This March, as India went into lockdown, 24-year-old Bengaluru-based fashion designer Samriddhi Balasubramaniam began investing more time in her hobby — handcrafting jewellery from polymer clay. As Covid disruptions affected the retail industry, she got laid off from her regular job and, to take her mind off her troubles, threw herself into moulding earrings and baking them. Meanwhile, her rather unique earrings were drawing attention on Instagram and she began getting enquiries. That’s when she thought of converting her pastime into a full-time venture.

“All of April I spent building up my Instagram handle and generating interest. In May, I began taking orders,” says Samriddhi, who has named her jewellery store ‘Unbaked’ and also created a website. In June, she had fulfilled 48 orders. As yet, it is small but Samriddhi is filled with hope of scaling up what was once just a side gig. The fact that suddenly there is a revival of interest in hand-made, local products makes her optimistic. “I want to be self reliant,” she says.

Samriddhi is not the only one. In March, Delhi-based Aastha Gupta, 24, was all set to join a firm in Bengaluru but found her plans thwarted by the lockdown. Cooped up at home, the passionate yoga practitioner began taking online classes for friends and family. Word spread and in next to no time she had a host of students. “In four months I got over 150 students and got approached by three organisations,” exclaims Aastha. She is rethinking her career choices now. “I am confident of scaling this up, adding a well-being and yoga in philosophy component,” she says.

All through the lockdown, trendwatchers had been capturing the hobby wave sweeping through the globe.

Toru Jhaveri, Vice-President and Head of Strategy (West) at DDB Mudra, who chronicled changing consumer behaviour during Covid times with her team, points to how people were flinging themselves into art, fitness, music, dance, cooking, baking and reconnecting with their passions.

But what’s interesting is that many have managed to turn these hobbies into paying propositions. The lockdown has given rise to a whole new breed of hobbypreneurs like Samriddhi and Aastha.

Trawl through Instagram and you come across a host of hobbyists who are earning through creative pursuits. Those with baking skills are conducting masterclasses, some are rolling out handmade pasta and selling those, others are taking cake orders, still others are stitching masks and embroidering or painting them.

Even as marketers have not really capitalised on this hobby trend, it’s the agile millennials who have used technology and a hobby to their advantage. As Jhaveri points, “I find that small business owners or independent professionals are moving much faster — bloggers doing cooking videos, hobbyists becoming instructors, fitness experts taking classes online, home-based chefs doing step-by-step assemble-at-home meals.”

Google’s Keen

While big firms have been slow, an exception has been tech behemoth Google. With an eye on hobbyists, the search engine giant quietly launched a social platform called Keen. This, it explains in a blog post, is built to expand what activities you are into, helping you curate, and collaborate and spread out. It is a bit like Pinterest.

Whether Keen will take off or meet the fate of Google’s other failed social network experiments remains to be seen. The bigger question is will this hobby trend persist?

Ashu Sabharwal, who runs market research consultancy Qualisys, says compared to the initial frenzy she is already seeing a decline in cooking posts on social media. “Hobbies are meant to be a break from something, but if it becomes the key thing will the motivation continue?” she wonders.

Jhaveri, however, feels that “the focus on pursuing passions and interests seems like a longer-term shift for many of the people we talk to”. “The definition of self-care is expanding and now includes the pursuit of personal projects. Hobbies are becoming less of a ‘pass-time’ and more of a commitment people are making to themselves,” she observes.