Jul 23, 2018

EXPERIENTIAL SHOPPING - Winning Over Brick and Mortar Customers in an Online Shopping World

With shopping becoming more of an online experience, retail outlets are facing a challenge to stay afloat in many parts of the world. These days, consumers choose to invest in experiences rather than products. My most recent adventure of running Maka Maka’s flagship store and café in Kolkata, India taught me invaluable lessons for surviving in a market that is tech savvy and more inclined to buying online.  The target customer for us is well-heeled, educated, curious, and has an admiration and appreciation for handcrafted and curated products coupled with a liking for eclectic fares in a café.

Experiential Shopping was what excited our customers the most, given that we were a "travel inspired" concept store and cafe. By creating a more immersive retail experience, we ensured that the customer left with memories, and not just with products or food items. Being able to enjoy our balcony seating, that overlooked a park, created many pleasant memories for a lot of our Cafe patrons, particularly the younger ones. Some of them lived outside of Kolkata and they came back with friends and family each time they visited the city!

For us, the core of customer retention was the experience they had while shopping at Maka Maka and enjoying the eclectic offerings in our café. Here are a few “stories” that will help illustrate my point on how to engage and delight customers:

Experiential Shopping
Most patrons enjoyed the aesthetics of the space, which, to them felt like a journey through my travels across the world or within India. They stopped to enjoy the photographs on the walls and asked questions about Machu Picchu or Patagonia or Rajasthan and even about certain artisans I had met during my travels. It established a certain rapport with the customers as I shared my travel stories. When they entered Maka Maka, they felt relaxed and lingered, sipping on cappuccino and browsing through our curated collection. It became an enjoyable escape.

Telling a Story
Our store décor almost resembled that of a gallery with white walls adorned with vibrant photographs of our Artisans. This made customers feel more connected to the artisans’ crafts, and helped generate a feeling of vested interest in supporting them. Every customer at Maka Maka loved hearing the stories of the artisans and their craft heritage.
Our customers appreciated the collection as they understood the effort that went behind curating an assortment that was hand-picked for their refined palettes.

Encouraging Local Designers and Hosting Pop-Up Shows
We always encouraged young Fashion Designers or Culinary Experts to showcase their designs and food items through Pop-Up shows that we co-hosted. This offered our patrons a sneak peek at some new, undiscovered talent as well as first dibs on their creations. Our patrons thoroughly enjoyed the informal nature of the Fashion Shows and felt they could relate to the designs better. We always had great sales at these events! This also helped us reach more people through an expanded network of suppliers/designers.

Paying Genuine Compliments to Customers
Our genuineness at making suggestions or paying compliments to the customers while helping in their buying process was much appreciated by them. There was an instance, when a patron came back with a friend to show Maka Maka’s collections. It so happened while she was shopping with us on an earlier occasion, we suggested to her to buy a clothing item that was not from our own collection but from another Designer’s which we carried in our store as we felt that it would suit her more. She heeded our suggestion and later received many compliments from friends and family, which in turn made her be highly appreciative of us. We felt this was our real reward.

Going the Extra Mile
We once had an out of town patron who bought a one of a kind silk saree from our collection and needed a matching blouse at short notice of less than 24 hours. I called a seamstress who made beautiful blouses to fulfill this customer's need. This assistance and outcome thrilled the customer immensely.

Understanding Our Patrons
When creating custom solutions for patrons, we always felt we needed to understand them better which would give us more insight in creating the right design for them. For example, a saree ensemble was designed for a patron to wear while attending a meeting with the Emperor and Empress of Japan. We could do this only after understanding her needs, as she was someone who rarely wore sarees. We also needed to be mindful of the gravity of the occasion.
Knowing the special needs of our customers and remembering them each time they visited us created a loyalty towards our brand. Our Baristas always remembered certain preferences of our regular patrons, such as, how someone liked to take their tea and what kind of tea they preferred.

Having a Great "Team Maka Maka"
It would be unfair if the importance of the team at Maka Maka was understated. Their dedication in serving the customers was of the highest order, basis our underlying values and principles of customer service.  They took personal responsibility in ensuring every customer was delighted, be it while going through the shopping experience or relaxing in the Café with their food and beverage of choice. I can't thank them enough!

Mar 6, 2018

Exploring the craft of weaving Jamdani and Muslin fabrics

In the month of October, 2017, two lovely young German Sustainable Fashion Designers approached me to take them on a tour to show them the crafts of Bengal.  Given that we had only one day at hand, I thought the best craft to see would be the UNESCO certified Jamdani weave and the ancient craft of weaving the diaphanous Muslin cotton. Muslin is the fine fabric that once used to epitomize the dexterity of Bengal’s weavers and was highly coveted by the lovers of finer things in life.

Early in the morning we left Kolkata with the two Designers, myself and our very resourceful driver.  The journey took us away from the hustle and bustle of Kolkata into the long stretch of the highway and the abundance of Kash flowers which bloom only in the Fall.  Bengal had just finished celebrating the largest and most important festival of Durga Puja, the worship of the Goddess of Power (Shakti) and the pace was slow in the towns we drove through.

The ladies enjoyed some local sweet delicacies and the "bharer cha" (milk tea in a clay cup)!  By the time we reached closer to our destination of the first village, it was time for lunch.  Now, the town we were in, didn't really have any good restaurants that had amenities suitable for tourists.  So, we had to take the help of a very nice traffic policeman who made a few calls and told us of a place that we could use for food and an hour of freshening up in safety and comfort!

A home cooked meal of rice, dal  and vegetables was served which we enjoyed immensely and headed out to the village of Jamdani weavers.  Jam (flower) and Dani (vase) is a Persian word that came to Bengal with the mixing of various cultures, migration, rulers, etc.  The intricate weave takes meticulous precision, attention to detail, and very skilled hands, where the pattern in woven on top of the base fabric, all in simultaneous precision!  Starting their work at 5:30/6:00am and ending at 6:00pm, the weavers can weave up to 4-5m of fabric a day!  With monsoons every year, their homes that hold the looms, get flooded and disrupt work.  Still, they persevere and continue the craft they inherited from their ancestors!

After enjoying more hospitality of sweets and laughter from the weaver families, petting their cows, and picking up a few Jamdani scarves from their workshop, we headed out for the village of Muslin weavers.

As we entered the village, all we could hear was the click-clack of the looms in action throughout the village.  It was quite relaxing.  We stopped by a few homes to learn more about the yarn, the fabric, the history and see the weaving in action.  Muslin, is Hand-woven from an uncommon and delicate yarn, and it was found in Bangladesh and Bengal and was exported to Europe for much of the 17th and 18th century.  Noble ladies in Europe and the Royalty in India, all favored Muslin as the fabric of fashion!  It is said, that the finest quality of Muslin is so light and fine that a 6 yard fabric can pass through a finger ring!

After a very productive and immersive experience, and an entourage of villagers saying farewell to us and our guests, we returned to Kolkata in the evening, while discussing possibilities of working with these weavers in the future.

Apr 19, 2017

Eco-Friendly Textiles - Using Natural Dyes

With Earth Day upon us, I wanted to write about something that we are all in close contact with everyday of our lives - textiles.  We adorn ourselves with them, we sleep in them, we hug them, and we sometimes sit on them too!  But, do we stop and think what goes into making our clothing, our bed linen, our pillows, etc.?

At Maka Maka, we pay close attention to the kind of textiles we choose to create our home textile collection. We use only handwoven, sustainable fabrics to create our finished products of bed linen, pillows, and even some home and fashion accessories.

However, I wanted to write more about using natural dyes and how use of chemical dyes cause irreparable harm to us.  
  • About 8000 different chemicals are used in a Chemical dyeing processes in its various stages.
  • The water consumption is almost 40 times the weight of the fabric
  • The chemical dye seeps into ground water and pollutes drinking water reserves causing carcinogenic elements to be consumed by us 
Deshaj Collection
If we as informed consumers make conscious buying decisions and purchase textile products, such as, apparel and home textiles that use only natural or azo free dyes to give color to the products, we can bring a change in the demand and supply dynamics of eco-friendly textiles!
The commonly used natural dyes are derived from herbs such as indigo plants, turmeric roots, madder root, and haritaki.
Haritaki - green
Turmeric - yellow, gold
Indigo - shades of blue
Madder Root - shades of red and maroon
Onion - rich, vibrant shades of orange, yellow, rust, brown 
Block printing in Rajasthan and Gujarat is primarily done using natural dyes.  The abundant sunshine is also conducive to the colors being more vibrant and rich.

Dec 15, 2015

Exploring Crafts and Artisans in Rajasthan in the Monsoons - Blue Pottery!

With the upcoming Pujas, Diwali, and Christmas-New Years, I decided to take a trip out to Rajasthan and then onto Gujarat, in search of new handcrafted items from various artisans.  It was in August and the monsoons were in full swing in Kolkata.  I wondered how it would be in arid Rajasthan.

A very early morning flight out from Kolkata got me to Jaipur by 7:00am!  I headed straight for the village of Blue Pottery, some 55kms outside of Jaipur.  The weather was perfect! Not hot and not humid but quite pleasant. I had connected with this artisan potter family in June when I had come for a separate reason, which, I'll be writing about soon!

Vibrant, cute, fun, and creative blue pottery decor items were placed before me in this lovely home where I was greeted with smiles and a cup of steaming Rajasthani Masala Chai!!  Door knobs, incense stick holders in the shape of a palm, little cute Turtles - all made using the unique technique of Blue Pottery!

The patriarchs in this artisan family were trained by Kripal Singh Shekhawat, the father of Blue Pottery.  Kripal Singh is known to have been approached by Maharani Gayatri Devi and Kamala Devi Chattyopadhyay of Crafts Council, to revive Blue Pottery.  A unique mixture of gypsum, quartz, glass and gum is used as the basis.

Once put in certain moulds, they are baked in the hot Rajasthan sun for a few days. Then the artisans paint various patterns on them and they are put in the kilns.  Once the product comes out of the kiln, one can see the beautiful and vibrant colors of turquoise, navy, yellow, green come alive!

I picked up my loot of items for Maka Maka, and headed off to the village of Bagru, known for natural dye block printing and Mud resist printing!  But before I left, my artisan friends made sure I had a plate of homemade "poha" (a snack made of flattened rice and vegetables) and another cup of sweet Rajasthani masala chai as they weren't sure when and where I would grab lunch!!

I love making such friends wherever I go!

May 14, 2015

New Discoveries - Madhubani Painting and New Weaves - Part 2

I had left off the last post leading into the next set of exploration that would happen in our old stomping grounds, Bhagalpur.  The once thriving silk town in North Eastern India has seen quite a bit of changes in the past few years.

The overnight train journey from Muzaffarpur to Bhagalpur was a very cold and uncomfortable one as we forgot to pack blankets and sheets for this particular ride where it was a sleeper class train!  We arrived into Bhagalpur in the wee hours of the morning when this otherwise chaotic city was still asleep.

The rest of the day was spent exploring our old weaver clusters to see what kind of current work was being done and what the current status was.  To our dismay and alarm, we found that the number in handloom weavers had drastically declined in the past 4 years or so.
 Due to the cost efficiency in production, more handloom weavers have either shifted to powerlooms or have quit their trade!  The ones that are left behind, a handfull 15-20, are highly skilled, slightly aged individuals, who still love to work on exquisite weaves at their handlooms but desperately need work!  The availability of cheaper and inferior quality textile products from China has caused a huge dent in this industry!
We met one such artisan, who is selling potato chips, paan parag, etc. from his home cum workshop to make money while his loom sits idle on the other side of the room!  He was quite annoyed with us for taking photos and recording him and said, "How many more photos do you need?  Give us work!"

This image stuck in my head and I felt that unless we, as Designers, Producers, Retailers, don't wake up and take notice in a collaborative manner, this ancient and amazing art of weaving in North Eastern India will soon be extinct.
It was refershing to visit another village where the artisans seemed to be thriving and were prosperous.  The key was demand for Tussar and Gicha silk sarees from Bengal and some other parts of Northern India.  They had enough work and it was relatively less complicated of a weave so it was cost effective for them to continue their work.
A visit to the ancient ruins of one of the seats of knowledge, Vikramsila University, ended our trip on a pleasnt note.  However, it made me more aware of the current situation in handloom weaving and unless more of us, Producers and Consumers, collaboratively support this initiative, we will have lost another exquisite art!

Mar 27, 2015

New Discoveries - Madhubani Painting and New Weaves - Part 1!

The travel bug bit me again!  Last February, we were finally able to get away for another exploration trip to the villages where our weaving is done and to source some new Artisan work.  This is probably the most fun part of what I do, besides getting to design to my heart's content!

This time, we decided to take a trip out to the Madhubani region of Bihar, bordering Nepal.  I had long wanted to explore the beautiful handpainted Madhubani artwork and finally, we were heading there! Leaving Maka Maka, our flagship store and cafe in Calcutta, in able hands, we headed out.

The winter chill was strong as we got off the train in Muzaffarpur, in the early hours of the morning.  We headed out for the town of Madhubani with our escort, Kailash-ji.  As soon as we got out of the congestion of the city, the highway became a pleasure to drive on!  With yellow fields of mustard flowers on either side, and the morning mist hanging low, it was a refreshing and serene sight.

Once we reached the town of Madhubani, we headed to the NGO's workshop where most of the Madhubani artisans came to showcase their work or use the space to do their work.  We spoke with a few women artsians and the chief coordinator of the location about the history of this beautiful and intricate painting that apparently originated during the times of the epic, Ramayana!  The folklore says that, King Janaka, Sita's father had ordered that all the houses should be decorated with intricate paintings during Sita's wedding to Ram.

It's traditon, till date, for the villages in Madhubani area, to decorate their homes with this form of painting when there's a wedding or any festive occasion.  In its original form, Madhubani painting was done using local herbs and cowdung.  Currently, fabric paint is used to create the beautiful paintings on silks, cottons or on paper.
The pen used to create this artwork is almost similar to a fountain pen of the old days where the nib had to be dipped in paint to get the color in it.  The artisans meticulously paint various stories from the epics, folklore, village scenes, or just elements from nature.
It was really enriching to see the high quality of artisanship.  The icing on the cake was the freshly made sweets using fresh milk from a cow that lives on the premises!  The flavor and taste was just out of this world!

After our work was done in Madhubani, we had to speed off to the village where Sujni embroidery work is done so that we could speak to a few artisans and start off a project with them, where a few of my designs would be done in their traditional Sujni embroidery.  But before the next stop, a quick bite to eat was a must at a roadside dhaba!! Minimal facilities but optimal food at unbelievably cheap prices! 3 cheers for dhaba food! :-)

By the time we entered our familiar village, it was getting dark and cold.  Without much further ado, and only after soaking in the fresh unpolluted air, feasting my eyes on the greens of the fields, did we get down to business!  After discussing the new concepts and designs with the artisans, one of which is "Shakti"(women's empowerment), we headed back to the Muzaffarpur station to catch the overnight train to Bhagalpur.  We knew it would be a pretty cold and uncomfortable journey as it was a Sleeper Class train! Well, it is what it is!

Jul 12, 2014


Dear Friends,

After about 1.5yrs of launching "MAKA MAKA" Lifestyle Store & Cafe in Kolkata, India, as an expanded offering of RAJBOORI  home textiles and home decor products, while supporting sustainability of artisans, we have launched a Crowdfunding Campaign on Indiegogo.com!

We need your support in the form of contributions and sharing of this campaign with your friends, families and colleagues!  To take our venture to the next level and continue offering unique artisan made organic products, we need your HELP now!  There are some great Perks associated with your contribution!

Thanks in advance!
Team Maka Maka - Rajboori