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An online bazaar not such a bizarre concept

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

During the peak of Covid- 19, owner of a Ryadh-based event management company, Sara Obeid, brought the hustle and bustle of a Middle East shopping mall to our living rooms by allowing our avatar doppelgängers to mull around a digital fashion bazaar.

There is no denying that Coronavirus (COVID- 19), has majorly disrupted the fashion industry and challenged it to adapt to a new, digital environment that many industry insiders have tried to shy away from. Live catwalks and front row seats riddled with celebrities are going to be traded in for immersive video content, digital-only platforms and what I am sure will be plenty of special effects to captivate your attention towards the screen. London, Milan and Paris have preparations to move their fashion weeks to digital platforms that comply with the ‘work from home’ orders in most locked down cities and will be an exciting display of integrating fashion and technological advances. But before those events have taken place, Saudi Arabia held its own first virtual fashion event.

New channels of communication and creativity have been emerging throughout different industries worldwide, allowing for people to create new and exciting experiences for clients in a virtual realm. In mid-May, Sara Obeid, founder of a Riyadh-based event management company, collaborated with Jumana Shaheen, a Saudi visual effects producer, to host the country’s first-ever 3D fashion event.

With Covid- 19 gravely affecting the famous shopping mall culture of the Middle East, Obeid wanted to find a way to bring that culture back to the forefront of Saudi lifestyle while abiding by lockdown restrictions; and thus the 3-day digital-only event, “Zari Fashion Bazaar”, named “Zari” after a traditional type of embroidery that uses metallic thread, was born.

“Having friends who work in fashion, I’ve come to know first-hand the disastrous effects those in the industry have had to endure due to the pandemic,” said Obeid to S.I.R.I.U.S.

“As it was Ramadan, we began to think how wonderful it would be to bring people together over a traditional bazaar. From that idea, we developed it further to become a virtual fashion forum that hosts four main sections,” she added.

The event took 40 days to conceive and aimed to assist the country’s currently failing fashion industry (as a result of Coronavirus) and promote regional designer talent by showcasing and selling accessory and clothing designs from a host of local designers. Promoting regional designers is only 1/4 of the main sections that fall under the categories: Zari Bazaar, a virtual space where local designers can showcase their products in booths; Zari Academy, where discussions, workshops and talks will be held by fashion insiders and experts including the Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council, Caroline Rush; Zari Exhibit, a curation of images of traditional Saudi clothes and accessories and Zari Lounge, a digital infinity pool space for guests to virtually hang out and network.

“Covid-19 has had an immense impact on the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia,” noted Obeid. “All fashion retail stores and spaces are closed, and shopping at malls is a huge part of our culture. A lot of established local brands don't have an online presence and rely heavily on their customer foot traffic to sustain their businesses,” she elaborated.

Guests to the bazaar were encouraged to create avatars that strongly resemble EA Games’ popular Sims franchise and use their digital doppelgänger to browse and purchase pieces from fine jewellery brands such as Salama Khalfan and Yataghan, as well as ready-to-wear labels like Nabila Nazer and Al Areej, all from the comfort of their sofas.

“By providing a platform for the designers where they could still connect with their customers, we hope that we are at least minimising the effects that covid- 19 has had on them,” Obeid said.

After more than a month of hard work and dedication the three-day digitally exclusive event, that kicked off on 10 May, went off without a hitch. Obeid praised herself and her co-creators for the success and is hoping to continue to find new ways of encouraging local talent in a showcase that can be reached from the comfort and safety of your home.


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