Urban Hands, a recent fair showcasing the products of women craftspersons, was the outcome of a social networking initiative Chennai Crafters

After participating in Bengaluru's Kitch Mandi, handicraft makers Shilpa Mitha and Shruti Das came away with one thought. They would get craft-makers in Chennai together for a fair. Obviously, for these young women, social networking was the way to go. Looking for different kinds of crafters, they browsed the net for crafting/shopping groups, found artists — mostly young women — making amazing handicraft, and launched Chennai Crafters on Facebook. It wasn't difficult to get friends to join, and the word spread.

“We encouraged members to share blogs and tell us about what they did,” said Shilpa, whose “sueno souvenir” mini clay products include burger earrings and dosa fridge magnets. When membership reached 250 plus, they arranged a demo and three meet-ups, with “all the planning done on Facebook.” People handpicked for uniqueness of craft were invited to join the fair, by now named Urban Hands. “We wanted craft lovers and not people with a business interest. We wanted to keep wholesalers out.”

Grabbing attention

Chennai Crafters, the Face(book) that launched a thousand crafts. Along with Vineetha Naval who makes neon-painted bottles with decoupage work, “we used Facebook to market the event, and to find our poster designer. We shared the event page and posters, and changed our FB timeline cover picture to our event banner. We even added fresh profile pictures.” Pictures of products that would be on sale drew interest and traffic. “Vineetha and I spent a chunk of our days sitting online, posting pictures, sharing the event.” Urban Hands was a web hit. “Chennai foodguide, Chennai shopping and now Chennai Crafters!” the women brag. The group count swelled to 400.

At the one-day open fair at Spaces (Adyar), there were homemade crafts you didn't know existed, and considering their quality, you couldn't believe they were made by hand. Urban craft for modern homes, made by tech-savvy women. Crocheted caps/booties by Nisha Thomas, everything-recycled art items by Salma, wall hangings with very-Indian motifs by Ranjani Chandran, paper-quilled work from Kavitha, stained-glass tissue boxes by Kamla Ravikumar, handmade cards from Priyanka, Madras Motifs from Sudha Sekhar, glass engraving from Vidya Magesh Kumar, cute quilts put together by Tina Katwal, must-have “verve” trinkets from Rohita Vee, Kandee candies from Mahesh Dharam, live herbs and exotic plant seeds marketed by Imteyazali — you stopped at twenty-one tables without coming across one with clichéd clothes or jaded jewellery.

“Facebook brought us together” was a chorus at the fair. “There is nothing like social media to target such a niche market,” said Tina Katwal, who believes “when life gives you scraps, quilts are the way to go.” Ranjani's FB page draws regular “oohs” and “aahs” for her warli and sura designs. Rohita Vee, ECE student, began by posting all her work in an album on her FB profile to “get in touch with people interested in my trinkets.” Searching for creative groups on FB led her to Chennai Crafters, she said. Many participants claimed they were self-taught, picking up tips from the Internet. “YouTube and a few books helped me excel in my technique,” said Rohita.

Kamla logged on to the Chennai Shopping page to understand how women entrepreneurs marketed their ware and was thrilled “people wanted to buy my stained-glass items. You post, people buy, no marketing cost!” Chennai Crafters FB page is special, she says, it's exclusively for women who make things themselves. Crafters recognise each other's work, help with ideas and information about materials, share links to interesting craft sites. “It is fantastic — sitting at home you can meet so many craftswomen!”

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin form a formidable publicity tool for small entrepreneurs, said Mahesh Dharam. “Event hosts could review my profile on FB and let me in. I reach out to my clients through e-mail/sms and they respond after viewing my FB page.” Suppliers gauge the credibility of clients, and offer favourable terms. The chronological arrangement helps document business growth. Posts by other people give instant feedback. In FB commerce you ensure customer service is on time, as any slip-up brings bad reviews instantly — an automatic control-and-balance mechanism for small businesses as no boss is monitoring you. Maintain online identity through daily posts/likes/comments on FB, keep interaction alive, leverage Internet-based tools to market products for initial success, before looking for avenues for funding and paid marketing. Kandeefactory got associated with www.limeroad.com through FB, he said, letting his swirl-pops and candy-canes fly nationally. Now you have a solid reason for scrolling FB pages.