The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on small businesses owned by queer folks across the country. Over the past year and a half, members of the LGBTQIA+ community across India have struggled to establish and maintain their small businesses, which are often an integral to their financial independence. Violence against queer folks as they attempted to run their businesses during the lockdown is a glaring example of the relentless homophobia and bigotry that is intrinsically rooted in our society. In such an unequal, toxic environment, it is more important now than ever to support queer entrepreneurship in every way possible.
One of the best ways to extend your support to the queer community is by supporting small businesses owned by queer folks. Offering your tangible support to these businesses goes a long way in helping the queer community battle prejudice and discrimination. To get you started, we’ve rounded up 10 internet-based small businesses owned and run by young queer folks that offer a range of exciting products. You can reach out to them via Instagram and make a purchase today!
Products: Handpoke tattoos, commissioned illustrations and tattoo designs
Ishana is a 20-year-old graphic designer, illustrator and tattooist who is based out of Bombay. Ishana was always drawn to the arts and was sure that she wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to experiment with her creativity. A self-taught tattoo artist, Ishana learnt the art of handpoking, which is a manual method of tattooing, right before the first lockdown.
After testing out her tattooing skills on friends and family, she found that many people began approaching her for commissioned designs. She now actively takes up commissions for tattoos and illustrations through her Instagram page. She says: “Working with the growing handpoke community in India, I like to think I’m one of the artists trying to push tattoo culture within our very rich one, especially with designs like my “Desi Queen” flash sheet.” In the future, she hopes to start a studio in collaboration with indie tattooists and artists and create a space that isn’t limited to one form of art.
2. Osheen Sharma
Products: Custom paintings, canvas paintings, shoes, bags, wallets
Osheen’s small business started during the lockdown when she started posting her artwork on social media. They found that a lot of people began inquiring about the prices of the art that they was creating and realised that she could set up her own venture. Instagram and Facebook have been instrumental in helping her grow the business. Speaking about the future of her small business they said: “I want to paint more but I want my business to remain small. Painting is my meditation, so I don’t want to be stressed out about it.”
3. Sarah Sinhal
Products: Digital commissions, phone cases, posters, jigsaw puzzles, t-shirts, fridge magnets
At only 15, Sarah has successfully managed to set up her small business while also juggling her high school student life. She decided she wanted to share her art with the world and used Instagram as a platform to drive her sales. Sarah hopes to rebrand soon and said: “I want to get myself registered as a proper company as soon as I graduate high school. I’m very excited about what the future has in store for me and my business!”
4. Avneet Kaur
Products: Handmade gifts including Spotify music plaques, stationery, accessories and apparel
Avneet was inspired to start her own business because of Pinterest. Seeing the variety of designs on the platform, she decided she wanted to create her own. As she awaits college admission results, Avneet is working on expanding her small business through social media. Pride month was especially fruitful for Avneet because of a huge influx of orders. Speaking about the future of her venture she says, “I am confused about my future plans but yes, I wish to expand my business on various platforms such as Etsy and Facebook. Everything is handled by me alone so it’s quite tough but I hope I’ll do it.”
5. Shrishti Parekh
Products: Handpicked thrifted clothing
Studying to be a UI/UX designer, Shrishti has also managed to set up a thrift store on Instagram that offers customers trendy pre-loved, thrifted and upcycled clothing pieces that are size inclusive. After spending 2 years on research about thrifting and conscious fashion, Shrishti and her sister Urvana decided to begin their online thrift store. Shrishti says, “It took us about two weeks to figure out our niche and business statistics. It took some trial and error while making decisions to learn the best way to go forward with creating our brand, doing inventory and taking proper pictures of the products. A month later, in September 2020 we made our first drop on Instagram.”
6. Argha Naskar
Products: Homemade chocolates
A passionate cook, Argha spent a lot of time making chocolates for their friends and family. They then decided to start selling the delicacies they prepare and set up a small business. With the help of Instagram, Argha was able to reach out to people and has learnt a lot on their journey. They hope to soon begin shipping their chocolates pan-India. Argha says: “I also want to be able to conduct free workshops for marginalized communities so that they can also learn and start their own business and sustain themselves with dignity.”
Products: portraits, illustrations, logos, sticker designs
A challenge with their brother to create art on a digital art app set Ish off on their digital art journey. Through Youtube videos, they learnt the basics and continued experimenting to find their style. When someone approached them to design a logo, they realised that they could set up a small business and reach out to more people with their distinctly queer-affirmative designs. Aside from commissioned digital portraits, Ish also designs logos and stickers for other small businesses. Social media helped them grow as an artist and Ish was able to reach out to many other artists who offered them tips. Ish donates a major chunk of their proceeds to COVID-19 relief funds and fundraiser/organisations benefitting people from the queer community.
Products: Genderless fashion – shirts, jackets, pants, t-shirts
Rudraksh set up his online store to create a free, safe and genderless space for fashion. With his store Gagged, Rudraksh hopes to “free the art of fashion away from gender norms.” Gagged offers a range of genderless apparel including shirts, jackets, pants and t-shirts. Fashion immensely helped Rudraksh cope with a difficult childhood and helped him come to terms with his sexuality. He says, “The courage clothes gave me, the way they made me present…it became an art for me that needed no shackle such as gender. Today, I strongly advocate for a genderless fashion world.” Social media helped his business bloom and he now proudly runs Gagged aside from his full-time corporate job. “I want to build a brand, a label with no labels out of this venture. I want to and will appoint a team of designers who will bring my patterns and designs into life.”
9. Neha Alimchandani
Products: Pet food
Neha’s experience with her overweight dog made her realise the importance of healthy, home cooked food for pets. She took up a pet nutritionist course and started her own small business centering on healthy, nutritious pet food. In the future, she hopes to have franchises of ‘Romeo’s Kitchen’ all over the world and spread awareness about the benefits of fresh home-cooked food to pet parents.
10. Jhankar Grover
Products: Keychains, jewelry, plushies, clothes
Jhankar’s store has exceptionally crafted trinkets ranging from keychains to jewelry. Their online store also sells plushies and clothes. They set up their store in May 2021 and in a span of a few months, the business has built over 1000 followers on Instagram. Jhankar has always been fascinated with learning crochet and knitting and took time during the lockdown to get better at it and now makes their own products. They say, “I am focusing on expanding my range of products and soon, I might reach out to the middle-aged women around me like my mother and make them a part of the venture too.”