Deepavali bazaar vendors dig deep to come up with unique wares

Vendors at the Deepavali Festival Village bazaar are bringing in unique items to boost sales

Vendors at the annual Deepavali Festival Village in Little India are responding to the tougher economic climate and tighter purse strings with more creative and attractive products, instead of just slashing prices.

Ms Madhuri Lata, co-owner of accessories stall Jayaram's Creation, tells The Straits Times that sales "have been slower" than in previous years since the Festival Village opened on Sept 24. She says that crowds are also smaller.

On top of that, "customers are asking for more discounts", she adds.

Ms Lata, 48, is one of 30 stallholdersat the iconic Festival Village, a one-stop shop for festive decorations, accessories and goodies.

She also owns a business in shopping mall Little India Arcade, selling jewellery such as bangles and earrings.

She makes an effort to bring in other items, including decorative lights, door hangings and the latest style of evening bags from India, to her stall at the bazaar.

"A few months before the bazaar every year, my business partner and I travel to India to suss out the latest trends and look for new items that weren't sold the year before," she adds.

The Festival Village, in Campbell Lane and Hastings Road, will run till Oct 28, the eve of Deepavali.

The majority of the vendors at the Village have participated in the fair since it began in 2001. Most of them own brick-and-mortar businesses along Campbell Lane or in Little India Arcade.

Like Ms Lata, many of the vendors travel to Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and other parts of India as early as the start of the year to source for new items to sell at the Village.

Ms Siva Selvarasi, co-director of and designer at Celebration Of Arts, an Indian handicraft and home furnishing store, believes this is necessary.

"We want to offer something different that customers cannot find elsewhere," she says.

Her store has a huge variety of items, ranging from round embroidered cushions to colourful lanterns to an imposing life-sized brass lion statue.

She does not think the weaker economy this year is the only reason her business has experienced poorer sales - the 51-year-old says that her sales at the Village have dropped "20 to 30 per cent over the past three years".

Another reason may be that there are other players on the Deepavali bazaar scene.

Besides the Village, there is also the annual month-long Deepavali Fair, just opposite Mustafa Centre, selling ethnic Indian wear, accessories and jewellery.

There is also Zak Salaam India Expo, a bazaar at the Singapore Expo, with more than 100 vendors from India selling festive items. Its 18th edition took place last week.

To remain competitive, the owners of handicraft and gift stall J&G Exclusive at the Village are designing more of their own items.

This year, Mr Ganes Kannasamy, 42, and his wife Pushpa Jothi, 43, conceptualised 20 per cent of their 30 types of products, up from 5 per cent last year. These include embellished incense-holders and unique evening bags.

"Our regular customers tell us that many of the shops at the bazaar sell the same stuff and they are looking for exclusive items," he says.

The couple took heed and, so far, sales have been good for the uniquely designed items. Ten out of the 15 evening bags they brought in, for example, have been sold. The bags cost $145 each.

A third issue vendors face is rising rent at the Village.

Mr Rajakumar Chandra, chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, which manages the bazaar, attributes this to the costs incurred in applying for a temporary occupation licence to use two pieces of state land. The licence has been required only in recent times.

For now, Village vendors are hopeful as there are still two weeks to go before the Festival of Lights.

"A lot of shoppers come only during the final week leading up to Deepavali, so I expect business to pick up," says Mr Kannasamy.

As housewife Reina Ghoel, 30, who was at the bazaar, says: "I need to buy decorations and other Deepavali items and it comes only once a year."


New finds at Deepavali Festival Village

Step into the Deepavali Festival Village in Hastings Road and Campbell Lane and one might not know where to look.

Brightly coloured door hangings graze one's head while a hodgepodge of items that range from tea lights to rangolis (floor decorations) to festive cookies greet visitors. One stall even has two golden Laughing Buddha statues on display.

The Straits Times susses out five new items being sold at the bazaar this year.


Silk-thread jhumkas

The Deepavali Festival Village is an iconic annual Deepavali event.

Jhumkas - distinctive bell-shaped earrings with tiny pearls or gold or silver pieces hanging from their rims - are classic Indian-style earrings and a trendy accessory.

These earrings have been given an update and now come in a silk-thread version in different sizes and colours.

Want to make a total splash this Deepavali? Go for the earrings that come in more unusual designs such as the miniature jhumkas dangling within a hoop.

Where: Jayaram's Creation, the first stall on Hastings Road at the bazaar's entrance

Cost: From $5 for a small pair of earrings to $10 for a large pair

Info: Call 6392-1921


Half-moon evening bags

The Deepavali Festival Village is an iconic annual Deepavali event.

With half-moon bags trending in the fashion world, the Indians have adapted the crescent style into evening accessories perfect for a wedding dinner or glitzy gala.

Jayaram's Creation offers these bags as well as accessories, lights and decorations.

Brought in from Mumbai, India, the lightweight handbags come in a range of shapes and are studded with artificial diamonds.

Where: Jayaram's Creation, the first stall on Hastings Road at the bazaar's entrance

Cost: $15

Info: Call 6392-1921


Embellished incense-holder

The Deepavali Festival Village is an iconic annual Deepavali event.

Customers of handicraft and gift stall J&G Exclusive told the stall owners that they want more "pimped up" offerings for Deepavali, and the owners rose to the challenge by designing their own unique offerings.

One of these is a striking red standing incense-holder which is studded with artificial gemstones.

Only a limited number are available. The stall-owners had it produced in India.

This gussied-up version can double as a decorative piece too.

Where: J&G Exclusive, third stall on the right along Campbell Lane from the bazaar's entrance

Price: $20

Info: Call 9775-7363 or e-mail jgexclusive@yahoo.com


Decorated round cushion

The Deepavali Festival Village is an iconic annual Deepavali event.

Do not be square, at least when it comes to cushions.

A new offering at a stall opened by Indian handicraft and home furnishing shop Celebration Of Arts is a vividly coloured round cushion with pom-poms running along the circumference. It is hand-crafted in Mumbai, India, and embroidered with designs that run from tribal to floral.

Where: Celebration Of Arts, opposite the entrance of the Indian Heritage Centre on Campbell Lane

Price: $28 for a cushion and cover or $20 for a cover

Info: Call 6392-0769


The Deepavali Festival Village is an iconic annual Deepavali event.

Quirky evening bag

Do not mistake this handbag for a lantern or a decorative piece to hang from your door.

Sold at handicraft and gift stall J&G Exclusive, this quirky raindrop-shaped bag bears intricate detailing using artificial gemstones and gold tassels.

This bag was designed by Ms Pushpa Jothi, wife of the stall's co-owner Ganes Kannasamy, who also designed 14 other unique pieces, which all come in different shapes such as a diamond and a globe. She took two months to conceptualise the bags and had them produced in India.

Ten bags have already been sold.

Where: J&G Exclusive, third stall on the right along Campbell Lane from the bazaar's entrance

Cost: $145

Info: Call 9775-7363, or e-mail jgexclusive@yahoo.com


Neighbouring fair for clothes and accessories

The annual Deepavali Festival Village along Campbell Lane and Hastings Road is not the only bazaar in Little India during the festive period.

There is also the Deepavali Fair, a 10-minute stroll from the Festival Village towards the open field opposite department store Mustafa Centre.

The Festival Village's main draws are decorations and festive goodies. The Fair entices with mostly Indian ethnic wear and accessories, although it can seem no different from any other neighbourhood pasar malam as more than half the stalls are peddling non-festive items such as mobile phone cases and household goods.

The Festival Village, which has been organised annually by the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association since 2001, is the most iconic Deepavali event despite featuring just 30 vendors. It is open daily till Oct 28.

The Deepavali Fair, on the other hand, is helmed by different operators from year to year. It has more than 200 stalls and is open daily till Oct 29. It is not known how long the Deepavali Fair has been in operation as its organisers change frequently, but some vendors say they have been there for 20 years.

More than 20 stalls display colourful anarkali (a woman's long frock-style outfit), gowns and kurtas (long loose shirts). A full outfit for women can go for as low as $25, instead of the usual $45.

Some of these clothing stalls also offer costume jewellery, shoes and festive treats.

Many of the vendors selling clothing do not see the Deepavali Festival Village as competition.

Mr Mohamed Rashid, 40, co-owner of Reena Fashion, which has an outlet in Little India, took three units at this year's Deepavali Fair.

He says: "Our regular customers know that we will always be here and it's a different market at the other bazaar. People go there more for Deepavali decorations."

Another vendor, Mr Amjad Khan, 37, adds that there is more space at the Deepavali Fair to display his items, compared with the Village.

He co-owns Faiqah's Collection, which has two outlets in Joo Chiat Complex and Geylang Serai Market selling Malay garments such as baju kurung. However, each year, he heads to India to source for outfits for the annual Deepavali Fair.

Higher rentals and a weaker economy this year mean vendors are working extra hard to turn a profit.

However, Mr Mohamed is confident his business will not suffer too much as he counts on his regular customers, many of whom hail from across the Causeway.

"Seventy per cent of them are Malaysians. They like the latest designs we bring in and are willing to travel here," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline 'Deepavali goods get creative '. Print Edition | Subscribe