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Local artists need better visibility online, here’s how these M’sian sisters are helping

More platforms in Malaysia are filling the gaps in the local art industry, such as Buttermilk which serves as a “yellow pages” for it, and Cult Creative which works similar to “LinkedIn” for local artists.

These platforms are meant to help with local artists’ visibility and networking by consolidating them all in one place. Usually, Malaysian artists then rely on bazaars and their own social media to sell their work.

This was where two sisters, Dana and Elina, noticed that we lack a go-to marketplace (both online and in-store) specifically focused on visual arts that people could buy from. That was what led to the creation of OUTLET.

A one-stop-shop for local art

As an average consumer who isn’t too familiar with the local arts scene, I find it hard to buy local for the exact reason that Dana and Elina mentioned.

Because there isn’t a notable one-stop-shop for local visual art, I’d just get generic art from a shop that probably mass produces paintings or IKEA.

“Once we thought about this even more, we felt a growing desire to start a platform cum marketplace where people can discover artists and buy their work,” Dana and Elina shared with Vulcan Post. 

Prints by artists Sherwan (left) and Fabiola (right) / Image Credit: OUTLET, Sherwan, and Fabiola

So the sisters made their first dive into the e-commerce scene to solve this pain point for both local artists and consumers. They run OUTLET on the side, as Dana is an art psychotherapist and Elina works in communications with the publishing and music industries. 

Appealing to a variety of tastes

On how the duo sources the works that are listed on OUTLET, they shared that they currently have consigned products as well as exclusive collaborations.

“With consignments, we approach artists (or vice versa) who already have existing products that they would like to sell on our platform. As for exclusive collaborations, we reach out to artists we would like to collaborate with to sell products that are exclusively sold on our platform only,” they said.

Some ready-made art pieces have a few units in stock whereas some don’t, and the number of units is mutually agreed upon by both OUTLET and the artists. These numbers also depend on whether or not they’re open or limited edition.

Dictionary Time: The difference between open edition and limited edition is that limited editions are usually original artworks that an artist developed in a specific print medium. Open editions however, are a selection of artworks that can be repeatedly reproduced. Most open edition prints allow for an unlimited number of the same artwork for purchase.

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On OUTLET’s page, you can find a variety of art prints that range in style, from minimalistic to vibrant ones. The art prints are priced around RM15 to RM90 depending on size and medium, and there are also original tote bags sold at RM25.

Going to where customers already are

“When we did our survey prior to launching OUTLET, we noticed there was a majority who weren’t willing to spend too much money on art prints,” Dana and Elina recalled. 

“Although this seemed like something that could possibly hold us back as a business, we believe in the value of artists and their work, hence we’re using OUTLET as a platform to try and create more of a demand.”

Plant-inspired prints by artist Shan Shan / Image Credit: OUTLET and Shan Shan

Currently, their main channel of sales is Instagram, but they’re also facilitating transactions on Facebook. Reason being that they find these social media platforms the best ways for customers to discover emerging and established artists.

Additionally, this helps Dana and Elina build their social media presence, but they’ve said that they’re also working on a website that will be launched soon. 

Their current method of selling the prints through PMs may still be sustainable at this scale, but a website is definitely the right next move to make if they wish to establish themselves more firmly as a benefactor in the industry.

While they may lose that personal touch of making a sale through messages, having a site that can facilitate e-commerce transactions can smoothen the customer journey and allow purchases to be made virtually any time.

Bringing out artists among the underprivileged

OUTLET isn’t a social enterprise, but Dana and Elina also felt that it was important to include artists from less privileged communities to partake in the market as well. 

Therefore, they’re helping to sell tote bags made by Life2Life Ampang Sewing Centre, a social enterprise that provides refugee asylum seekers with opportunities to make a livelihood with their skills. This group also works with social enterprise Love, Light, Lemons.

Simple tote bags that still make a statement / Image Credit: OUTLET

“With this philosophy at heart, some of our upcoming products with artists will have part of the proceeds going towards a chosen charity or cause,” the sisters shared with Vulcan Post. 

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Delving into e-commerce with products that Malaysians aren’t the most willing to splurge on is undoubtedly going to be a challenge for OUTLET. 

While it might be difficult to change that spending behaviour among Malaysians (if OUTLET’s survey responses are anything to go by), OUTLET is still creating an opportunity for that to change.

It’s early days yet, but if the startup can gain enough traction, this will open up more opportunities for other businesses to do the same to the benefit of the local artist community.

  • You can learn more about OUTLET here.
  • You can read about more art-related startups we’ve covered here.

Featured Image Credit: Dana and Elina, founders of OUTLET (left) and Afi, the artist of the fruit paintings (right)




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