Handcrafting a hit weekend business

Swathy Sivram of IIM Lucknow-Noida campus creates customized dolls. (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

If there is one thing Swathy Sivram, 32, can’t do, it’s quit. By day, the marketing manager works at L-incubator, a business incubator at Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow’s Noida campus. Her evenings and weekends, on the other hand, are dedicated to her business: hand-stitching customized dolls. Sivram’s dolls are soft, pastel-toned fabric miniatures made in the likeness of real people, complete with quirky accessories, and they have found a growing customer base around the country.

Creatively wired

Sivram first began to channel her artistic side in earnest in 2010, while she was pursuing her master’s degree in sustainable development practices at Birla Institute of Management Technology in Noida. She started designing cards as a hobby, but her friends insisted they were good enough to sell. Finally, in 2014, Sivram started a Facebook page, Glam n Craft Studio, to share her creations. Later that year, she discovered the craft of copper-wire jewellery on Pinterest. Sivram was keen to experiment. “I went to an electrical shop and I got 1kg of copper wire, and I started working with basic pliers,” she says. She also took the time to research the craft and invested in specialized tools, and in 2015, she participated in a fete in Thiruvananthapuram. At the time, she had just wrapped up a tenure as project officer with the 35th National Games Organising Committee in Trivandrum, and was able to take a month and a half off work to focus on preparing 300 copper-wire jewellery pieces for the fete. “That was a very big milestone for me. It was proof that if you’re truly passionate, you can achieve anything.”

Hoops and dreams

In early 2019, Sivram’s work with copper-wire jewellery eventually led her to try her hand at embroidery. She was especially inspired by the work of Brazilian artist Ana Carolina, who creates wool-embroidered cartoon portraits with three-dimensional hair styles—hair that appears to cascade from the embroidered hoop. A customer who came across Sivram’s experiments on social media requested an embroidered portrait of her husband, with a three-dimensional beard. It was something Sivram didn’t think she could do professionally yet but the customer encouraged her to take the leap. “It came out really well,” Sivram says.

When Sivram eventually began experimenting with creating miniature dolls, the orders came pouring in. She charges 1,500 for a 2-3inch doll, while 6-7inch dolls are priced 1,600-2,000, and 9-12inch dolls range from 3,500-5,000 based on the design.

In April 2019, Sivram changed her brand name to “Arty Tales by Swathy Sivram”—a catchier name with a more personal touch. “That’s where my marketing side came in,” she laughs. For Sivram, finding the balance between her work and her hobby is seamless, she even has a dedicated craft studio in her house, but it does mean compromising on other aspects of her life. “I used to travel once every three months, but now I don’t remember stepping out of my house.” Sivram wakes up at 6am to work on her craft for two hours before she leaves for the office. On the commute to work, she works on editing and scheduling her social media posts for the day. She leaves work by 5.30pm and is home within an hour. “By 7.30pm, at any cost, I am back in my studio,” Sivram says “and I work till 1-1.30am.” Sivram is currently booked through till March 2020, and has over 20 orders in the pipeline, each of which will take over a week to make. Needless to say, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “The way people appreciate my work, the kind of feedback I get, that keeps me going,” she says. Another major source of support is her husband, who is equally invested in her craft. “If I want something, he will ensure I have it on my table,” she says.

Sivram has conducted embroidery workshops in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Gurugram and Delhi, and offers regular online workshops via Instagram as well. Priced at 2,500, the online course includes interactive live steams, video tutorials and a Quirky Hoop embroidery kit. To ensure work-life balance, she plans ahead and schedules enough down-time with closed ones. As for her full-time job, she has benefited from the practice of creative thinking, not to mention the exercise of marketing her own brand. As of now, Sivram is more than happy balancing her work and her hobby, and has no intention of giving up either one. “When I am out of my job, or if I am not in touch with art, I always feel that some part of me is missing,” she insists. “Both of these together make me what I am.”