Bengaluru welcomes its popular flea market, Kitsch Mandi, this coming Sunday, March 27. Its founder, Laila Vaziralli studied art and photography at the University of Arts in London, and then worked on documentary photography projects in Tanzania and India. She also taught art and design at a non-profit school in Mumbai. Realising that creativity and community were her passion, she launched Kitsch Mandi in 2011 – a festival showcasing emerging artists, product designers and musicians. The festival is now held in Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Delhi.
Laila also works on projects that combine art and social impact like the recent Dharavi Biennale in Mumbai. Other upcoming projects include an artist network called Junta. Laila joins us in this interview on the rise of Kitsch Mandi, the importance of community rituals and networks for artists, and tips for entrepreneurs. (See also YourStory’s earlier coverage of Sunday Soul Sante, Chitra Santhe and Mini Maker Faire.)
YS: How did you get started down the Kitsch Mandi path?
LV: I grew up in a very creative environment and went to a school (The Valley School) that encouraged free thinking. I studied art through school, and then went on to study photography in London. I worked part-time jobs in London at a local flea market, which is when I realised that I loved the way a buyer bought a piece of art at a market versus a gallery or a shop.
I came back to India, and worked several art-related jobs before trying my hand at Kitsch Mandi. It was an experiment with no expectations. We had a bunch of artist friends who needed a platform and we created an event around it.
YS: What was the vision behind the founding of Kitsch Mandi, and how has it evolved over the years?
LV: The vision initially was to create a physical space where a variety of people and ages could come together to interact with artists, buy from local designers and meet like-minded people. Now our vision is to really create work for the artist community, to foster growth of creative individuals in the city. The Junta artist community website will be up by the end of April, but we have already started Junta projects.
YS: What are some themes you’ve had over the years, and is there a theme or motto for the next one?
LV: Because our events are not huge and overwhelming, we usually try and set a loose theme. Some of them have been literature where we had books, typography, poetry as inspiration – or traditional Indian crafts where we invited a few rural artisans and created decor inspired by Gond art of Madhya Pradesh.
For our next event we are tying up with Round Table of India, which will support the National Association for the Blind (NAB). The theme this time is ‘feel’ – with music, decor and so on, all inspired by texture.
YS: You earlier partnered with Startup Festival and TiE Bangalore. What other partnerships have you developed?
LV: We recently partnered with ‘The Coalition’ held in Delhi, and I personally was the curator of the art section of the panel discussions. We will be partnering with the ‘Under 25 Summit’ this year too.
We have partnered with a few makerspaces in Bengaluru for workshops, and hope to get more makers involved in creating installations. We love collaborating, as it allows us to meet new talent and interesting people.
YS: In how many cities are you operating now, and how do the fairs differ?
LV: Three – we do Mumbai once a year in a big way with Celebrate Bandra. It is a four-day festival, a bit bigger than the Bengaluru one. Bengaluru is still intimate with a smaller number of showcasing designers. We recently held a fair in Delhi with The Coalition. We have also done two events in Pune earlier.
YS: Would it make sense to start a ‘permanent’ flea market in Bengaluru? Are there such permanent flea markets in other Indian cities?
LV: There is Dilli Haat in Delhi, and a few others. Abroad, there are many weekend flea markets. It takes a lot of effort and time for a small startup vendor to sit at a flea market all week long, or employ people who can do that.
I think most people find it exciting that it happens once every now and then and the novelty is what boosts sales. Also these days the Internet is an online permanent flea market!
YS: Which bands do you have playing this year, and how do you select them?
LV: The bands are usually selected based on how likeable they will be to all age groups. We do provide indie upcoming bands a chance to play in front of a big audience and try and encourage innovation in music.
I select the bands, and friends from the music industry sometimes recommend them. We had Barmer Boys from Rajasthan at our last event, and the next one will have Tejas Menon from Mumbai and Ankur and the Ghalat Family from Mumbai.
YS: What are the selection criteria for artist booths? How does the economics of the fair work out?
LV: We look at design, sustainability, and innovation. We do not take vendors who source products from elsewhere. We also like to take as many artists as possible.
Stall rents are between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000. Sales at an event for a vendor is typically about Rs 40,000 on average. The entrance fee for a visitor is Rs 200. This model makes for not the best profits; we do make profits but because we want to keep the fair size small and intimate. It's hard to do that and make as much as other flea markets in the city.
YS: Do you cooperate with other flea markets to stagger your dates so that there is no overlap? And how do you differentiate from them?
LV: The Soul Sante team are our friends, so yes, we discuss dates. But yes, we are different since we are heavily curated, intimate, and only have 45 stalls at our event.
YS: What are your tips for the aspiring startups and entrepreneurs in our audience?
- Keep it unique and true to what you truly want to do.
- Go out there and meet as many people as possible. I know I hate socialising, but sometime it helps!
- Don't look for quick fixes, it is the organic growth that people appreciate.