It is a wish that every inveterate online shopper has felt at some point— wouldn’t it be great if you could touch, feel and try the products? For a few weeks, online fashion store Freecultr made this wish come true. Anyone who walked into DLF Promenade in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi was greeted by a temporary store with a simple modus operandi: try the products here, order them online. Mission accomplished, the store packed up.
These ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ shops are part of the pop-up phenomenon which was born in the recession-hit West. Want people to try out your food but have no money to open a restaurant? Set up a pop-up restaurant on your terrace and invite people over. Want to organise an art show but a gallery is too expensive? Hire an empty shop or factory floor and you’re good to go.
For Nandini Sood and Anupama Bhat of Goma, setting up a pop-up restaurant in one of their friends’ home was a promotional tactic for their catering service. “It’s good when you’re starting out — you put the word out and people come by,” said Sood. The thumbs-up that their Japanese ‘restaurant’ got has led them to do more such pop-ups. “It’s a different experience from a normal restaurant. We don’t have wait staff, we do everything ourselves.”
Similar dining experiences are happening elsewhere. Gipsy Cinema, a travelling cinema club based in London, created a makeshift, Parisian-styled café for three days over Valentine’s day week on the rooftop of a five-star hotel in Mumbai. On the menu? Some delicious Italian grub, and the Audrey Hepburn classic, Roman Holiday.
The sense of an intimate, more personal space was what first prompted sisters-in-law Mandira Lamba and Ridhi Bhalla to start Fab Connection. Once every two months they transform the first floor of a posh house in south Delhi’s Anand Niketan into a curated fashion store. “People come here for the experience. We give advice on complete outfits or dress them for an occasion,” said Lamba. This is exactly what drew Samridhi Sehgal, a regular. “When it’s the wedding season, they have funky sarees; at the start of summer, swimwear and hats,” she said.
The duo pick and choose merchandise from designers such as Shivan and Narresh, Arjun Saluja, Amit Aggarwal etc — edgy couture compared to conventional stores.
Some of the most interesting applications of the concept have been seen in the world of art. In January, journalist Sonya Fatah, architect Nishant Lal and design store owner Inderpal Singh Kochar took an unused floor in Jor Bagh market in Delhi and conjured up Kona, a pop-up design fair. “We were drawing up plans to turn the space into a gallery. In the meantime, we thought, why not use it to do something temporary?” said Lal. Similarly, Museum of Memories, a free one-day ‘museum’ was organised on a vacant 60,000-sq-ft warehouse in Vikhroli, Mumbai, a day before it was demolished.
Real-estate prices and space constraints stand to further boost the popularity of pop-up establishments. “I’m actually surprised the pop-up culture didn’t catch on earlier,” says Kevin Lobo, co-editor of art collective Visual Disobedience. “With comparatively little money available for culture, pop-up is the best way forward.”
Profitable or not?
The very nature of the pop-up movement means that making money isn’t the aim, it’s incidental. The intangible returns can be huge, but, at the end of the day, all these events are about selling — be it food, clothes or the hottest new artists. How lucrative are these stores?
“A pop-up event is much more feasible, in terms of investment, set-up and preparation time, than a permanent project or space. From the consumers’ perspective, it satisfies the growing thirst for novel experiences. Technology and social media networks have also made it easier and more cost-effective to spread awareness about transient events” said Ajit Ranade, economist.
“To be honest, it’s not terribly profitable. We source our ingredients from abroad, but we only charge a reasonable amount since it’s a pop-up restaurant,” said Sood. “I don’t think only doing pop-ups is a viable option”.
With inputs from Humaira Ansari in Mumbai