Fashion stalwarts and founders of Agora Curated, Resham Melwani and Sharmishta Basappa, are perfecting the art of gifting with curated gift-boxes to spread cheer in these worrying times
We all have different ways to find reprieve in these uncertain times. Some enjoy a good workout session, others splurge on good food and alcohol, while the rest of us take pleasure in a little (or a lot of) retail therapy.
For wellness enthusiasts looking for self-care necessities, online lifestyle boutique Agora Curated offers a yogi-approved selection of beautifully-crafted products that inspire, pam- per and uplift the soul. From scented candles to healing stones, perfumes and aromatherapy oils, gratitude journals and Evil Eye bracelets, these gorgeous items are lovingly sourced from a global community of artisans, local producers and wellness practitioners by its founders Resham Melwani and Sharmishta Basappa, whose aim is to elevate our everyday lives with the help of simple tools.
Currently, Agora Curated is created for a primarily female customer base, but will expand down the road to include gifts for men and children. “The Agora woman is modern, juggling between work, family and her own self-care which she makes sure to not neglect. She understands there are so many ways to attend to our well-being and sometimes it can be as simple as being gentle on ourselves or allowing ourselves to indulge without feeling guilty,” says Basappa.
The highlight of the e-commerce website is its Kind Boxes — pre-assembled themed coffrets containing assorted items for the ultimate pampering session complete with exotic names such as the Self Love Mini Kit, Manifest Your Dreams, Moon Goddess Kit, or You Are The Universe.
“We sensed there was a social trend emerging: people needed to find comfort in meaningful objects and gifts. They also reconciled themselves with the idea of self-care again. We thought we could be part of this trend and this is how we decided to go online,” shares Basappa.
The ladies initially set up Agora Curated in 2019 to showcase up-and-coming holistic brands at bespoke events or pop-up showcases in physical spaces around Singapore. But when the lockdown hit, they quickly pivoted and moved online in December 2020 to focus on conscious gifting and wellness.
“Gifting has always been part of the culture I grew up in. This is how I show gratitude, love and admiration and it makes me happy to make other people happy. Aside from regular merchandise, we also provide gifting concierge services for people who want more personalisation and gifting solutions for corporate clients, including customisation of the packaging and collaterals,” says Melwani.
She is the youngest daughter of late fashion retailing pioneer, Moti Melwani of Jay Gee Enterprises, that distributes well-known fashion and wellness brands like Aldo, T.M. Lewin, Denizen and Holland & Barrett. A fashion designer in her own right, she used to manage eco-conscious lifestyle brand Maiasa, but these days Melwani is busy parenting her six-year-old son and managing Agora Curated.
“I think growing up around fashion has helped me see clearly the vision I have for Agora: beautiful products that embody a way of life. Before, it was always about finding things with the ‘cool’ factor, but now I find it easier to make the connection with wellness. The brands we represent now all share the same values — that self-care and self-love is a must,” she elaborates.
Indian national Basappa, who is a new mum-to-be, hails from a public relations and business development background. Before coming to Singapore, she worked in the fashion industry and also founded House of Satori, an online store with sustainable fashion labels.
“Resham and I met through common friends. We both were auto-entrepreneurs at the time and had access to different audiences and networks of creative brands, so we thought why not try to bring it together and curate unique small events together. This is how our first collaboration started,” she reveals.
“From the time we first met, I felt a good connection as we both shared similar tastes and convictions,” says Melwani on Basappa. “Having a business partner helps me see things with more perspective because she brings another set of skills to the table which is all the more beneficial for the business. Our relationship is very balanced and honest. We understand each other very well and know and respect our different working styles.”
While Basappa handles business development, operations and finance, Melwani takes care of marketing and customer relations. “Having to wear many hats is really part of the entrepreneur journey, especially at the beginning. We definitely have our preferences on what aspects of the business we can manage, but eventually we also share and communicate a lot and we will always make decisions collectively,” says Basappa.
In this interview with Options, the duo introduce Agora Curated and recommend their favourite items.
What does Agora Curated mean?
Melwani: Agora in ancient Greek means ‘gathering space’ — a central public space in the city that serves as a meeting ground for various activities and citizens. The agora was the centre of the social, cultural, economical and political life of the city. Even though women at the time were not as present as men in the public space, they would gather inside the agora in Athens to hold religious festivals performed for women only.
Basappa: We both liked the symbolism around this word and felt it represented well our intent to create a space, a platform, where we could bring creative brands of women together.
What was the process like getting the business off the ground?
Basappa: When we started in 2019, we did not know how it would evolve. We also allowed ourselves to test and learn things naturally. We both knew there were so many designers and creative brands who operated independently and were craving for more small, nicely curated events where they could access a different pool of customers. That was the push for us to start organising such events. From there, we managed to consolidate a network of contacts that we can reactivate now that we have moved online and focused on the digital boutique.
Is there an advantage to launching your website during a pandemic?
Basappa: Launching our business during the pandemic added a layer of uncertainty and stress as we really could not anticipate how people would react. Somehow what was unique was that this period allowed unconventional business models to come to life. We made a bet and we were lucky it turned out to be a good decision.
Melwani: Even though there were moments of doubt, it was empowering to be able to transform adversity into something that adds value to people. Somehow, the pandemic has brought us back to things that are as simple and essential as self-care.
How do you shortlist your vendors?
Basappa: Both Resham and I have the habit of scouring the internet to find cool products and new brands we think could be a good match for Agora Curated. Some of the brands we work with are from our network of friends, but some are just labels we found online and approached because we felt they embodied a nice message that resonated with ours.
Melwani: We always keep an eye out for trendy yet understated quality products. We try to select products that are new to this market but also look at local brands that have a strong presence here.
How much of your personal identities influence the selection of your brands?
Basappa: The personality of a brand is really important to us. We poured so much of our own identities into this brand that when we look at a brand to work with, we also examine their look and feel and how they communicate. It has to be a holistic experience which also has to match what Agora Curated is about.
How important is gifting to you?
Basappa: I really enjoy receiving unexpected gifts, things that I would not find easily or that really add value to my life. We have many gift sets that would be ideal for birthdays, anniversaries or even a bridal shower. Our Love Spell gift box has a crystal sound healing kit, a perfumed candle, a body scrub, a face mask as well as a palo santo kit, and an essential oil and crystal roll-on — all for only $305.
What products would you recommend?
Melwani: I am a fan of candles, so I have selected and tried all of the ones we have in our shop. I especially love Evermore London candles because they are pieces of art on their own.
Basappa: I love the journals. We recently started a partnership with The Kind Friend and its founder, Jamie Lee. The journals are packed with small little details and guidelines to help you keep track of your tasks, goals and moods. I think it is very clever and useful, plus they look gorgeous!
Do you plan to retail items for men and children?
Basappa: This is something we are definitely looking at. We understand women never function alone but with a social support around them and their well-being is connected to the ones of their families, so we want to cater to them as well. Watch this space.
What is your hope for the business?
Melwani: Our hope for the business is to strengthen long-term partnerships with people and companies that share similar values and who we can work with on more substantial collaborations.
Basappa: Our goal is to not only sell products but really build a community of like-minded labels and consumers, but we hope to expand the ‘conscious’ aspect of the business by bringing more local artisans and eco-friendly products.
How do you see Agora Curated evolving?
Basappa: We would like to reach a point where we can expand the company and hire a team of people to support the business operations. We are also looking into shipping outside of Singapore as the demand exists. Of course, the event side of the business is something we were just getting started with, so hopefully when things settle down, we will be able to resume our activities offline.
Melwani: In the future, we would like to be able to reach new audiences and connect with communities that are outside our direct market. It’s important to keep our doors open to fresh ideas and people.