India’s arts scene is getting painted in new colors, thanks to a startup that curates artwork from illustrators across India and sells them as prints, mugs, phone cases, and cushion covers.
Though some online portals like Art&Found sell art on products as well, Kulture Shop is among the first to have created an multichannel presence to reach a broad base of customers. Tourists, and residents, often first discover the brand through its two physical stores in Mumbai’s artsiest neighborhoods, Kala Ghoda and Bandra. And aside from giving a new home to budding artists, the spaces also host concerts, awareness talks, mixers and even protests.
“For us, it’s been a journey of creating a viable art concept for both a local and global audience,” said founder Arjun Charanjiva. “While we initially put most of our funds and efforts behind e-commerce, we realized in time that our little physical store was essential to provide the touch-and-feel and conversation to build the affordable art market (a completely untapped market) in India. A website alone was not enough.”
The graphic art collective was founded by Arjun, 47, who is CEO, along with his two co-founders—his wife Jas Charanjiva, a now 46-year-old self-taught street artist who grew up in California, and 34-year-old design director Kunal Anand. Initially, the idea came about because Arjun wanted to provide Jas a platform through which to sell her own artwork. Eventually, the platform expanded to include 109 budding artists across the country.
“We wanted to make art accessible and affordable. We wanted this country and the people outside India to understand that there is a really great, thought-provoking, bold Indian art wave taking hold,” said Jas.
We sat down with Arjun, Jas and Kunal from Kulture Shop to talk about whether technology is helping her business succeed. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
In terms of technology, what’s the big thing you know today that you wished you knew when you knew when you started?
For us, it’s been a journey of creating a viable art concept for both a local and global audience. While we initially put most of our funds and efforts behind e-commerce, we realized in time that our little physical store was essential to provide the touch-and-feel and conversation to build the affordable art market (a completely untapped market) in India. A website alone was not enough.
Technology, however, is becoming key in our retail store experience. Today we are able to provide in-store customers the ability to purchase items online while in the store—these are mostly items that are available through our larger catalog on the website. Even more exciting, we are in the midst of prototyping an art-discovery app to be used in stores to make art-buying easier.
Going hybrid versus online-only was a big step change for us. A physical retail experience with an online store suited for global shopping turned out to be the right mix. We are popular with non-Indian travelers and the Indian diaspora, so a physical store is important to experience, discover, and interact with the brand and products. As for Indian residents living outside of Mumbai, online shopping and free shipping has been working really well with the majority of them discovering the brand through social media. For Mumbai residents, it’s a mix between in-store visits and online shopping.
Which tech giant has had the biggest impact on your business?
Google. Our daily work is done on Gmail and the G-Suite, which satisfies our needs for communication and collaboration. Google Suite has been integral to our internal workflows, documentation and processes across multiple team members.
Also Adobe. Creative software is at the core of our business and Creative Cloud has allowed Adobe to integrate apps and improve workflows. This is especially useful when working with multiple artists in different cities across the world.
What technology or tech service, that is not a giant company like Google or Apple, do you find is most useful in running your business?
Instagram plays two important roles for us. First, it is becoming a portfolio site for artists, and makes our job of hunting down the next best artists a lot easier. Secondly, being a predominantly visual medium, it is a perfect marketing tool for us to build interest in art and a community of art lovers. New tools like Instagram stories enable a small brand like us to engage and converse with people further.
PayPal has made selling to global customers a relatively seamless process. Given that international credit cards are not accepted by local payment gateways, this was a great workaround.
Others worth mentioning are Shopify and MailChimp that help us reach our customers.
From a technology standpoint, what can’t you do, that you think you should be able to?
An end-to-end artist management tool from artwork creation to submission to curation to artwork print files to renders to web assets.
What app on your phone do you find most useful for work?
Gmail is the most-often used, but apps like Slack and WhatsApp are critical for sharing, communicating and decision-making among our work groups.
What’s the newest competitive threat?
The idea of people wanting art streaming on digital screens on their walls. A company called Meural, for example, is pursuing this approach. We feel that even in this digital age, the idea of a physical and tactile object is the best way to appreciate art, especially in the home.
Do you think the availability of self-driving cars might change your business?
We are in India so [the technology] has a long way to go, but it could add efficiency in delivery of products locally.
Can you imagine using bitcoin or incorporating the blockchain in your business?
We can see the benefit of making purchasing more widespread and easier; however, we would definitely need to evaluate the risk and downside of going down this path. The idea of reaching a younger demographic across the world who prefers cryptocurrency sounds great but India’s not the place for it right now with the lack of regulation in India and with a trading ban that’s been imposed by our central bank.