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Having had his work featured in publications like Mail & Guardian, Financial Times and Elle Magazine, South African artist Atang Tshikare has recently been making a name for himself locally and abroad. He is also one of the many artists currently using the online marketplace, Unsung Art.
“We make beautiful original art affordable to the amateur art collector and also give the emerging (and established) artist an alternative online platform to showcase their work,” says co-founder of Unsung Art Jessica Kramer. Together with her brother, Nic Kramer, and close friend Walter Louw, the team launched Unsung Art in March 2014.
The startup was born out of the Cape Town-based artisan consultancy Chicken and Wolf. “We have been working in the creative space for the past few months, and began thinking about how we could play in the art market a bit differently — for both the artist and the art lover,” says Jess. “For the artist, we wanted to offer an alternative, accessible platform to offer affordable original art.”
The platform was developed using Shopstar — a local ecommerce platform. Unsung Art takes care of the getting exposure, distributing, warehousing, and the whole hassle-free experience for the artist and the art lover. It’s like having an art gallery in the cloud. Jess further explains:
“We wanted to stir things up! To create a market for art that is not traditional. To make people realise that good quality, original art is not exclusive to those that have access to huge amounts of cash, and to make artists realise that they can sell their art in different ways, through different channels.”
Given that it’s such a niche target market and the fact that the local ecommerce scene is still in developmental phase, getting people to get comfortable with online shopping and changing their mindset with regard to ownership of art have been some of Unsung Art’s key challenges so far.
Though Jess has a Masters in economics and a background in banking strategy, she also has a passion for the creative industries through which she managed to build up a strong network of artists. Nic and Walter both have Honours degrees in branding.
In terms of competition, there are couple of international art ecommerce sites like Lumas, Eye Storm and Art River and local players include recent Lean Startup Cape Town winner The Artery and State of Art.
Unsung Art hopes to distinguish itself through its easy submission process for artist, being community orientated and not being restricted to certain subject matter.
All in all, the team has a solid experience in social media management and branding, Unsung Art also gives up-and-coming artists a platform to gain exposure. There might be tension between gaining traction from artists and, at the same time, settling on a quality standard in order to attract more artists and strengthen the Unsung Art name.
Currently, the revenue model is commission-based. Unsung Art charges 25% commission on all products sold, whereas galleries often charge as much as 40% or 50%. Jess says that they hope to add alternative revenue streams through the introduction of value-add products and services in the future. Pieces range from as modest as R150 to R850 each — a price cap which is quite flexible.
Made up of a group of quirky creatives, Unsung Art is excited about future experimentation and marketing strategies. Jess suggested that, looking ahead, Unsung Art would also like to tap into Cape Town’s tourism industry or the international market.
Seeing that the city was recently dubbed the World Design Capital, the online art gallery wants to further promote and educate the international tourism market on South Africa’s diverse arts. Unsung Art hopes to contribute to a positive international perception of South African contemporary art.