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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”