A very useful gifting guide: How to shop on Instagram
Editor’s note: Gifting is tricky business—and creates great anxiety (See: This excellent The Atlantic essay). Insta seems like a great place to find something unique and thoughtful—handcrafted, bespoke items that show we care. But we all worry about being gypped. Advisory editor Arunima Joshua has a guide to help you navigate the perilous shoals of the ‘gram.
Written by: Arunima Joshua, Advisory editor
Instagrammable goodies. We’ve all seen them. Perfect pictures of baubles and cute nothings on our feeds. Your bestie’s birthday is coming up soon. You’d like to get them a custom portrait or ashtray or a special something from that IG page you’ve been eyeing for a few weeks. But you’re not sure if the page is authentic. You don’t see a website link—how are you supposed to contact the creator? What is their return policy if they’re not an established brand? How can you order a bespoke item without ever seeing the products IRL? Instagram-gifting obsessed me is here to help.
How can I tell if a business page is authentic?
Irrespective of the number of followers a page has—there are certain tells that you should pay attention to. Do they have BTS images or videos that show them working on the product? Have they participated in any local pop-ups or fleas? Have customers left reviews on their page or tagged them—and do those seem like real people? Of course, the safest bet to ascertain a page’s authenticity would be to discover it through recommendations from people you know.
What are the timelines I need to place an order?
For an available product—a few to ten days should work—much like other online orders. For custom items—a cautious ballpark estimate is closer to about three weeks. You need time to brief the artist, confirm the order details, receive wip details and images at every stage and finally approve the final product. Following which, shipping and delivery takes place. It is a fulfilling process to see your vision come to life at every step–especially if you’re like me and love art but lack artistic skills.
How do I brief my Instagram creator?
Be clear and direct over DM. Ask them their costing and state your budget at the very start. It’s most ideal if you share with them images that are similar to what you want. If you need size or colour changes, be specific. Include all information about relevant allergies at the outset.
Some creators share handy forms. Even so, always ask for a playback of your order details. Mistakes happen, and most small businesses are gracious enough to rework or refund if there are any gaffes—but I’d recommend not relying entirely on forms.
What about payments, refunds and exchanges?
Most Instagram businesses ask for a basic advance payment and the rest once the order is approved and ready to be shipped. If the business has a website you can order from—they might have a Cash on Delivery option as well.
In the case of botched up orders or damaged deliveries—most businesses offer a refund or exchange. Your brief needs to be clear for this process—an order will be deemed as ‘damaged’ only if it skews far from what you asked for, especially in terms of sizing or design. I’ve received refunds or exchanges for every item I requested it for—but those have been very rare cases of damage in delivery or an order not being the quality or brief I asked for.
Now you’re ready to make your order. Here are some suggestions based on who you’re buying for.
My parents gotta hobby…
Does your parent have a hobby—past or present? That’s usually the best place to start.
ThinkClay: My mother is an artist who dabbles in oil, acrylic and watercolours. She’s been looking for a new mixing palette, preferably ceramic which doesn’t stain. ThinkClay offered me a limited line of mixing palettes and brush pots for artists. My mom has cherished this set. The bonus: It came with two free ceramic pendants. (Price: Rs 1,550 for the set, inclusive of shipping)
Psynostore: My father was an aeromodeller and flyer in his NCC days before joining the Army and his first love would always be the Piper Cub—an American monoplane. Through the Instagram marketplace dm2buy, I discovered the crochet toymaker Psynostore who created a custom Piper Cub plane. The creator first asked me for images—and shared a sketch of the prototype with exact dimensions. Don’t forget to specify colours and every visual detail!
Here’s the final version my Dad absolutely adores! I’m not sure how I’m going to top this next year:) (Price: Rs 447, inclusive of shipping)
How about the rest of humanity?
Are they a stationery nut? Or someone who journals? Do they have a pet who is the apple of their eye? Do they like bling? Or just smelling nice? Maybe, they’ve moved into a new place all alone for the first time and would appreciate some home decor? Do they stan any music artist? Here’s a broader list that should cover many people you know.
Purple Ruckus Bindery: One of my best friends has a proud stationery collection and stocks every kind of pen, notebook, sticky note and tool. I discovered the page Purple Ruckus when Priyanka Paul aka artwhoring shared their work. I DMd the page to ask if they could custom a journal for my friend in the colours blue and pink. The artist grabbed some handmade paper that was going to be discarded by a supplier. It was a beautiful cake-pink. They showed me fabric options for the outer binding. I chose a Chinese brocade teal blue silk cloth. Purple Ruckus then proceeded to handbound the journal with the pink handmade papers and silk cover. My friend loved it!
Fair warning: Shipping was a bit of a hassle as the most popular couriers did not serve the remote northeastern location. So it arrived a little late for my comfort. (Price: Rs 1,200 inclusive of shipping)
Avvni Narayan: For a sketch of my close friend and her dog, I approached the artist Avvni Narayan. She sketches in pencil and uses bright colours in the background to bring the subjects alive. (Price: Rs 1,700, inclusive of framing and shipping)
Garden of Ether: Butterflies are simply gorgeous—but trying to capture their beauty seems obscenely wrong. Pune-based artist Garden of Ether (Vidhi Goyal) ethically sources butterflies from wildlife sanctuaries around the globe after they pass—and preserves their beauty forever in resin.
You can DM her to ask about the current availability or view the latest designs on her page. For this blue butterfly wing ring I asked for wing options and picked a ring design which she customised for my gift. (Price: 1,450 Rs inclusive of packaging)
Bonus peek: This is a pendant I bought for myself (Price: Rs 1,650 inclusive of shipping):
Catfish: For the music aficionados in your life—there is nothing better than a custom Spotify album plaque. (Price: Rs 750 + Rs 250 for shipping outside Bangalore)
The Whiffsense: The #1 Swiftie in my life is a bookstagrammer. In the year of Taylor Swift’s surprise sister albums, I wanted to get her a folklore-coded candle. The Whiffsense made me a two-layered 'folklore' themed hand-poured soy candle with cedar wood and amber fragrances in shades of forest green. (Price: Rs 499 + Rs 80 for shipping for a 6 ounces candle)
Heritage Charms: For that boho chic girl—I found a page of vintage jewellery that sources Afghan earrings and chokers from Kabul. (Price: Rs 1480, inclusive of shipping)
Think Clay: For that boss baker—a set of powder blue initial-embossed handmade ramekins from Goa-based potter ThinkClay. (Price: Rs 700 per piece)
Lavish Acid: For a polaroid camera enthusiast—an initialled custom polaroid holder from ceramic maker Lavish Acid. (Price: Rs 479 + Rs 90 shipping)
Urban Kanya: When you’re really out of ideas—self-care boxes are a great way to show you care and the makers usually offer a lot of combinations in different budgets. I personalised a self-care box for an additional birthday gift from Urban Kanya to include a neem comb, a herbal shampoo with 24K gold, 2 bookmarks, a coin purse and 2 Kuh organic soaps.
I had originally received a box from Urban Kanya from a friend who sent me one with a mini pen + notepad and the prettiest chai kulhad, which is how I discovered the self-care page on Instagram. (Price: Rs 987)
Personalised items as wedding gifts
One of the two sureshot ways to go for a wedding present is to mementise a loving memory of the happy couple.
The Crafterina: Artist Janvi Sharma with her page The Crafterina has a wooden slice series where she paints any picture that you share onto a wooden disc which comes with a stand you can mount it on—in varied sizes of your pick. (Price: Rs 2,500 + shipping)
AuGrav Jewellers: Jewellers that you find online also custom print photographs onto silver coins in the weight of your choice and budget. (Price: Rs 2,499 for 5 grams)
Hustlezy: Personalising connoisseurs Hustlezy make illusion lamps with a photo that you upload onto their website. I discovered them through an Instagram ad. (Price: Rs 1,499)
Lacuna Studio: The other way to go is of course artefacts that make a home. Goa based pottery studio Lacuna had a one-of-a-kind sea urchin bowl that I quickly grabbed alongside a smaller set of hand pinched bowls. (Price: Rs 600-1,000)
Take your pick from ceramics to wooden articles and table silver from the many home decor pages on the ‘gram.
Always a good time to treat yoself!
I’ve customised many a dozen items from Instagram creators for myself as well.
Fishter Dough fka Shop Edkore: Recently, I got an ashtray in my favourite colour with a ginger cat illustration from this page. (Price: Rs 850)
Kefi Crystals: Jewellery maker Kefi Crystals has an uncanny Swarovski design she recreates at one-fourth the price in sterling silver, zirconiums and /or swarovski crystals. (Price: Rs 1100 after discount) And, dare I say—she does it better!
The Fearless Store: Swiftie merch maker the Fearless store makes a hecking good tye-dyed sweatshirt in the ‘Lover’ album print with a TS lyric of your choice. (Price: Rs 1,555)
Pocket-friendly IRL hauls
Your city’s destination gifting store is bound to have delightful knick-knacks under Rs 200.
You can grab a trinket box for around Rs 100, a message in a bottle souvenir for Rs 60 and an exotic fragranced incense pack for Rs 50. I went with a refreshing white musk with the other two items for my witchy, tarot-card reader friend:)
If you’re still wary of unauthenticated Instagram businesses—hit up local pop-ups and fleas at your nearest cafe or bar or music festival—you can attest to their quality and get a tangible sense of what you’re in for with indie brands. Not to mention, prolly scoop a sweet discount as well!
Sometimes the universe just aligns when you have the whimsical urge for gifting. Trust the process, carefully curate and don’t force it if it’s not seeking you.
I hope this helped you gauge whether to open your wallet and find reliable sellers on the endless and wonderful world of Instagram. If nothing, I hope it gave you some tips to elevate your gifting game.