The Covid-19 pandemic hasn't dampened the Deepavali spirit but spurred online shopping led by young entreprenuers.
VENGADESHWARAN SUBRAMANIAM, IRSHATH MOHAMED and INDU ELANGOVAN reports
A young entrepreneur is turning out festive masks to go with Deepavali finery.
Mr Mohamed Farvees' masks are made of various materials and in myriad designs and colours. The Singapore Institute of Management graduate set up his Ministry of Textiles in March on Instagram, after discussing the idea with his friends and family.
"This pandemic has brought many businesses to a halt, but I found a new opportunity," he said. "With Deepavali round the corner, I have introduced many more varieties of masks, including embroidered, sequined, gold-threaded, Kalamkari and made with raw silk.
"Masks are an integral part of this year's Deepavali outfit for everyone."
He is also making masks for weddings and corporate clients.
The masks come in different sizes and logos or initials can be printed on them.
Mr Farvees, 25, visits textile stores in Little India and Arab Street to look for eye-catching fabrics.
He has made a deal with a local tailoring company which manufactures the masks.
The price of the designer masks ranges from $5 to $25 a piece.
He delivers them to customers at no extra cost if at least three pieces are ordered.
Hot tea for chill evenings
An engineer by profession, Mr Mohamed Ibrahim Aslam, 29, is delivering hot chai (tea) and Indian snacks on the weekends through his newly created business The Underground Chai Co.
His parents Mohamed Ibrahim Oliyullah, 57, and Anisha Begum, 48, are helping in his business, which was set up in July.
"I have always been interested in food and beverages," said Mr Aslam. "The main focus of our business is to deliver traditionally-made South Indian tea hot to our customers."
The online business sells items such as onion pakoda, chicken curry buns and murukku along with regular tea and masala tea.
Mr Aslam makes the tea, Mr Oliyullah helps with the packaging, while Mrs Anisha cooks the savouries such as pakoda and murukku.
"We don't use canned or condensed milk commonly used to make tea in Singapore," said Mr Oliyullah. "We use full-cream milk.
"Our snacks are also made in a nutritious way, with healthy flour, less oil and salt."
The business, which gained popularity on Instagram, accepts orders through an online Google form. There are four packages to choose from, ranging from $15 to $16.50. Customers can add items separately after choosing a package.
Ms Tasneem Djabarali, 28, is a happy customer. "It's difficult to make masala tea and pakoda just for two people," she said.
"You have to make them in large quantities. This service helps me get tea and snacks just for two people."
She added: "I told my friends about this business and many enjoyed the items they bought.
"It's important to support small businesses in this difficult time and especially during a festive period like Deepavali."
Mr Aslam said he has already received orders for about 30 bottles of murukku for Deepavali and expects more business during the festivities.
Cards with personal touch
About 10 years ago, during Deepavali, it was common to exchange greeting cards with favourite movie stars' pictures on them. Now, with the rise of social media, that has become passe.
But greeting cards still have their fans - and there are creators like Ms Angel Mary Oviya who cater to them.
The 24-year-old Singapore Management University (SMU) graduate, who sells her own greeting cards online under the name AngelHeartWorks, said: "Unlike e-cards, real cards just feel more sincere and personal. You can write your thoughts and feelings in your own handwriting. The person who receives it is more likely to be touched by it."
AngelHeartWorks has been selling birthday cards as well as cards for Christmas, Onam and Deepavali and other occasions through Instagram, Facebook and Carousel.
Ms Angel's card designs are unique. She uses puns, jokes and movie references to make her cards more attractive and fun.
"People prefer to exchange greetings over text or e-mail because it's more convenient. But I believe one will feel more special if one gets a handwritten greeting card," she said.
As Deepavali approaches, Ms Angel is spending her spare time making more festival greeting cards.
Videos to attract buyers
Textile businesses are finding new ways to attract customers amid Covid-19. Sisters Shalini Naidu, 30, and Durga Devi Naidu, better known as Sindhu, 33, are rallying customers via their online videos.
The pair, who have been running the textile business Cotton Candies Allura for the past six years, usually set up a stall at the Little India Deepavali bazaar and similar fairs like Zak Salaam to sell their merchandise.
But they are fully online this year because of Covid-19 and are using videos to sell products.
Each video, shown on their Facebook page, is about three hours long and features about 50 saris.
"Videos give a better idea than social media posts of what a sari looks like when it is worn," explained Ms Sindhu.
Although they also stock Punjabi suits, kurtas and children's wear, the sisters are focusing on selling saris now.
Only one or two saris of each design are sold to make them exclusive, said Ms Sindhu.
"In the past, we went to India to choose the designs and buy them in bulk. But this time we are importing saris in small quantities. Through our videos, we can sell them fast and don't have to store them in large quantities," she added.
Ms Thilagawathi Marimuthu, 30, has been buying festival apparel from them for the past four years and has already bought two saris and a Punjabi suit from them for Deepavali this year.
"In previous years, I went to their store to feel the cloth and buy it. But now I think their live videos are better. I can watch their full range of saris from the comfort of my home," she said.
Kiasu Mart delivers
Kiasu Mart is an online grocery store and delivery service platform that was launched during the peak of Covid-19 in Singapore.
It targets shoppers who want to stay indoors during the pandemic and have their groceries and essential items delivered to their doorstep. The online platform stocks essential items.
Mr Srinivasan Radhakrishnan, 32, runs this e-commerce platform along with his friends Mr Tan Zhen Yang, 32, Mr K.V. Ramyaah, 28, and Ms Monikca, 26.
Mr Srinivasan believes it is a saturated market but it's still possible to stand out.
He pointed out there are very few online sites which sell groceries and essential items that Indians want.
"Our products are competitive in pricing and we offer a lot of promotions and huge discounts on bulk purchase to live up to the name Kiasu Mart," he said.
"When our customers order fruits and vegetables, we go to the market and our team picks fresh fruits and vegetables. This allows our customers to enjoy fresh food."