Home Lingerie Lebanese garment makers spy on unlikely opportunity amid economic crisis

Lebanese garment makers spy on unlikely opportunity amid economic crisis

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In a factory overlooking the Mediterranean coast, a tiny model peeks over her shoulder as a camera shutter pulls away.

After maintaining her pose for a moment, a team of designers rush to repair the swimsuit she is wearing, removing even the smallest imperfections.

Scenes like this were once common in the Lebanese capital. But five-star hotels have closed, and the high-rise apartments that span Beirut’s Corniche no longer serve as the backdrop for music videos.

Lebanon’s glamorous past life barely exists outside of memories.

As a severe economic crisis continues to push people into poverty, a handful of companies are trying to get ahead. In the midst of the turmoil, Lebanon became a very cheap place to manufacture luxury clothes.

“You will be amazed at how many factories are now opening in Lebanon,” says Elie Hourani, CEO of Diamony Group, one of the country’s largest fashion houses.

“The trade deficit for years was $ 17 billion or $ 18 billion. Now it’s down to $ 10 billion or $ 11 billion. In two or three years, there will be no deficit, ”he says.

The godfather of Lebanese lingerie

If you had to call a man the godfather of the Lebanese lingerie industry, it would be Mr. Hourani.

“I started selling lingerie by mistake,” he jokes, recalling how he bought a lot of lingerie at a discount during the height of the country’s fifteen-year civil war, then turned is found in the fashion industry.

“I did a law degree in 1977, but there was war and no law then,” he says with a wry smile.

A few years later, he sponsored the annual Miss Lebanon beauty pageant. Diamony made the winners’ tiara – the brand’s name was, literally, sewn onto the country’s fashion scene.

The financial crisis is forcing the country to wean itself from unhealthy dependence on imports and become more independent.

As the economy collapsed, foreign products became unaffordable.

The big brands from Coca Cola to Victoria Secret are dropping out of the market, but there are also opportunities.

For years, Diamony Group has imported fashion brands to Lebanon, now it produces for them.

In 2017, Carol, Mr. Hourani’s daughter, founded Room 24, a high-end fashion brand with outlets in London and Rome. It started producing lingerie, loungewear and swimwear at a factory in Italy, but rising production costs forced a redesign and, in the summer of 2019, just months before the Popular protests did not break out, they transferred production to Lebanon.

“Economically, as a business it made sense,” she says.

“It’s super beneficial for the economy to create something locally that we can export, it’s good for the reputation of the country, you support the local economy by supporting local families.”

With the support of her father, she opened a factory in Kaslik, from which they can now produce up to 3,000 garments per month – and production projects for other brands are also underway.

Swimsuits start at $ 200 online, and with exports to over 15 countries across Europe and the United States, demand for Lebanese lingerie is booming.

A new workforce

They train hundreds of seamstresses in Lebanon, developing a whole new workforce.

All of their operators are women, and salaries are increased every month to cope with the continued devaluation of the Lira.

Beyond the cheap manufacturing costs, there are other factors that are driving companies to locate here. There are no tariffs on imports of goods and machinery for industry.

A company recently bought $ 6 million worth of pasta machines for a factory in Jbeil.

Significant challenges remain, however.

As the fuel crisis reached its peak in the summer, staff were often unable to get to work.

Meanwhile, with the banking sector largely insolvent, those who have to pay for imports must have a bank account abroad. Exporting or importing without one is virtually impossible.

The past few weeks have further demonstrated just how precarious Lebanon’s exports can be.

Saudi Arabia last month banned all imports from Lebanon following inflammatory comments by Information Minister George Kordahi.

Fortunately, the country’s lingerie exports are not entirely dependent on the kingdom’s market, but the threat to any business is obvious.

Exporting lingerie won’t solve Lebanon’s economic crisis, but for Carol, a manufacturing future is imperative for the country.

“We have to face the situation. We are no longer a service economy. We can no longer count on tourism, ”she said.

“We must turn to a manufacturing-exporting economy. This is, I think, the only way out of this mess.

Update: November 12, 2021, 3:02 am