Many concept stores are popping up across the country with funky new wares for the home and office, finds Suvasini Sridharan

Notebooks that look like cassette tapes and clutch bags, superhero-shaped pen drives, magnets inspired by Bollywood, mugs decorated with India-centric graphics. There is a huge market for quirky and colourful products today. “I am obsessed with the Chumbak line of elephant inspired products, I bought cushions for my bedroom, photo frames for my desk and even a phone case with colourful elephants on it,” says Lavanya Prakash who works in advertising in Hyderabad. “I love that there are so many imaginative and whimsical products you can choose from for your home and office.”

There are scores of Indian brands like Happily Unmarried, Chumbak, Letternote, Mukul Goyal and Pop Goes the Art that are churning out creatively made products. And these are finding retail space in a number of concept stores across the country. The Orange Bicycle in Bengaluru is one such store that showcases products by over a hundred individual designers. “The idea was to bring together , under one roof, many stories – stories of creativity, passion, talent, ideas, color, tradition, art and more,” says Leena Mitra Raizada one of the partners. “I think what we have essentially done, is built a platform for designers to showcase their talents and for customers to appreciate their ideas.” There is an eclectic mix of products on sale that include art, pottery, home linen and home décor.

Some of these concept stores also design and customise products as well. Satya Prakash, a partner at dcube, a Hyderabad-based lifestyle and design store, says, “The idea behind dcube was to give consumers an option to buy products by creative designers, products meant for daily use - like a doormat, paper weight, a beer mug etc.” At the same time dcube also serves as a retail outlet for designers who don’t have a presence in the city or cannot afford a stand-alone retail space. And as testament to the growing popularity of such products they have recently opened Aha Stuff by dcube in Hyderabad, a one stop destination for various quirky knick-knacks and objects.

With so many designers and concept stores one wonders if the market is being saturated with products. But, there seems to be a high demand for fun, happy and imaginative products which also have the added benefit of being affordable. Aha Stuff by dcube has even opened a section at Maal Gaadi, a recently opened multi-designer concept store in Chennai. Maal Gaadi has taken stock of the popularity of such products and sells everything from fashion, furniture and accessories for the home which fits the bill of being cool and quirky. “We find more people coming in to the store for the furniture, accessories and home products rather than the fashion,” says Shahin Ansari, one of the founder-partners at Maal Gaadi. “People are increasingly becoming conscious about the products they buy and use today, as they've become extensions of their personalities,” says Amtosh Singh, who is one of four co-founders of www.propshop24.in, an online site that curates and retails offbeat and unique products from around the world. “A simple notebook for example, from your neighbourhood shop or college stationery store doesn't cut it anymore. A funky design or quote on the cover definitely has more attraction.”

Propshop24 is one of the only Indian e-stores that works with international product design houses. They bring a range of products like owl shaped contact lens cases, superhero inspired pen drives, bar accessories, tea diffusers and much more for the Indian consumer from countries like France, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Israel and the USA

There seems to be constant reinvention and new products coming in, “I don’t think fun, cool and quirky things ever go out of style. They just change,” says Leena. “Earlier it was all about India and Bollywood, now the themes have increased - its Hollywood, it is city specific humour and so much more.”

Inspirations and trends change, bringing in fresh products every few months. “Elephant inspired designs were popular,” says Chennai based college student Divya Raghaven, “But, now the 'in' design motif is owls, I have it on my note books and even my coffee mug.”

Quirky products are a hit with college students and youngsters because of the designs and pricing but that doesn’t mean older people aren’t buying them too. “While youngsters are looking to add design and creative elements to daily life – maybe a nicely designed phone case or a unique note book,” says Satya Prakash. “Older customers look for things like cushions or trays or bar products that add a design element or style statement to their homes.” And then there are some products that cut across barriers of age.

At Maal Gaadi they curate things like a wall clock made out of wheels, a railway station inspired cabinet as well as pop art inspired paintings and wall hangings. Shahin says, “These are pieces of furniture and accessories for the home that will appeal to all ages”

Most of the stores and online sites that sell quirky products have come about because the people who started them have a real passion for design and innovation.

“All of the products are carefully selected by a group of curators who know a thing or two about having fun,” says Amtosh. “We would never stock products that we (or our friends) wouldn't want to own ourselves.” Leena agrees with this and adds, “We look for three main things - quirky, unique, concept.

When we started, we were looking for designers whose products we liked and admired. Since then, there have been a lot more designers on the scene who are exploring new and fresh designs in terms of material, medium and concept.

So we basically choose based on what we like and what we know our clientele will like.” A practice that will always have customers coming back for more.