What do you get when you take a common item of clothing and turn it into statement piece? In Butta’s case, they are experiencing quiet the fanfare. Their original t-shirts continue to earn points for creativity and wit.
But they claim they are not only cashing in on fashion’s eternal love for such statement t-shirts. It’s equally as much about giving creative Nepalis an artistic platform, say the people behind Butta. Butta’s CEO, Sabin Bhandari, gives The Week a sneak peek behind their business.
Bhandari shares that he is actually a computer engineer student. Designing is apparently more of a hobby and business is just something he has had to learn as they started working on Threadpaints. But, even back in those days, the now-CEO of Butta says that they saw a big gap between the available creative resources and the opportunities given to them.
Bhandari and his team had already begun experimenting with designing t-shirts for Threadpaints. When the website put out some original designs, he says, they started getting queries from other designers. There were many of them who were keen to collaborate, asking how they could get their designs on sale for them as well. Threadpaints did take on the collaboration offers but eventually the number of those interested became so huge that Bhandari and his team yet again made another decision, to begin anew with Butta.
“We have so many artists and illustrators but they are rarely ever given a platform. That’s how our local scene is,” elaborates Bhandari, “So by bridging this gap in the market, in our own small way, we opened ourselves to many possibilities.”
The logistics of it all
It’s not that there haven’t been independent artists who have branched out or, at least, tried to start off with their own businesses. Be it t-shirts, accessories, or stationeries, many more today are trying to put their creations out there in the market. But they are still in the minority and Bhandari thinks this is only natural because the hassle of it all can’t be underestimated.
There is a lot one will have to learn and, even then, the implementation of it continues to be tricky. From printing mechanisms to the quality of fabrics, there are many factors to be taken into consideration but with Butta artists don’t have to bother with it all.
“That’s why we primarily call ourselves a platform. You can focus on the designing. We will take care of the rest for you,” says Bhandari.
Further, two years on, and Bhandari reveals getting their t-shirts up for sale is still challenging from time to time. He talks about how every manufacturer has different mechanisms of working and there is a still a lot of inconsistency.
Originality, creativity, authenticity
Clearly, there are many artists and illustrators who find this idea appealing. With Butta looking after the logistics, the designers were free to log in and start selling immediately. It wasn’t long before Butta were showcasing 200-300 designs. Today though, Bhandari reveals, they are being more selective.
He explains, “While the open platform was popular, eventually we came across problems with copied or substandard designs. We knew in the long run this would harm the brand we were trying to build. We don’t want to compromise on originality.”
So now there is a more selective approach. The majority of designs at Butta are still the byproduct of collaboration with freelance artists but now they have started to filter the work that is submitted to them. There are apparently teams that cross checks the designs before putting them up for sale.
Bhandari also reveals that in total they have 50 artists working with them and that has been cut down from 82 last year. While they don’t dictate deadlines or the number of submissions required, Butta apparently does ask for designs on specific themes every now and then. The rest, however, is all up to the artists. He seems to think allowing creative freedom brings out the best results.
Then there is the matter of payment and credit. Local artists tend to struggle on both counts quite frequently but Butta is striving to be fair and professional about it all. Credits can be seen in each of their available designs and where payment is concerned they apparently share sales data every week with their artists. Each designer can see the number of his designs that have been sold and come around to collect their royalty accordingly. At the moment, artists get Rs 200-250 for the sale of each t-shirt that costs Rs 1000.
Making of the brand
“I have resigned to the fact that this is going to take time,” says Bhandari. While you can spot Butta t-shirts around town a lot more than before, he agrees that there are still many people who aren’t aware of the platform and their work.
So, in the meantime, the plan is to continue collaborating with creative artists, experiment with fabrics and prints, and also strengthen the platform by hosting competitions and workshops. Just recently they announced the winner of a t-shirt design contest that had a cash prize as well as the chance to get their own designs on sale.
Suman Khanal, a designer who has been collaborating with Butta since 2016, shares his hopes for more such opportunities for his art and design community. “Things like these help us build our portfolio as well as get our artwork among the masses. If Butta would share their artists’ profile, for instance, it would be even better. But still this is a beginning,” says Khanal.
Khanal also shares experiences of trying to collaborate with international websites for similar projects but apparently getting a designs approval is trickier with them so local platforms like Butta can help fill that void.
Bhandari has heard it as well. The support and interest of the artist community for the business is apparent. Many designers have been asking Butta to expand their product line to shoes, mobile and laptop cases and so on. “All in good time,” concludes Bhandari.