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In post-pandemic world, homegrown saree brands weave stories on social media – The Indian Express

With Reels, live streams and 1-minute videos, entrepreneurs increase social media visibility, see revenues go up
NEW DELHI: “Every saree has a story to tell,” says Sayali Rajadhyaksha, the founder and owner of an eponymous fashion label that specialises in handloom weaves and block-printed blouses. “They are lifelong. You can’t attach the same memories or emotions to any other garment.”
The 51-year-old journalist-turned-entrepreneur has been pursuing her passion for textiles since 2017 when she first launched her brand and opened a studio in Mumbai’s Vile Parle East. But it was when the coronavirus pandemic forced Rajadhyaksha to move her business online that she really struck gold.

Like thousands of other small business owners across the world, she discovered the infinite potential of social media for retail. On Instagram and Facebook, Rajadhyaksha, who also runs a popular Marathi food and lifestyle blog, was able to combine her love for storytelling with her passion for selling sarees. During the initial months of the first Covid-induced lockdown, she began to share videos showcasing her sarees on social media.

In these “one-take” videos, most of which are unedited and shot entirely on her iPhone, Rajadhyaksha roughly drapes each saree, describing them in vivid detail, so that her customers get the full effect. “These videos were very simple, but they began to get a great response,” she recalls. “I’ve had some of my customers tell me that they are fans of mine. They say they watch my videos before going to bed. To me, that’s a great compliment.”
Quickly, her sales began to pick up. By the end of 2022, Rajadhyaksha’s business revenue had grown three times as compared to the previous year, she tells indianexpress.com.

Like ‘Sayali Rajadhyaksha Sarees’, hundreds of clothing stores and boutiques across the country employed social media tools like Reels and live streams to reach out to their customers during the pandemic. While some stuck to pre-recorded content, many have made full use of the ‘live’ feature on Instagram and Facebook, where they display their wares and interact with prospective buyers in real time.
A Facebook survey conducted in 2021 found that there was a 200 per cent increase in the use of Live videos during the pandemic. At the same time, consumer behaviour was also drastically changing. The same survey discovered that about 52 per cent of online brand discovery happens in public social feeds.
Perhaps the only positive outcome of the pandemic was that people started to take online shopping seriously, notes Kolkata-based businesswoman Satarupa Dey. “Everyone was at home. When they weren’t working, they were on social media. I was able to get a lot of customers during this time.”
With her quirky and conversational daily live streams, Dey has been able to expand her client base to Australia, Dubai and the UK, she says. Her Facebook page ‘Satarupa Creations’, where she has been selling both sarees and jewellery since 2020, has garnered nearly 40,000 likes and her regular ‘lives’ get an average of 14,000 views daily. Facebook, the 32-year-old says, is the “backbone” of her business.

With her videos, she hopes to mimic the “shopping mall experience”. “I want people to be able to sit at home and comfortably browse through my products,” she explains.

Both Dey and Rajadhyaksha don’t believe in writing scripts for their videos. “Reading from a script can seem quite robotic,” says Dey. “I want my customers to feel like they are talking to a friend.”
With time, both entrepreneurs were able to pick up some of the tricks of the trade. Rajadhyaksha says that her five-member team in Mumbai was able to significantly improve audio and lighting in her videos. “But they are still shot on my iPhone,” she stresses.
Meanwhile, Sagrika Rai, the founder of the 25-year-old luxury fashion label ‘Warp ‘n Weft’, sees things a little differently. “I launched my boutique brand in 1997 to revive Banarasi textile craftsmanship,” she explains.
To her, scripted videos aren’t necessarily a bad thing. In each video, she delves into the history of Banarasi textiles. The goal, she says, is to start conversations about traditional handloom weaving. “For each video, I jot down notes that I want to highlight. The real challenge is ensuring that I cover all my points within a 1-minute period. It isn’t easy summarising the history, flamboyance and sensibility of each weave that has taken our ‘karigars’ months to make,” she says.
But the increased visibility that social media offers comes with its own share of challenges. All three entrepreneurs have had to deal with a fair bit of trolling and hate comments over the last two years. “I have people from around the world watching my videos. When you go live, especially when you are a woman, you have a lot of people hurling abuses at you to demotivate you,” says Dey. “When you’re speaking to the camera and you see negative comments pop up in the corner of your screen, you do feel bad initially. But now I’ve gotten used to it. It doesn’t bother me.”
Rajadhyaksha initially struggled with fake testimonials on her Facebook page. “There have been people who haven’t bought our products but will leave a review saying that they are too expensive or of poor quality. These are usually businesses that are competing with ours,” she says. “Social media is a powerful tool. But it must be used responsibly.”

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