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Brand 'I'

The market of one

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Everything in the market, it seems, can now be so personalised that the customer can swagger out feeling much preferred. The list includes not just tangible gifts like jigsaw puzzles or refrigerators but also elusive items such as a man's attention and God.

Welcome to India's new and improved market of one. Here, not only can you star in the original Sholay but also plan a surprise for the better-half who seems to be spending more than a socially acceptable period of time in the loo. You can replace Cinderella's face with your little one's or have your image replace that of the anorexic model on a fashion magazine. Tiles, shoes, pen drives, dog collars, refrigerators and even crossword puzzles now occupy the realm of the personalised universe, not just the standard T-shirt and coffee mug.

From sending a wishlist to wedding guests to shaping idols of Lord Ganesha (he will wear only the accessories you approve, even the snake), this industry of the exclusive is blooming with ideas that tempt you with their promise of individuality. After all, you are unique. Just like its other customers. Here's a teaser of some of these tailor-made extremes.

POP ART
Another way to immortalise yourself is by intertwining elements of your personality with pop art — posters, lamps, shot glasses or refrigerators, medium no bar. When singer Shaan Mukherjee, for instance, wanted to surprise his wife, Mumbai-based designer Rashmi Dogra gave him a wine bottle that said ‘Mukherjee Wines’ in bold.

“We also create customised Ganpatis on request, ones without snakes, ones that look modern and so on,” says Dogra, whose repertoire includes everything, from poker game boxes with names embedded in a peculiar font (so that they are not too obvious) to laptop covers. For her, any surface is good enough. Dogra even tranforms staid refrigerators into a rainbow of colours that are dictated by the owner. This service costs upwards of Rs 4000, depending on size. “We like to customise things which have some kind of functional value,” says the designer who has created personalised Ganesha idols and customised portraits for clients like Rohit Bal. She has discontinued the portraits for want of a good customer base.

The idea is to try and look beyond the usual bouquet of items such as mugs and T-shirts , says 37 year-old Rohit Saxena, CEO of Delhi’s gifting portal Excitinglives.com. “We try and keep our products unique and slightly wild. Many couples come to us to get their picture modified into a Roy Lichtenstein kind of pop-art poster. They usually want it blown-up to the size of their bedroom wall. It makes for great art décor . We also do clone dolls of people which are hugely popular .” Cushion covers, calendars, tiles, clocks and wooden plaques are among the other unusual art suspects.

“Young students often decorate clocks or frames — even dinner plates — to gift their parents on their wedding anniversary,” says Kolkata’s Sanjay Basu, an employee at the ‘personalised wonders’ store Presto. Then, there are eminent organisations in the IT sector that award their best employees every month. Accordingly , they personalise crystal blocks or trophies, says

an employee at the brand’s shop in City Centre, Salt Lake. Prices vary depending on the material or quotes. “The price ranges from Rs 300 to Rs 5000. Personalising items on vinyl and canvas is more expensive,” she added. Nidhi Agarwal from Mumbai has once designed a toilet seat that had words like “Shitology” scribbled thoughtfully all over on behalf of a friend who wanted to surprise her spouse. Apparently, he used to spend more time in the loo than in the bedroom. Now, Agarwal , who runs a brand called Pop Goes the Art, takes just ten days to deal with requests for anniversary playing cards and jigsaw puzzles . “In our fast-paced , impersonal lives, such gifts add more meaning to giving,” says the young designer, who also paints portraits on lamps and clocks that cost upwards of Rs 4000 each.

A wacky wrist watch and wall clock designer is Chembur’s Harshad Patankar. Over the last eight years, he has been shaping wrist watches and table clocks to resemble Mercedes cars and beer barrels. “I’ve even made couple watches (that look identical) for someone’s 25th wedding anniversary,” says Patankar, who has turned a hobby into a successful business.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER
It could be the perfect gift for husbands prone to forgetting anniversaries — a magazine about the couple in question. Craft My Gift, a customised gifting company in Bangalore, makes such magazines. They look like any other glossy except that the editorial content is different: there are quotes from family members about the couple, old photographs, great ‘together moments’ and perhaps, fake advertisements . The company also offers customised story books for kids.

So, “if it is a girl’s birthday, we write that the princess was born on this date to this family and other details. It flows exactly like a storybook with photographs. These are very much in demand and families spend a lot of time and money gathering the details for the books,” says CEO Jyoti Ramanath. Taking a cue from firms like Walt Disney and Universal Studios, who have been personalising fairytales for a long time, Mumbai-based firm Wishmakers Edition, has around six fairytales on offer; one of them is a love story. The names and sometimes, even faces, in these books can be replaced with those of a child, aged 3-13 . “The most popular ones are Cinderella, Jungle Book and Alladin because people love their artwork,” says marketing head Meena Makwana who has sold these books to police inspectors, labourers, housewives, CEOs and film actors. The demand for these books which cost Rs 299 each, is highest on occasions like birthdays, Raksha Bandhan and Diwali.

SOLE MATES
These are perhaps the kind of shoes that will never be used as missiles. It would take a braveheart, after all, to waste a carefully hand-painted canvas shoe on a politician. The well-heeled youth that likes announcing its personality feet first can now replicate everything that finds a place in their heart on their shoe soles, thanks to a silent, unorganised industry called ‘shoe art’ .

Designers such as Mumbai’s Savia Jane Pinto and Bangalore’s Anushka Mayne like painting on canvas, only if the art is used to make a shoe. They will, in fact, sketch personal messages, elephants, Spongebob Squarepants, Che Guevara, Michael Jackson or even bus numbers on request.

Customers approach them with pre-worn shoes or request new ones. “Everyday I get anywhere between one to five orders, mostly for gifts. Customers also have specific designs or themes in mind,” says Mayne, who receives orders on her blog. The pricing starts at Rs 2000 and depends on three factors — design idea, shoe size and style (high-top , ankle high or basics).

“I don’t repeat my designs because these gifts are special and I want them to be unique for the person,” Mayne adds.

Pinto, on the other hand, gets about three to six orders for shoe painting a month and charges anywhere between Rs 650 and Rs 2000 a pair. Her customers range from rock music freaks who want logos of bands like Limp Bizkit (“ that was so tough I could not replicate on the other shoe,” she recalls) to girls who like Eeyore , the donkey. Another shoe painter, Sheetal Delhiwala, a graphic designer who has wacky pairs that say ‘Bite Me’ , has received many strange requests. Once she met a European lady who asked her to pen down the name of every Indian place she had visited with her boyfriend. Details included even bus numbers.

LOVE IS BLING
An unmistakable trait of a Gujarati is his affinity for diamonds. They are to him what gold is to Bappi Lahiri. The Gujarati proclivity for adding its seductive glitter to pens, coffee mugs, mobile phones, belts, shoes and even pen drives is now being milked by Surat’s jewellers.

“Diamond-studded accessories are fast becoming a rage among the Surtis. They walk into jewellery stores with their gadgets, shoes and spectacles and ask that they be given the sparkle of real diamonds,” says Praveen Nanavati, a leading manufacturer of diamond-encrusted accessories in Surat. A simple leather belt may cost anything between Rs 500 to Rs 2,500, but when it is customised, the price can go upto Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. Bhimji Jewellers at Ghod Dod road is famous for personalising electronic gadgets and fashion accessories. “You could easily spend a few hundreds on a nice pair of designer sneakers but if you really want to make your shoes sparkle and stand out in the crowd, you want diamonds on them. A jewel encrusted shoelace clip adds that extra bit of class and shine to your favourite lace-ups ,” says Vikas Juneja of Bhimji Jewellers.

MATCH FIXING
Popping the question is not a small impulsive occasion anymore. It is a full-fledged premeditated event, choreographed by invisible professionals called event managers. If you want to engineer a fake kidnapping, shower flowers from a helicopter, propose in a limo or serenade your bride-to-be , there’s an organiser at your service. While some prefer luxurious experiences (yacht rides or air charter services costing anywhere between Rs 60,000 and Rs 3.5 lakh per hour), others are content with relatively inexpensive options (singing telegrams) to mark D-day .

“We do everything and anything,” says Ruchi Chopra of Delhi-based firm Any Surprise Any Place. “Customers can either call in or e-mail us with their requests. Sometimes, people who call in are clueless about what they should do to make their beloved feel special. We help them out by offering them solutions and existing package details. Also, we try to know a little bit about our customers so that we can tailormake an experience to their liking.” Recently, the firm had a request to organise a filmi dinner for a couple. “We brought a truck inside a farm house. The dinner table was set inside the truck with dancers doing a typical Bollywood item song. There was a chef who dished out a special something for the duo. The entire event had a very rustic theme and it was great fun to put it all together. Our minimum orders are at Rs 1000 and can go up to any obnoxious figure. We do lot of fun stuff like personalised toilet-paper rolls which aren’t particularly popular.

We also have a dedicated team of violinists and guitarists who play for customers,” says Chopra. Mumbai’s Dhawal Oza of Dreamz also recalls arranging a similar proposal. “We had booked a private mini theatre for the couple, screened the girl’s favourite movie and flashed the famous four-word question on screen,” he says.

THE POSTER BOYS
You can now hope to be seen in Amitabh Bachchan’s shoes or Prithviraj Kapoor’s crown, irrespective of your age, height or talent. A Mumbai firm called Indian Hippy offers a range of exclusive hand-painted posters worked on by film poster artists. The venture began with the idea of reviving the traditional art of hand-painted film posters and supporting their artists. Personalised posters in which a customer’s face is painted onto a film poster is Indian Hippy’s most popular product . This combination of portraits and posters are in demand even in countries like Italy, US, UK and Dubai. Hinesh Jethwani, founder and head of the firm, recalls a customer whose yes welled up at seeing her customised Bollywood poster which featured her late husband.

FITS AND STARTS
There are people who believe clothes maketh the woman, and if you will, the man. Among them are wardrobe stylist Varsha Bhawnani, who runs a store called Vinegar in Bandra , and partners of the Mumbai-based XY Personal Shoppers . Bhawnani, who has seen women make many style goof-ups (like head-to-toe monotones) charges at least Rs 20,000 for a wardrobe-styling session. It entails prior consultation to know the client’s requirements and a wardrobe scan. Thereafter, she revamps your entire cupboard, discarding unwanted clothes and making a whole new range of separates.

Women are willing to experiment with styles that flatter them, says Bhawnani. Men, on the other hand, “are afraid to experiment and sometimes need us to push them that extra bit and assure them it’s going to be worth it,” she points out.

XY Personal Shoppers also offer customised corporate grooming and kitty party grooming. “Our customer profile is diverse, just like our services. It depends on the service people opt for. For instance, we have NRI clients who come to Mumbai only to shop for weddings. But we also accompany city couples when they go on shopping expeditions to look for wedding outfits or gifts for their in-laws ,” says Rashmi Hemrajani of XY Personal Shoppers. The sex ratio of their clientele is surprisingly balanced. “We have also had times when the man has introduced his wife/girlfriend to us for a makeover,” says Hemrajani.

THE GIFT REGISTRY
All newly wed couples know that feeling of despair when they open the umpteenth box of glass bowls. To avoid such eventualities, shops and e-commerce websites suggest that you shamelessly tell your guests what you want for a gift. This gets into a gift registry. “One of the main challenges here is the ‘what will people think’ mindset,” says Candice Pereira, creative head of Marry Me wedding planners in Mumbai, which recently handled a wish list for a bridal shower. “This was easier as the bridal shower is more intimate. The guest list included the bride’s close friends and immediate family.” “The concept is well ahead of its time here,” says Aparna Dalal of lamhe.co.in, which is pitched as India’s premier online gift registry service. The store is now planning to launch the service officially. To use it, you have to sign a formal agreement form stating the minimum number of gifts that guests will buy. If you fall short, you pay by way of compensation . “This way, we ensure that our efforts — printing letters and the like — are not wasted,” says Vandana Sarawgi of Amrapali. She has been contemplating an official launch for two years but kept postponing it for the fear that the conservative Indian mindset might not take too well to it. The change, obviously, is here.

DOWN AND ACROSS
Turn bus around to find a port,” reads the first clue of the cryptic crossword she had received from her radio jockey fiance on her birthday. “USB,” the avid Crossword solver filled in, excitedly, before going on to crack the entire puzzle containing witty clues about herself, her name, her favourite colour among other personal idiosyncracies.

Yazad Dotiwala, who supplies crosswords to newspapers, was the man behind this unusual birthday present. Dotiwala, who started designing crosswords based on personality traits on a friend’s behest a month ago, is now inundated with such requests four to five times a month. Unlike the standard newspaper crosswords that he designs in ten minutes, these personal crosswords take longer. They entail getting feedback for a set of questions about the person. “These puzzles require client participation. Sometimes people are not willing to spend that amount of time or energy disclosing details. They look for a readymade personal puzzle which is not possible,” says Dotiwala.

With inputs from Diya Banerjee from Delhi, Somdatta Basu in Kolkata, Harit Mehta in Ahmedabad and Jayashree Nandi in Bangalore

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