With the surge of environmentally-conscious lifestyle changes seen in recent years from reusable plastic bags, coffee cups and water bottles to the explosion of electric cars changing the way we drive and ‘veganism’ transforming the way we consume food, it is no surprise that fashion is following the same course.
Misconceptions may lead one, however, to assume such changes are only occurring in the countries making the most noise about global warming, those in Europe, North America and large countries such as Australia. Yet Nawal Akl’s timeless vintage fashion store Depot-Vente in Beirut, Lebanon is a testament to the errors of such assumption.
Tackling the prolific production of clothing which has wrought havoc on ecosystems as our consumption habits have grown and changed exponentially as well as helping keep Lebanon’s rich fashion identity alive and allowing younger generations develop their individuality are all part of Akl’s ethos.
Since opening her shop in her home city, ’the Paris of the Middle East’ as it is nicknamed, Akl’s small shop has exceeded her expectations, becoming a symbol of Beirut’s unique aesthetic and vibrant community.
“I began with this business eight years ago. It wasn’t difficult to start, because I just began to stock the clothes that I loved,” she said. “I had no expectation that a business would work. I thought that maybe someday, somebody might be interested to take a look at what I had and perhaps buy something, but I never thought it would be a real business.”
The walls of Akl’s small boutique are lined with brightly coloured, flamboyant dresses, tops, skirts and many of the familiars we are accustomed to in a vintage boutique store. Yet everything appears to have come straight from a photoshoot for a vintage vogue magazine. From 70s cowboy boots to 80s shoulder-padded blazers, there is no limit to what you may find at Depot-Vente Beirut.
Akl provides a personal touch by making sure no-one leaves the store without feeling connected to the item they have purchased: “I am very picky about the items I stock. Everything has to be washed and the shop has to be very clean perhaps more, even, than a regular shop.”Vintage clothing, for Akl, makes for a more confident and original individual as there are no boundaries to what you can put together: “When you are in a regular shop, you are told what the trend is.
“You have to fit yourself into the clothes. In a vintage shop, you can find all the clothes that are more like you, without being obliged to have a total, trendy look. You can begin to choose the items that suit you more and make you unique.”
Although fashion highly relies on marketing in the Instagram generation, Akl takes an “anti-marketing” approach and prefers for the clothes to speak for themselves. “For me, marketing is having to embellish things to make people believe that they should buy them. I don’t want to have clients that are attracted to marketing.
“I want them to come because of the things they can find here and be pleasantly surprised by the price and quality. I want them to leave wearing our things and feeling flattered because they are nicely dressed. That’s my only marketing.”
Akl explains her fashion interests for sequined tops and her love for “bling-bling” stems from her culture and the way she experiences fashion in Lebanon. She believes that the future generation is making Lebanon a place worth living.
“Today’s generation of young Lebanese is a beautiful one that is very aware and open-minded. They believe they should fight for the environment, and they dare to go out dressed the way they want and feel, without any complexes or hang-ups.”
Depot-Vente has become a hotspot for Beirut’s younger fashion scene, one that is heavily based on the colours and aesthetics of Lebanon’s vibrant culture and at the same time draws on international trends.
“I believe in the eyes of this young generation,” Akl said. “I am always inspired by them.” She tells me that Beirut’s younger generation have made the shop into what it is today: “They should be the ones out front.”
With many marches and political debates and the anti-government movement that has taken over the streets of Beirut, it may seem like a fairly unsafe place to start a business. “Of course, all businesses are affected by the crisis we are currently living through now. Hopefully, better days are coming. We can only wish for it.”
With more than 10,000 followers on Instagram and hundreds, if not thousands, of regular customers in Lebanon, Depot-Vente is certainly making a name for itself in the fashion scene and proving that compassion for individuality, self-expression and the damage to our environment can be found where you least expect it.
Growing organically in a troubled area of the world, for the love of fashion and allowing people to feel good about themselves, Akl’s small business can be only be described as nothing short of inspirational.
As her Beirut boutique grows, all eyes are on the future of Depot-Vente and the unique, authentic fashion scene emerging in Lebanon.
Featured image by Nawal Akl.
Edited by: Kesia Evans.