Maithree Venkatesan 11 July, 2022
MeMeraki is a ‘Culture-tech’ platform enabling traditional rural artisans to be digital creators for the first time in the creator economy with Content (online art & craft masterclasses, live classes) and commerce (art kits, artworks marketplace).
Initially founded by Yosha Gupta as a passion project to bring folk arts to the limelight, MeMeraki has evolved from selling exquisite handpainted bags to a treasury of masterclasses hosted by artisans from all over India. MeMeraki participated in the first NICE Angels Investor Meet held in Feb 2022.
Yosha shares the Memeraki journey of bringing 3000+ arts and crafts of India on its digital platform with us. Read on.
My background is in fintech, but traditional Indian arts and crafts have always been a part of my life. My first exposure was watching my mother, an amateur artist, create charcoal versions of the Khajuraho sculptures. I became a SPIC Macay volunteer in school and college and later started a chapter in Hong Kong when I moved there.
Four years ago, I got one of my Gucci handbags handpainted by a Madhubani artist in India. When the brand-conscious people of Hong Kong saw it, they all wanted this ‘limited-edition’ bag. I realized that our traditional arts are fading away not because people don’t like them but because they are unaware of them. A business idea began to take form.
I figured we could leverage China’s good manufacturing structure to source handbags and then send it to India’s amazing artisans to get beautiful artwork done. We then launched our first collection, which sold out within weeks! And MeMeraki was born.
We launched limited-edition collections every few months.
When the pandemic hit, our sales plummeted. We weren’t able to give our artisans enough work. They who worked with us were struggling to make ends meet as they usually depended on tourism or physical exhibitions to sell their work. The shift to the digital world had affected them.
We knew that our biggest asset was our network of artists and their skills. We also realized that people were stuck at home and looking for something interesting to do. We conceptualized the idea of live art workshops hosted by these traditional artists.
It started as a covid relief effort, and we passed all the income to the artists for the first 4-5 months of running these workshops. We soon noticed immense growth in terms of traction and community building. We decided to pivot from handpainted bags and make art workshops the core of our business. We felt this route better accomplished our mission of giving India’s traditional arts and crafts a global platform and shine the spotlight on our master artisans.
Our demographic currently are women in the 27+ age group, as they have a lot more disposable income and are drawn towards our culture. About 60-65% of our users are in India, and the rest are primarily in the UK, US, and Australia.
We call ourselves a culture-tech platform. What we do is at the intersection of the traditional creative and culture industry and ed-tech. We are the first people to enter this space, so we coined a term.
We must shift the perception of heritage crafts as a sunset industry and help people understand the effort behind these creations. These traditional arts and crafts are not prevalent in modern forms that one can incorporate into daily life. We hope to continue to create a space, voice, and presence for our heritage.
We continuously build our business and the structure of the workshops by listening to our community. When we heard from the people that they would like to source materials and natural colors from the artist, we began putting together art kits for different workshops.
Our roster of workshops have multiple levels – Beginner, Foundations and Advanced. We host two kinds of workshops that last about two hours.
The experience is seamless and tech-enabled. An interested participant can visit our website, see the upcoming workshops and sign up. Once the payment is made, they can access the workshop platform, and the art kits are dispatched. After the session, they can access the recording through this platform.
We spend a lot of time training our 200+ artists both on the technical aspects as well as the softer skills required. The shift to technology was a slight challenge initially, as they had been scared of it until the pandemic. We have helped them open up to the idea of tech and adopt it into their lifestyle.
Whatsapp is in their comfort zone, so we use it as a medium to send them training material and videos on optimal camera angles. We’ve also sent our top 30 artists mobile stands with a ring light and helped them set it up.
We’ve also helped them with soft skills such as communication. We train them to convey the story of the art form, the meanings of the various motifs, and how to give feedback to participants effectively.
One of the things people love about cohort-based learning is they can understand how to improve in real-time.
India has over 3000 art forms, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Very little information exists about many of them, and no material has been created in the attempt to help people take the art form forward. In order to work on this, we’ve designed masterclasses.
These masterclasses are pre-recorded art workshops. Our team goes down to where the artist is for a week, even to the remotest corners of India, and records tutorials with high-quality equipment. We then edit the video and add subtitles. This way, anyone who is creatively inclined can sign up for these and watch them at their own pace. We are excited about our ambitious mission to digitize each of these 3000 arts.
Our brand building on Instagram is a balance between visually beautiful content and information about the workshops and stories behind the artforms and their specialties. There’s a dearth in the voice of the artists and artisans in the digital world, and we want to create a social media presence for them. We have started doing short tutorials on Youtube and had a couple of viral videos on Facebook and Instagram.
Our growth on social media has been organic. At the end of the workshop, every participant is filled with pride after creating a piece of artwork with guidance from a master artist. Because the community loves the authenticity of the experience, they share it on their social media, helping us attract more people to our page.
Our growth is a reflection of word-of-mouth traction and the impact of the power of an active community. We recently started collaborating with influencers, where we give them access to the masterclass, and they post the artwork they’ve created.
We’ve done over 600 workshops with 200 artisans across India in the last two years and covered more than 65 traditional arts and crafts. It is a significant achievement to enable these artists to log in from remote villages and reach an audience worldwide.
Our accomplishments would not have been possible without our efficient and motivated team, who came together purely on the strength of the mission.
NICEorg wishes MeMeraki the best of luck in their journey ahead!