Inside Zari Fashion Bazaar, Saudi Arabia’s first virtual fashion event

DUBAI: There is no denying that the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) — declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March — has disrupted the fashion industry and challenged it to adapt to a new, digital environment. 

Next month, London Fashion Week Men’s will be replaced with a digital-only platform, starting with a virtual fashion week from June 12 to 14. Milano Fashion Week Digital has been announced for July 14 to 17 and will take place via immersive video content. The Paris collections will show virtually from July 9. 

In the Arab world, the industry is also opening up to new channels of communication and creativity. 

Last week, Sara Obeid, founder of a Riyadh-based event management company, teamed up with Saudi visual effects producer Jumana Shaheen to host the country’s first-ever 3D fashion event. 

The Zari Bazaar is a virtual marketplace showcasing designs from local talent. (Supplied)

Entitled “Zari” — named after a traditional type of embroidery that uses metallic thread — the three-day digital-only event was a direct response to the myriad cancelations brought on by COVID-19. 

“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 Arab News. “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 four sections include: Zari Bazaar, a virtual space where local designers can showcase their products in booths; Zari Academy, a panel of fashion experts such as Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council Caroline Rush hosting discussions, workshops and talks; Zari Exhibit, a collection of images of traditional Saudi clothes and accessories; and Zari Lounge, a digital infinity pool for guests to virtually hang out and network. 

The Zari Lounge. (Supplied)

“COVID-19 has had an immense impact on the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia,” notes 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 explained. 

The event, which took 40 days to conceive, aimed to bolster the country’s fashion industry and promote regional talent by showcasing and selling jewelry, accessories, and clothing from a number of local designers. 

Guests were invited to create Sims-like avatars to browse and purchase pieces from fine jewelry brands such Salama Khalfan and Yataghan, as well as ready-to-wear labels like Nabila Nazer and Al Areej, from the comfort of their own living room. 

The Zari Workshop room. (Supplied)

However, dreaming up the event was not without its obstacles.

“We spent a lot of time on research. It is surprising that the virtual technology of 2020 is not as one might expect it to be. Finding photographic inventory of traditional and historical Saudi clothing was also not an easy process,” said Obeid.

But after more than a month of hard work and dedication, the virtual event proved successful, allowing local designers to reach and connect with much larger audiences. 

“Since the pandemic began, there has been a general feeling of hopelessness and fear among people,” Obeid says. “By providing a platform for the designers where they could still connect with their customers, we hope that we are at least minimizing the effects that COVID-19 has had on them.”

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