BEIRUT: A pair of fashion-savvy siblings have done away with the need to brave the notorious heat of Beirut’s summer when shopping is in order. The startup Lebelik – meaning “it suits you” in Arabic – brings together big-name and up-and-coming Lebanese fashion designers on one website, which receives and ships orders anywhere around the world.
Nearly all Western brands ship directly to customers via the Web, but Lebelik is one of only two Lebanese sites that aggregate and ship locally produced fashion – the other is Fashion Republik. After launching the site a year ago, Lebelik has doubled its number of affiliated designers and gradually expanded its business throughout the Middle East, Lebelik’s founders and several designers say.
The idea came to co-founder Louise Doumet while she was visiting her brother Michel in New York City, 9,000 km away from Beirut.
“I was wearing stuff made by Lebanese designers,” Doumet says. “One girl asked, ‘Oh this is super nice, where did you buy it from?’ And I told her it’s from Lebanon.”
Several other women asked Doumet about Lebanese pieces she wore. Following these incidents, her brother, who was studying at Columbia University at the time for a master’s in business administration, came up with Lebelik. The site would make Lebanese fashion available to people anywhere in the world.
Doumet says she would have loved to go into fashion design herself were it not for an already competitive and saturated design scene in Lebanon.
“It started as a love story,” Doumet says. “Lebanese fashion is a bit occidental, a bit oriental.”
Although the idea came from Western interest in Lebanese fashion, the Middle East makes up Lebelik’s customer base. The bulk of sales are to Lebanon and Dubai, with a smaller portion of sales from Jordan, Kuwait and France.
One of the most exciting parts of watching business grow is in the increase Lebelik has seen in men purchasing items both for themselves or the women in their lives, Doumet says.
These days, Doumet takes care of running the business while her brother Michel works part-time.
The site, a cleanly designed and user-friendly interface, allows visitors to browse the inventory by designer or item description. The site helps promote designers through its “Designer’s Corner” page and associated fashion site called Soraya’s Blog.
Lebelik launched with merchandise from about a dozen Lebanese designers. That number has doubled to 24 designers of varying fame.
Johnny Farah, Lebelik’s most well-known designer, was integral in getting the startup on its feet, say Doumet and Rebecca Carnell, Farah’s marketing director.
Farah, who specializes in quality leather bags and accessories with shops in Saifi Village and New York City, has in the past decade focused his efforts on promoting local business, Carnell says.
Having big names like Johnny Farah on Lebelik’s roster gives credibility to lesser-known designers, Doumet says.
One of the greatest challenges to running the online boutique is getting customers to trust the quality of Lebanese brands they’re unfamiliar with, Doumet says. She also ensures the quality of Lebelik’s merchandise by visiting stores and handpicking which items to feature.
“We love the girls that work there,” says Carnell of Doumet and Lebelik’s staff.
“They come to the store and choose what’s featured on the website.”
“They will say we want all of this for the website, and this one is for me,” Carnell muses.
Farah sells just a handful of items each month, however that small amount of business has been very consistent, Carnell says
Lebelik also defies Lebanon’s dubious mailing system and sluggish Internet, two of the country’s major infrastructure problems.
“We started Lebelik knowing what the Internet is like,” Doumet says. “It’s not like someone fooled us.”
As for the mail, Lebelik uses the shipping company Aramex. Doumet says they have never had problems with deliveries.
Jessica Khoueiri of the brand Jessica K praises Lebelik’s streamlined process for filling orders.
“When somebody buys something online, I receive an email directly,” Khoueiri says. “Then they come to my shop at Hotel Monroe and they ship the merchandise out.”
Jessica K, a line of casual, ready-to-wear women’s fashion, is Lebelik’s hottest seller. The brand makes three-to-four sales a week through Lebelik.
“This is really good for Lebelik. People are hearing about it more and more,” Khoueiri says. “Louise has been on B-Beirut; she was on LBC. Lebelik is starting to get bigger and bigger.”