Lebanon has been experiencing economic turmoil for the last few years, sparking protests across the country and leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The new Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, then announced that Lebanon would default on its foreign debt, really putting the severity of the country’s finances on full display. The pandemic was effective in removing protestors from the street when stay-at-home orders had to be put in place, but it also exacerbated the economic distress of the citizens. Finally, further devastation hit on Aug. 4, 2020, when an explosion rocked Beirut: killing 200, injuring around 5,000, and leaving about 300,000 temporarily homeless. Lebanese designer Roni Helou lives in Beirut and had first-hand experience of all of these events. He shared his story and commitment to art and entrepreneurship with Bold TV.
How entrepreneurs are coping
Many designers like Helou were affected by the explosion. Helou’s studio was only about 100 meters away, he tells Bold TV, and his windows were blown out, walls were knocked down and work was lost. Many other entrepreneurs are in the same predicament, but just like him, they are doing their best to move forward. According to Helou, the atmosphere in the country isn’t very encouraging, but being an entrepreneur is all about encouraging yourself to move forward, even during hardship. Entrepreneurs are specially equipped for handling challenges. Of course, an explosion and a worldwide health crisis are extreme circumstances, but they are challenges that can be overcome through help and innovation. Helou explains that support from communities and initiatives abroad has been extremely helpful for him and others like him. Additionally, he is leveraging the power of the internet to continue to release new designs and make sales.
The future for this Lebanese designer
The beauty of small businesses is that they usually hire within their local community, paying those around them and empowering those people with the finances to live, buy and thrive in their community. Small businesses are the backbone of most economies. And although Helou plans to leave Lebanon and bring his family and design work to Qatar, he wants his clothing to be made in Lebanon. His passion is to stimulate the economy of his country and stay true to his roots working with local artisans, suppliers and craftspeople. The Lebanese dollar is so low in value, and Helou hopes that by infusing fresh dollars from foreign countries into Lebanon — by purchasing supplies and paying his production team — he can do his part to save the economy of his homeland.