BEIRUT: In the shade of luxury yachts harbored at Zaitunay Bay, more than 75 Beirut designers set up stands to showcase everything from furniture to fashion. As young designers and artisans increasingly launch their brands in the digisphere and promote their products on social media platforms, Beirut Designers’ Week has proven an invaluable opportunity to gain face time with clients, they said.
For Tiara Ghandour, who launched her clothing brand Gate26 just two months ago, exhibitions like Beirut Designers’ Week complement an aggressive social media presence. “I’m on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but when you’re starting you have to do every exhibition in town,” she said. “Physical [presence] is much better, because not everyone shops online. Some ... want to walk around, to see the products,” she told The Daily Star.
Carefully taking a subtle tiara out of a client’s hair, Sherine Natour said that while social media is important for promoting her brand, exhibitions are ideal for client feedback. “Exhibitions are nice because you can learn what people like, what colors, which styles,” she said.
And no place is better for casual product perusing than Zaitunay Bay, Nada Koussa Itani said from behind her jewelry stand. “People are eating, you don’t have to pay entrance, and you can come and go freely,” she said. “The [economic] situation in Lebanon isn’t very good, so when you do an exhibition at least the Lebanese will come out and look.”
Even more established brands, however, can benefit from exhibition exposure, Guida Khoury said. She sells her organic cotton products, under the label Mellow, at a small store in Mar Mikhael, but says only so many people pass by her storefront.
“Both social media and exhibitions are very important,” Khoury said. “From Facebook I can get clients from the States, but at here [at exhibitions], they can get to know the brand.”
Grace Akkaoui Hakim, whose brand Huggables specializes in children’s accessories, said that while she already has a functional website where clients can order online, exhibitions are the best way to make new contacts. “At exhibitions like this, I have gotten contacts from Dubai, and from Qatar,” she said. “I don’t really care if I sell ... mostly I focus on making contacts.”
Earlier this week, the organizers of Beirut Designers’ Week decided at the last minute to postpone the event by a day, after downpours Thursday broke through an unusually dry spring. For Claire Damaa, traveling from Paris to show off her line of high-end lingerie and lounge wear, Friday’s weather was just perfect. “Zaitunay Bay is such a nice location. I’m living in Paris, where we don’t have the sea or the sun,” Damaa said.
The event offered a convenient platform for Damaa to introduce her lingerie brand, Claire D, to the local market. Originally from Lebanon, Damaa works and lives in France, where her designs sell in major luxury retailers like Harrods department store.
Brightly colored, warm-weather items, like beach totes, sheer coveralls, sandals and sundresses, made this weekend’s open-air market a great destination for summer shopping, Damaa’s product included. For the slew of summer weddings fast approaching, Damaa’s display of elegant silk and lace intimate apparel offered a range of unique options for bachelorette gifts.
For the second season of Beirut Designers’ Week, organizer Sandra Ghattas Ferzli dedicated the market to its majority female business owners, titling the event “Women for a Better Lebanon.” Designers and artisans who spoke to The Daily Star, however, said that not only women, but all of the creative industries in Lebanon need better support.
Damaa, for example, is preparing her own event in June to bring together Lebanese designers who sell in Paris as a way to promote the “Made in Lebanon” brand abroad, she said.
Joumana Dagher, a children’s furniture designer, had a similar sentiment: local designers, regardless of gender, need better support. “I don’t feel the inequality,” Dagher said. “The challenge we face is to find people, men or women ... who really appreciate the work.”
Dagher’s tent displayed a range of extra-large pillows covered with vintage comic strips and quirky wooden furniture. Her workshop is one of the few locally that focuses on children’s furniture. Her concept emphasizes modular designs that can be customized, taken apart and rearranged.
Wedged in a corner of the exhibit among the many ladies who set up shop Friday was Tarek Thebian, co-owner and manager at Taj Hindicrafts, which specializes in home accessories bursting with the color. The Oriental-style cushions and embroidered upholstery are handmade in India, he said. His store is among the new businesses participating this year, and Thebian said he hoped Beirut Designers’ Week would allow him to network with people who could expand the business outside its showroom in the Chouf. “It’s good for advertising and searching for franchisers,” he said. “Zaitunay Bay is a good place for that.”