Business Insight: Shiva Designs Bespoke

Interview with Rima Shiva

Who says you can’t have it all?

Rima Shrivastava, a proud mother of two and the brain behind Shiva Designs Bespoke, has made it her life’s mission to make people’s lives a tad brighter by importing curated luxury handcrafted goods (think gorgeous French silverware by Fourchette & Chie and colourful hand-stitched Anokhi quilts) to her clients’ living spaces. We dropped by her lovely new studio at Cluny Court for a chat.

W+S (Work + Store): What’s the story behind Shiva Designs?

R (Rima): Shiva Design was originally born in Melbourne in 2005 as a home decorating shop. I sold the business when I moved because it was too difficult to run it from another country. When I moved to Singapore in 2009, I noticed all the big malls and big labels but there weren’t many places where you could find handcrafted home goods and that’s what Shiva Designs is.

At the same time, Singapore also has a large expat community that craves this sort of experience so I figured I could start my business again. I set up a studio in the basement of my home and got clients to come in by appointment only.

Initially, we relied solely on word-of-mouth recommendations. We lived in a condo and met some friends who helped us spread the word. My first clients were my own friends or friends of friends. Eventually, the media started to notice us and that certainly gave us a lot of coverage. Now, here we are.

W+S: Do you think it’s important to actively participate in local fairs and events even though your label is already established?

R: It’s always good to get your name out but brands need to be selective of the events they attend. In the earlier days, we tried to do a couple things like school fairs and other local events but they just weren’t the right fit.

Out of the many local fairs, I’ll say that Boutiques is probably the only one that fits with our sensibility and aesthetics. It’s not to say other fairs aren’t great; they are great platforms for labels with one type of product. But we have such a diverse range of products – we can’t just take two pieces of jewellery, two cushions, a couple of scarves, and paintings and put it on the single table provided at small fairs.  The customers won’t understand what we’re trying to convey!

We love Boutiques and have been doing it for the last five years because we can take up such a big space that allows us to replicate the store experience. ‘Boutiques’ is a great marketing tool and has certainly helped us get a lot of new customers.

On top of that, we consistently do pop-ups and host exciting events at our own space. In our experience, hosting our own events seems to bring out the most positive response from the community. Every three months, we host exhibitions or some sort of art salon to engage our clientele. Our events are designed for people to interact and exchange ideas in a very relaxed atmosphere. Sure, they’re also exposed to our products but the main component is to start a discussion. The events help the store stay relevant and allow us to build relationships with our clientele in a more organic way.

W+S: With the increasing popularity of e-commerce, is the concept of brick-and-mortar store still relevant?

R: Definitely! People love to touch and feel. In our experience, up to 70% of our sales still come from our physical store. When people are browsing online, they know what they’re looking for. When people walk into the shop, they wander through the space and are more likely to pick up something that catches their attention.

It is important to have an online presence and that’s precisely why we launched the online store when the business grew. Our online store helps us build a digital presence and makes it easy for people to find us. I’d have to say that many of our local Singaporean customers find us online first before dropping by to check out the store.

Online shopping is great for people who want convenience; with a click of a button, you can get your products delivered to your doorstep. We do need to work on increasing our online revenue that would be fabulous but for now, that’s not our focus. We find that most of our clients, like us, still prefer to walk through the doors.

W+S: Could you share with us your process on determining where to set up shop?

R: When I was looking around last year, the Cluny Court space we’re occupying now was made available to us. We picked this location strategically; a lot of our customers live around the Bukit Timah neighbourhood. We also set up the shop like a living room so people can see how the products are going to look like in their home as opposed to browsing through racks or shelves in a store.

Having a commercial space like this also means we can host events regularly for our clients without inconveniencing our neighbours. Since we’re not located on the ground floor, we can afford to have more flexible opening hours, too. Our store is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 3pm instead of 9am to 10pm. Of course, for customers who can’t make it to our official opening hours, we do open our doors after 3pm and even on weekends.

I’d also strongly urge my clients to make an appointment with me if they want to come in outside of regular hours. I do have a teenager and a three-year-old so flexibility is important to me. I want to be able to spend a lot of time with them. Fortunately, since this place is only five minutes away from my home, if needed, I can drop by to check on my kids and come back to the store for those after-hour appointments.

W+S: Sustainable luxury is a buzzword we often hear these days. Do you think the trend will pass soon?

R: Luxury is such a strange concept. (laughs) It can mean different things to different people. I do consider my work as part of the sustainable luxury movement.

Handcrafted items are a luxury because they are created in small batches and are mostly one-offs. When you buy a product like that, it becomes personal because there’s almost always a little story behind each product. More importantly, the handcrafted goods industry supports this whole community of artists and smaller businesses.

Luxury and sustainability do work hand-in-hand; the quality of handcrafted products reflects that. Our customers are looking for that balance, too. So, yes. I think the sustainable luxury trend is here to stay.

W+S: There is more competition in the sustainable luxury market than ever. How do you stay competitive?

R: By not viewing the competition as a threat to your business!

For us, we have a unique advantage because we have always been curating products that are exclusive to our store. We try our best not to go to the big trade fairs and get the same products that other stores are stocking.

Personally, I’d say Instagram has been a really good platform to search and find new artists or labels. I’m on Instagram all the time! I do think competition is a good thing because it means you need to consistently ask yourself what you can do better.

We recently started collaborating with artists who have beautiful works and host them in our space. We’ve worked with the lovely Skye Jefferys, a well-known artist from Australia whose work was shown at the Australian High Commission just last year – we asked her to create exclusive smaller pieces for our store.

We’re also planning a larger art salon towards the end of the year where we’ll feature works of at least four to five artists in our space.

Shop Shiva Designs Bespoke online or at #04-02 Cluny Court. This interview is part of a series of conversations with small business owners.

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