CRANSTON, R.I. — For Yuping Wang and her business partner Subham Sett, creating a space for local artists to showcase their work was one way to honor them.
In Garden City Center, an open-air shopping center in Cranston, where pop-ups are filling spaces where structured brick-and-mortar national brands once stood, the two former engineers have expanded their brand, Ohanga.
Ohanga is an artisan marketplace that showcases curated works by primarily Rhode Island-based creatives. From large-scale acrylic paintings on canvas, vast collections of handmade jewelry, hand-stitched clothing, to soaps, body oils and butters, and candles, each product line honors the artists’ story in the store and in Etch, the Ohanga magazine where profiles of each of the artists are published.
“It’s like an incubator for artists. Not only are we looking to give them exposure, but we are also helping them work through each of their business challenges,” said Wang. “The store is a way to showcase their work, but in every step of the way, we are also telling their story.”
Sett and Wang said they work with the artists individually to set prices, including the fee that goes to Ohanga. Then each of creators work with Maggie Bassi, the director of creative content and editor-in-chief of Etch.
Bassi says artstists often tell her they don’t have time to be their own marketing director, design a website, or consistently post on social media because they are too busy crafting their products.
“I’m the first point of contact for most of these artists. I hear what their problems are, and then we go ahead and create a profile about them on our website, write an article about their story in the magazine, and push their brand on social,” said Bassi. “We want customers to be engaged every step of the way, but then we want creatives to focus on their art.”
The store’s name means “nest” in namesake derives from the language spoken by the Māori people, who were the indigenous Polynesian settlers that sailed their canoes to New Zealand more than 700 years ago, Sett and Wang said. When British colonists arrived in the 1700s, the Māori protected their society and culture, preserving their history and art through whakapapa, the genealogy that connected them to their community.
The idea build a space where artisans could thrive.
“When I quit my job at Amazon Robotics... everyone thought I was crazy,” said Wang, who moved to the US from China in 2000, has a Ph.D. in civil engineering, and worked in full-stack software and cloud service development. She left it all to start Ohanga.
Sett had a similar story.
He was a mechanical engineer and had moved to the US from India in 1998. He worked in the software innovation space and held a senior leadership role at Dassault Systems before leaving in January 2020 to co-found Ohanga. He had seen his wife, Oindrila Sikdar, support her own studio for hears. A painter and functional artist, Sikdar creates household items and uses vivid blue dyes that evoke the ocean to create her paintings, cutting boards, and serving trays.
When the pandemic hit, artists that Wang and Sett admired lost the ability to expose their art to everyday consumers, and found online platforms, like Etsy, incredibly difficult.
“When you go on a website like Etsy, you’ll get handcrafted stuff. But you really don’t know the origin. Here, we know the origin of the artists. It’s hyper-local, and we have built this as if it was the beginnings of a tech company when it comes to fulfillment, logistics, and supporting the artists’ businesses,” said Sett. “In the end, we want these artists to grow.”
The Cranston store was designed to be a seasonal pop-up ahead of the holidays, but Sett said they are hoping to stay there for good, while also selling on their website.
Sett said Ohanga is the type of store that is ideal for Rhode Island because “the pride here is strong.”
“Like no other place, people here want to buy and support other Rhode Islanders,” Sett said. “We just help them find those creatives.”
Ohanga is located at 51 Hillside Rd Unit 9004, Cranston, RI 02920. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.