Mandalay may be known throughout the world for its arts and crafts. But giant marble statues and glitzy tapestries are not every one’s cup of tea. In Mandalay, shopping for souvenirs for friends and loved ones can be a struggle.
Enter Be Cool, a small business set up by the dynamic Wai Wai Nyein. By putting a modern twist on traditional crafts, Be Cool fills a gap in Mandalay’s shopping options. Although only recently opened, since August 2016, Be Cool has quickly won over fans, largely thanks to Wai Wai’s innate talent for design.
“My family has been making traditional gem paintings for generations. My goal is to carry on the tradition of Mandalay crafts and culture by making it more accessible to a younger market,” says Wai Wai Nyein.
With a keen business sense, Wai Wai Nyein started Be Cool as an online shop. She would take orders through Facebook and Viber, then arrange collection locations or deliver to individual customers.
“Using social media was the perfect way for us to start. We were able to grow our client base quickly, not only through Mandalay’s outskirts but also to other parts of Myanmar, with minimum investment,” she said.
The shop also set up stalls at music concerts and other events around Mandalay, but online shoppers continued to be the main income stream. The decision to open a physical shop was based on two needs: the need for bigger space to centralise distribution and the fact that many shoppers were keen to browse the items in person before purchasing.
As we sat chatting, Wai Wai Nyein was constantly checking her phone. Her online channels have continued to bring in a large chunk of the business, especially in the lead up to holidays. She says being responsive is the key.
“Customers do not want to wait. They see an item they like on our page and they want to know immediately if it is available. Sometimes, around Christmas and before Thingyan, we are up 24 hours a day answering queries and packaging and preparing advance orders. But it is worth it. I love hearing the positive feedback from our customers,” she said.
The most popular items are boxes painted with gemstones, made using the techniques of traditional Myanmar gem paintings and applying more modern patterns to create decorative items. At Valentine’s Day, its mini marionettes – one male and one female, in hand-woven palm boxes – were a big hit. Pyit Taing Htaung, the egg-shaped, rosy-cheeked traditional toys also sold out quickly thanks to their cute packaging.
Be Cool has certainly made a name for itself with the younger generation and Wai Wai Nyein can also name many celebrities from Myanmar and abroad as happy customers.
“Surprisingly we are also getting older adults who are happy to see items that they remember from childhood being sold again. The adults like to purchase our jewellery items- such as hair clips and bracelets- made with amber and pearl where as our younger customers opt for modern colours like pinks and blues,” she said.
And while Be Cool is not yet a household name, it has attracted many repeat clients.
“I buy many presents for friends and items for myself from Be Cool. The quality is high, the price is fair and their designs are modern. The service is also great- you can tell the staff are really passionate about the items they sell and want their customers to be happy,” said Nang Thet, a customer.
Wai Wai Nyein says it is this type of feedback that really motivates her and her team. And hopefully word of mouth will continue to support small, independent businesses such as this and, in turn, preserve a part of Mandalay’s handicraft traditions.
78th Street between 35th and 36th Streets