research as well,” he said.

Gen Z ventures are less traditional and instead focus on experiences and feelings. Using social media to express their thoughts, build stories and reels around their products helps them make a more personal connection with both their brand, as well as their buyers.

Shraddha, 21, used her experience of getting out of a toxic relationship to market the power of affirmation and the written word. She realised there must be so many people like her around the world, seeking some sort of affirmation but not getting it from their loved ones. That was the genesis of Letters By Shraddha, which came into being in July 2020, right after the first lockdown.

Shraddha alongwith her orders| Letters by Shraddha
Shraddha alongwith her orders| Letters by Shraddha

She offers customers a chance to put their thoughts into words. She provides the handmade paper and theme. “I have always wanted to receive a handmade letter”, she says, “I still have not received one but instead sent almost 2,100 letters.”

The letters are priced between Rs 500 and Rs 700, based on the length of the content, the paper selected (plain, burnt edges, coffee or golden edged) and the packaging – rose petal seal or normal wax seal with an envelope. She has started marketing DIY kits, which include paper, seals and other tools that a buyer can use to pen a letter.

Letters By Shraddha has over 16,oooo followers who are hooked to the ‘stories’ that she creates on her handle.

Also Read: ‘Lovechild of theatre, comedy’—improv is where India’s young adults come out to play

Money, money, reels

A product, no matter how innovative it is, can take a brand only so far. So, Gen Z entrepreneurs have mastered the art of content creation. From aesthetics photoshoots to Instagram and Facebook reels, they keep thinking of ways to use graphics and media formats to create new stories for their products.

Shraddha’s handmade letter business saw a sudden boom when three of her reels went viral in November 2020. She hit her first profit mark, earning Rs 1 lakh in February 2021, after Valentine’s Day. So far, she’s been able to sustain sales; her gross profit was Rs 40,000-80,000 per month, she said.

Kamiya Arya, 19, a student at Jay Hind College Mumbai studying financial markets, finds this fascinating. She explains how the aestheticisation of social media has become a way for small businesses to operate – Gen Z or not. “They spend a lot of time developing perfect content based on the aesthetics of their product. The consistency of their posts and the nature of their graphics then start to reflect on how audiences perceive them as, and this gets them orders from people yonder and beyond,” says Kamiya.

Handwritten letters| letters by Shraddha
Handwritten letters| letters by Shraddha

Juwairya Siddiqui, an Economics and Psychology student at Ashoka University who follows various small businesses, talks about how her friends and acquaintances realised that their hobbies and art can fetch them appreciation and money.

“People always think that if you are interested in something, you can get it for free,” she says.

Gen Z businesses are upending this belief. Your graphic designer friend will not always edit your reel for free, and your BFF who makes the most amazing brownies does not have to give you an endless supply of baked goods. But you can order it on Instagram.

Source: The Print

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