Amna Aijaz, a digital and branding artist, saw the events industry hit a roadblock during the pandemic. In her eight-year-long career, Amna has designed for various global and local ecommerce, consumer, and event brands such as Coca Cola, Marvel, and Warner Bros.
Like many, during this period, Amna turned to a passion project. “I had started looking for places to sell my art and earn money, but didn’t find many. I wanted to figure out how to create merchandise out of pop culture art and sell it within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. Also, many artists were looking for a similar platform,” says Amna.
It led to the birth of POPC, a creator and artist marketplace selling custom-designed merchandise including t-shirts, mugs, caps, hoodies, and wall art.
When Amna got the idea of POPC in August 2020, she started with market research, and by September of the same year, she reconnected with her university classmate Haroon (Tahir), an experienced marketeer, creator, and author, who was also trying to sell merchandise based on his best-selling book. Amna also got in touch with Arafaat (Ali Khan), her former manager and co-founder of Middle East Comic Con. Arafaat is also the Co-founder and CEO of POPC’s holding company, Waverider Entertainment.
In January 2021, the team raised an undisclosed amount from Waverider Entertainment. “Waverider Entertainment is part of a wider group of companies that specialises in technology, IPs, esports, events, content creation, game development, and more,” says Amna.
In April 2022, the first version of POPC went live. “At present, it is the first platform in the Middle Eastern market that allows artists, creators, and small businesses to sell their merchandise instantly at zero joining fees,” states Amna.
She says, POPC aims at creating an artist ecosystem that keeps them connected.
More about POPC
POPC’s USP lies in custom-made, pop-culture based and on-demand produced merchandise. “Each design of the available merchandise is provided by a regional creator or business. These creators or businesses have their own storefront on the website where they earn commissions per sale,” says Amna.
While these businesses and creators are required to provide artwork, all other services, including fulfillment, logistics, customer care, and more, are undertaken by the core team. In case the artwork is not available for a business, the team helps with creating the same as well.
Amna states, “Our unisex graphic t-shirts are American standard fit and range from XS to XXL and are priced at $27.50. We have an additional range of styles including oversized fits going live soon as well. Our graphic hoodies are American standard fit and range from XS to XXL and are priced at $40.”
She adds that the caps are made from an acrylic wool blend and are embroidered with a message from the creators and are priced at $30. The wall art comes in a variety of sizes, which includes framed prints, canvases, and posters, and is priced at $90.
“The current standard size we follow is 30 x 45 cm with more sizes set to be sold later this quarter. In addition, we also sell pop culture collectibles that start at an average of $100,” adds Amna.
A digital artist and branding professional, Amna is also the head of design at POPC.
Reflecting back on the team, and especially with Araafat, Amna shares, “We had a great working relationship and I approached him for POPC as I knew he had the right leadership skills, contacts within the artist community, and a fantastic track record of building successful IPs and businesses.”
Haroon and Amna met at the American University in Dubai and got along because of their shared passion for problem-solving and entrepreneurship.
Currently, the team consists of 8 members, including a senior branding specialist, an ecommerce specialist, social media specialist, digital marketing specialist, and an operations executive.
Roadblocks on the way
Amna says, “The region has no infrastructure for on-demand production. We had to do some leg work to understand how we can make it work and tie it in with logistics.”
“There is also a lack of high-quality merchandise. Most production houses here use low quality apparel that are printed with thick heat presses that stick to the skin, peel, feel heavy, and are not ideal for the region’s climate,” she adds.
The team worked on creating the appropriate fit, finding the best printing method, and creating an on-demand production system for almost a year. The focus has been mostly on ensuring minimal waste and a sustainable production system.
Amna states, “The [production] model is low cost and of minimal waste as our products are produced and fulfilled on demand. We ensure that a product is only produced once the customer places an order for it, and not otherwise.”
Success so far and the future
According to Mordor Intelligence, the Middle East Media and Entertainment Market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.4% during the forecast period (2022-2027).
As per a report by Khaleej Times, Rashid Mohammed Zubair Al Farooq, CEO of Speedy Comics and Collectibles Group, states, the uproar among the fans towards pop culture in the region is just beginning. He expects potential growth in traditional and newer media alike.
Adding to the report, Kishan Palija, CEO of Geekay Group, highlighted the accelerated growth in the number of people engaging with pop culture media during the pandemic.
This year, the 10th edition of Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC), which was held from March 4 to 6, 2022, in Abu Dhabi, welcomed over 48,000 people, said a report by Arab News.
Speaking on the existing revenue model, Amna says, “The revenue model consists of the production cost, logistics artist commission and margins for POPC. Our margins are shared with artists where they do not have to pay any joining fees to sell on the platform.”
“We have achieved month-on-month growth of 15% since we launched, mostly relating to word of mouth as our digital marketing just started two weeks ago. We currently have 367 SKUs with 15-20 unique designs being uploaded weekly,” she adds.
The platform’s target demographic consists of 18 to 45-year-olds. The recorded average basket size is $80.
For 2023, the team’s target is to provide more product offerings, colours, and fits. Further, it aims to expand its shipping network throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Levant, and wider Middle East, including Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan.