Saudi creatives prosper online during lockdown 

Spark is a trading platform where verified artists, designers and photographers can sign up and advertise their work. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 May 2020

Saudi creatives prosper online during lockdown 

  • Stay-at-home shoppers turn to homegrown brands

DUBAI: Around the world, art galleries, museums and fashion houses turn to digital channels to keep events and exhibitions going during lockdown. So too are local ventures in Saudi Arabia, and one source of art in particular is finding its place in a quarantined world — resulting in increased recognition for the Kingdom’s independent artists and designers.

Over the past few years, e-commerce outlets for art and design products by Saudi talent have been slowly finding their feet. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, they have suddenly found themselves more popular than ever. With less mall shopping and fewer international deliveries for mainstream brands, shoppers cooped up at home are turning to homegrown ventures and, in turn, highlighting emerging talent in the Kingdom.

“(We have been witnessing) a big spike in online sales,” entrepreneur Bahaa Gazzaz told Arab News. “The question is, will this trend continue after COVID-19? I believe (it) will slightly drop, but not return to the same (as before). Shoppers will remain more active online than pre-COVID-19.”

Bahaa Gazzaz is is the founder of Spark. (Supplied)

Gazzaz, 35, is the founder of Spark — an affordable-art platform that he describes as transforming “artists’ creative expressions into custom-made products.”

Since its launch in 2016, Spark has served as a trading platform where verified artists, designers and photographers can sign up and advertise their work. Products, such as t-shirts, are made to order, resulting in no stock waste, and giving the talent the opportunity to earn a good percentage of the returns.

“(It enables) them to monetize their skill as an artist,” Gazzaz said. “Understanding how their creative expressions can relate to customers, and thus make a sale.”

Spark launched in 2016. (Supplied)

Citing talent such as Fida Al-Hussan, Ameera Al-Sheikh, and Huda Beydoun, he said: “Customers identify and relate to the artist’s work.”

The website’s average demographic is split between men and women aged 25-35, and the most-popular items in the run-up to Ramadan were printed dresses and kimonos.

Given the unpredictability of which items will end up being popular, Gazzaz always advises his artists to keep an open mind.

Spark has served as a trading platform where artists can sign up and advertise their work. (Suppplied)

“In order for (an artist) to reach their highest potential, trial and error — and many failed attempts — must happen. At Spark these come to the artist free of cost. (They can) share their art, and evolve based on what’s popular and what’s not. Let the customers decide.”

Three years prior to Spark’s launch came another concept that is also proving popular right now.

“Dokkan Afkar was born in 2013 with the vision to be the place where creativity can flow — a space for local entrepreneurs, designers and homegrown products to reach larger audiences, grow their business and tell their story,” co-founder and CEO Ammar Waganah explained. “The whole idea of the website is to (help) homegrown businesses and designers reach a wider audience.”

Dokkan Afkar was born in 2013. (Supplied)

Waganah revealed that while his venture has had its fair share of challenges, there’s one that seems to be changing during the pandemic.

“Cash on delivery is always (a challenge), and the market was driven by it until the quarantine. But we believe it's changing,” Waganah said. 

Today, Dokkan Afkar’s main demographic is aged between 20 and 40, and the brand has its sights set on expanding to the rest of the GCC.

Dokkan Afkar’s main demographic is aged between 20 and 40. (Supplied)

“We started with a young Saudi audience who were willing to order and shop online, but we are seeing a big shift, where all ages are shopping online. More consumers are trusting e-commerce.”

During lockdown, the website has seen an increased demand for games. “Games are leading our sales followed by the self-care category,” Waganah says. “We also saw an increase in Ramadan-related products: sebhas, praying mats, kids Ramadan activities packs, and Ramadan decorations.”

Ammar Waganah is the co-founder and CEO of Dokkan Afkar. (Supplied)

Popular homegrown brands available on Dokkan Afkar include Rock Paper Scissors, Rawan Stationary, and Salam, and Waganah believes that local independent art will only become more popular: “We believe that online can help you reach millions of people with your products, creations or designs. Each Saudi entrepreneur and artist has an extraordinary message and product that they can share with the world.”

Gazzaz echoes that sentiment.

“Definitely the world is up for a ride, post COVID-19,” he said. “Technology is going to be a key factor in our way of living. Saudis are becoming more online-friendly, for sure.”

Australian-Lebanese model Jessica Kahwaty urges fans to help Lebanon

Updated 38 min 25 sec ago

Australian-Lebanese model Jessica Kahwaty urges fans to help Lebanon

DUBAI: Model and philanthropist Jessica Kahawaty has taken to social media to raise awareness about Lebanon’s deepening economic crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to reports, the economic crisis coupled with the health pandemic can lead to a famine in the Levant country. 

Kahawaty, who is part Lebanese and part Australian, took to her Instagram Stories to explain the seriousness of Lebanon’s worsening economic crisis and hyperinflation. 

“For non-Lebanese to understand the severity of what’s happening in Lebanon: $100 used to give you 150,000 Lebanese Liras,” she wrote. “Due to the deteriorating state of the country, $100 gives you 900,000 Lebanese Liras. If you’re living and working in Lebanon and your salary a year ago was 4.5 million Liras per month, today that salary is worth $450. Severe inflation is reflecting an increase in prices in the supermarkets,” she added, before urging her followers to donate to different organizations helping on the ground in Lebanon. 

“If you know of more organizations, please DM me so I can share,” she wrote alongside links to several Lebanese NGO’s and charities that provide assistance to Lebanese families struggling to put food on the table.

The 31-year-old also shared a past shoot, which was orchestrated by a team of Lebanese photographers, stylists and makeup artists . “It pains me that this shoot was done by one of the most talented teams of Lebanese creatives, whose dreams are being shattered day-by-day along with the rest of the country due to the careless behavior of the leaders,” she captioned the black-and-white shot.

“Lebanon is known to produce such incredible talent especially in the fashion industry. It devastated me knowing that as soon as they somewhat had their feet on the ground, something close to what our parents experienced may happen again. From hyperinflation to the imminent risk of a civil war, once again the country and people are taken back many steps and many generations.” 

A few celebrities and figures have stepped in to offer their assistance to Lebanon amid its unprecedented economic crisis, including Hollywood power couple George and Amal Clooney who donated $300,000 to the Lebanese Food Bank in April.