This place is super cool as it churns out many colours from the rainbow and has the power to brighten up a cloudy day. Don’t go by the name ‘factory’ – it is the exact opposite of what you’d expect.
There are no mills or machines, no smoke belching chimneys nor grimy workers. It’s just one happy spirited girl who brings to life coloured paper cuttings and quilling away happiness which appeals to little girls and to the little girl within us all.
Confused what it is all about or who could it be? Well, don’t be. We’re just about to do the curtain raiser.
The Lifestyle Portal caught up with a bubbly (as her creations are), 32-year-old Swaati Chattopadhyay the founder of ‘Quillkaari’.
Now hold your breath as we introduce you to this multi-talented Delhi-based entrepreneur… She has a Bachelors degree in English Literature (DU, Hindu College) and a Masters degree in Arts & Aesthetics (JNU), and has primarily worked as a journalist/ features writer in the field of art and culture for almost seven years before Quillkaari happened to her just two years ago.
Apart from that, Swaati is also a classical dancer, training in Odissi since the last 14 years (WOW), and she’s involved in performances, lecture-demonstrations and workshops through the year, along with her guru Pratibha Jena Singh and sister Jaya Mehta, also a trained classical dancer.
We talked to her about her journey from being a writer to a Quill Artist. Read on to be a part of her journey…
She thought of the name ‘Quillkaari’ on a train back to Delhi from Kolkata, where she was on a three-month stay with her husband on a project. While in Kolkata, away from everything Swaati had known until then – Delhi, friends, family and work – she began to fill the big chunks of time in her day with something constructive.
“I had attended one quilling class as a part of a feature for the magazine I used to write for as a journalist, so when my sister sent me a quilled birthday card, I decided to order a quilling kit and try it out myself. The rest, as they say, is history. I was hooked, totally and utterly, and a month later I had the first designs for my first (and till date, favourite) collection ‘PhoolAurTitliyaan’,” recalls Swaati.
Her initial investment was very minimal – just the cost of that quilling kit. “I didn’t think of it as a venture or a business, and still don’t – I am an artist, and Quillkaari is a space where I share my work,” smiles Swaati.
She further adds, “Besides, when I started the Quillkaari Facebook page, the concept of a ‘solopreneur’ who sells via Facebook was very nascent in India, and I was doing it just for the fun of sharing my creations. There were hardly any e-commerce spaces for handmade things, unlike now. In any case, I didn’t really think anyone except me would ever buy paper earrings!”
But from the day the QK FB page was created, the many Facebook ‘Likes ‘and orders started coming in and slowly, it began gaining momentum in a way that Swaati hadn’t anticipated at all. More than the sales, she feels it was just that virtual appreciation, that feeling of knowing that there were complete strangers smiling at what she spent hours of time and emotion in making. That’s what really made her quill with more and more hunger – hence all the unmanageable albums on the QK Facebook page!
“Contrary to the advice given to me by every business-school type person I know (including my husband), I have never tried to ‘expand the business model’ of Quillkaari. I do not work on a business model because Quillkaari is not a business. I do not run a factory where many nameless people make assembly line parts which I put together and brand as QK creations. I do everything myself: from ideation, experimentation, creation, R & D, photographing, pricing, to packaging, filling in invoices and forms, marketing and operations,” mentions a modest and a fiercely confident Swaati.
This just goes to show that her love and passion for what she does is her real investment in Quillkaari. It is exhausting sometimes, but this is how she wants it to be – i.e. “When you hold a Quillkaari creation in your hands, you must know that the only other hands that touched it was mine. That is the real connection that makes Quillkaari a success of any sort,” smiles Swaati and we like this concept so much.
We asked her how she came up with a vibrant and a happy brand name, and she tells us, “I chose the name Quillkaari because it evokes two things. One, the chiming sound of the Hindi word, ‘kilkaari’, which means a joyous, cackling laughter, which is quite an apt description for the overall mood of my creations: happy and having fun. The second, which I really love, is the combination of ‘quill’ (the main tool which gives the art form of quilling its name) and ‘kaari’; in Urdu, the latter word evokes a high level of artistic skill (think ‘kashidakaari’ or ‘kalakaari’), and in Malayalam, ‘kaari’ is an interesting suffix, meaning, ‘the one who does’. I thought it has resonance with both – the art and the artist – and that’s what Quillkaari is to me. It is about the art form as much as it is about me, the artist.”
For Swaati, the challenges are mostly technical (is there a better varnish I can use? How to get perfect findings at minimal price? How to procure these from various parts of the world and coordinate everything on time?), and those can be worked out – sometimes by logical thinking, and sometimes by sheer God-sent luck.
But the real challenge – the one she admits that one cannot always control – is that there isn’t enough time to translate all her ideas into quilled creations! Quilling takes time, and Swaati consciously chooses to follow themes and ideas, no matter how time and labour-intensive the execution might be and even if the price will never be able to ‘pay’ for the effort she devotes.
But an artist must always choose this way; Swaati tries to avoid the businessy model of working backwards from price-point to theme i.e. she will not make something into an earring just because it takes 10 minutes to make and can fetch her 200 bucks. For her and the QK lover, the story of the Quillkaari creation is its real value, not its price.
Swaati often wonders about what makes Quillkari so unique and she even quizzes people about it too. Even though she does not have a final answer, her gut feeling tells her that even if she goes through all the practical points – the branding, the craftsmanship, the packaging, the durability, the customer service – at the heart of Quillkaari is just the fact that it foregrounds the connection between people. That’s what makes me create designs, and that’s what makes people love them.
She further adds, “It’s like a conversation: I feel/ think of something and quill it into an earring; someone else hears me out, loves the thought, smiles, and wants to keep that thought with them. Hence, the exchange. I find this whole thing quite amazing, and I am sure people do too. Which is why QK gets 70 percent of its sales through the Facebook page, rather than offline/ online stores – in our crazy urban lives, what we all want is not just retail therapy, but a bit of one-to-one conversation, some sweet sharing through art and emotion.”
Sourcing raw materials
Primarily Quillkaari is about quilled earrings and pendants because that is Swaati’s personal area of interest. Whenever she sees something in life and thinks of how it could be quilled, her first thought is to think, ‘and then how can I wear it?’ ☺
You’ll also find several types of products, a lot of which emerged from custom orders such as hair accessories, fridge magnets, rings, gift boxes, Christmas ornaments, cards and wall art among them.
Swaati sources most of her raw materials from online stores in India – in Mumbai and Bangalore. Some of her tools and jewellery findings come from the US, Singapore, and Jaipur. All of them arrive via post; the only place where she physically goes to buy stuff (mainly because she buys herself lots of delicious street food on the way back) is ChandniChowk in Delhi, for wholesale jewellery findings and packaging material.
“I always keep Quillkaari in a very budget-friendly range; all the jewellery and hair accessories are priced between Rs. 100 and 400 per piece. I use my own experience as a shopper to decide price range – that tendency to think, ‘How much would I pay for this?’ (this may be anathema to any business model!). Somehow, it works,” quips Swaati.
She sells most of her products online because that way she can keep the price points low. “If we’re counting the hours of work and base price, I actually work on very low margins – hence it is possible for me to sell online, where there are less or no commission rates. I do sell offline at stores across the country, but those are limited collections for short durations. Selling offline means keeping very high margins (which I don’t), because the commission rates for stores are very high. I don’t make much profit on such sales; I do them because a lot of people ask me on the QK Facebook page or on email whether they can go to a store and ‘touch/ feel’ the products and then buy them.”
Swaati never had to spend on marketing for Quillkaari. It has always been word-of-mouth and about simple love of handmade things and the stories they tell. “I find the power of such communication quite amazing; people have started recognising me as QuillkaariWali in a crowd (in a birthday party or in a queue outside an auditorium!), and I find it superbly wondrous, if not flattering!” smiles Swaati.
Swaati concludes by saying, “I labour to keep these connotations alive in the way I project Quillkaari – it is not merely a brand, a range of consumer products. It is one artist’s work; it is entirely handmade; it is not the sum of ‘market price minus cost price equals profit’. And I think that really is the reason that there are so many wonderful people drawn to the page, and they respond to all the creations and the posts with such warmth and enthusiasm. I feel so blessed to have such intimate moments with complete strangers – I firmly believe that this is something only art can do.”
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