L'artisan du Liban is one of Lebanon's oldest social enterprises and one of the first post-Beirut blast rehabilitation projects undertaken by Alfanar with BEDCO social enterprise by March NGO.

L'artisan's General Manager Roula Haidar, who describes herself as "a regular person who loves her job and is a strong believer in the mission of L'artisan," recounted what these past months have been like for her and L'artisan's team.

 

  1. What was it like when you first saw the shop after the blast?

The team and I went to the shop on the second day. I had an idea of what to expect because of what happened in my own home after the explosion. I knew that a catastrophe was awaiting us. However, what was literally suffocating was the neighborhood itself and the way people surveyed their houses and stores, as they began realizing what had happened. During the first couple of days we were in shock and unable to process what we saw, especially in terms of the damages inside the store itself. We expected to see shattered glass and destruction everywhere. But the extent of the damages to our products was heartbreaking, when every item has its own story, a real person behind it, with whom we worked to design and manufacture it. These items have a soul, a soul that was damaged in an indescribable way.

My initial reaction wasn't very emotional. The emotions and tears came later and when I least expected, for example as I was giving an interview weeks after the blast. All I know is that our main concern was to find a way to close and protect the store in any way possible.

 

  1. What did the reconstruction process and Alfanar's support mean to you?

Both our boutiques in Beirut were hit, though the damages in Clemenceau were relatively minor. It took me one month to even pass by to check on them! All our team's efforts, even those whose homes had also been damaged, were concentrated in Gemmayzeh. Initially, we weren't thinking of rebuilding, the focus was on clearing the debris. At times, it felt as if we were doing this to erase the traces of the catastrophe, which we knew was impossible. But ultimately, all we wanted was to preserve and protect our products.

During the reconstruction process, we wanted to get the job done in the best possible way. There always was the occasional friendly argument on how we wanted the job done! We are quality-oriented in everything we do and mindful to details, including in the repairs, but BEDCO was very responsive and the entire process went very smoothly.

More importantly, however, as a social enterprise ourselves, being supported by Alfanar in the reconstruction process was extremely important to us. Alfanar is an organization with which we relate to. We share the same values and ethical approach in our missions, of which we are proud. Therefore, this support in itself meant a lot to us.

 BEDCO by March workers renovating L'artisan du Liban's showroom

BEDCO by March workers renovating L'artisan du Liban's show room

  1. What has been the most difficult part of these past months?

Even as the rebuilding and repairing took place, we knew better than to pretend that things will go back to the way they use to, at least in the coming 2-3 years. This puts a huge responsibility on us and on our ability to retain our employees, who in turn work with our artisans. Without them, we can't work with the hundreds of artisans in our network, who depend on L'artisan's production orders.

After getting past the shock and realization of the responsibility that lies ahead, I noticed the sense of solidarity that characterized the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts. Solidarity in itself is one of the most important means to remain strong in times of crisis. This was clear not only on the ground, but even among our customers, who kept on checking on us to make sure we were going to get back in business.

Part of dealing with this catastrophe is witnessing and living this sense of solidarity, especially with the BEDCO team, who are well aware of the meaning of economic and social hardship. Given their own difficult personal circumstances, the contribution they are making to bring Beirut back on its feet, whether through L'artisan or all their other projects, is truly remarkable. The feeling of solidarity was mutual and in every step of the process. Whether it was in the cleaning, repairing and rebuilding, we weren't going to erase what happened, because we can't, but we would be able to get through this together.

 

  1. What's next for L'artisan?

This remains the main question. In spite of the current challenging circumstances, our customers haven't left us. However, the issue today revolves around the viability of our business and the need to review our business model in order to adapt to these new circumstances. This applies to finding new sources of local raw material and to producing an affordable line of products that meets the demands of our traditional clientele. Demand in itself is also changing, given economic hardship faced by our local clientele. Demand from tourists and expatriates, both of which constitute more than half of our customers, are also at risk. Socio-economic conditions, exacerbated by the coronavirus, will stop many of them from visiting Lebanon this year.

Therefore, we are reassessing our export strategy for the medium and long-run and enhancing our online presence, sales of which have already started growing in the past months. We are also considering expanding to Saudi Arabia, once we have sufficient resources to do so. We know this move has great potential, given the substantial demand for our products in Saudi Arabia.

 

  1. Your last thoughts

I hope the sense of solidarity that shined in the aftermath of the explosion remains. I also hope that donors and related organizations will keep on with their work on the ground and expand their support even further, which has been crucial in supporting initiatives whose goal is to create jobs and secure a stable source of income for people during such difficult times.

What L'artisan does is a mission in itself, and this is what keeps me going every morning to come to work. I hope Lebanon will allow us to keep on pursuing our mission and not destroy what's left of our passion and drive and that of anyone who has chosen to stay and keep on working here.

Learn more about how Alfanar's Emergency Lebanon Appeal is helping social enterprises to rebuild in the wake of the August 4 Beirut explosion.