Online souk brings distant lands just a click away

BEIRUT: Heaps of dusty, colorful rugs lying about; tarnished silver and bronze jewelry intricately filigreed and inlaid with stones; patterned fabric, faded from a bit too much time in the sun; everything embroidered and embellished with the distinctive air of the Orient.

This might seem to describe a scene from a Hollywood movie set in the Middle East or a fantasy evoked by a Western travel show, but in fact it was the sight at Ginette in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh district Wednesday night at the launch of the online boutique

The site, founded by former Exotica Flowers and Plants general manager Samar Dani, aims to bring a taste of the region’s “most beautiful markets and bazaars” to the Internet. As such, all the items for sale are handpicked by Dani over the course of her travels and identified by their country of origin. Prices range from as little as $20 for a set of tin coasters from Egypt to $570 for an elaborate Indian choker.

So far, Habatiq features goods from India, Egypt, Turkey and, in a departure from the exotic theme for local clientele, Lebanon. The textiles, bags and jewelry are also divided into several collections on the well-designed site, including such categories as floral, village and tribal.

With most of the items for sale coming from not-so-distant locations, it’s worth noting that shipping in Lebanon is free (though outside Lebanon it is at least $20 per order).

“I browse the bazaars looking beyond the souvenirs and imitation pieces to the authentic crafts of that place,” Dani said in a statement, adding that each item “reflected the culture of the people who made it” and would thus bring with it “memories when a person wears it or puts it in a home.” But memories of what are left to the imagination.

Acquiring artisanal objects is something of a sport for globetrotters, the well-heeled and backpackers alike, who take pride in the hours spent scavenging markets for keepsakes. The e-boutique takes online shopping – which eliminates the necessity of pillaging distant souks – to a new level. A “recreation of the journey,” as Dani called it – whether you’ve traveled or not – is now only a click away.

Habatiq gives its customers the chance to decorate their homes with embroidered suzanis and bits of tasseled kilims, and themselves with oversized silver pendants and strings of Hindu prayer beads from the comfort of their own homes.

As for the goods for sale, they are decidedly gorgeous, even if the “well-traveled” fantasy contradicts the fact that they were in fact purchased online.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2014, on page 2.




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