What is the future of shopping? What will the boutique stores of the future look like?
Perhaps intelligent robots will greet customers at the door and show people around. Or, people can try on clothes and jewellery through virtual reality or order items from home and have them delivered by drones. Such technologies are not far-fetched, in fact all of them exist in real life and it is a matter of time before they hit everyone’s doors.
Today, thanks to technologies such as e-commerce, mobile banking and the boom in online shops, many aspects of our lives are slowly but surely changing. But the retail sector is experiencing a particularly severe instability at the moment.
Online markets, especially those selling clothes, shoes, small household items and electronics using mobile phone apps such as Telegram, Viber and Facebook are on the upsurge. As they are not subjected to tax or rent, they usually provide shoppers with countless options and lower prices with personalized delivery methods.
Retailers failing to adopt and meet modern shoppers’ expectations are weakening or possibly failing. And most businesses are reacting to the surge in creative ways, cultivating experiences that simply cannot be replicated on-line or in physical stores.
One of these establishments is Sabegn, a concept shop. A concept shop, by definition is a place where new ideas (concepts) are put together with the purpose of selling them.
Located around ‘Bole Tele’ in front of Sapphire Hotel, Sabegn is set inside a single floor residential style villa. Entering the premises feels like home, that is, if your home is filled with items showcasing the works of contemporary artists, designers and artisans.
Sabegn is built on the idea of creating experience-focused retail. “It allows you to look at art, talk with artists, shop for clothes or meet your friends over a cup of coffee” said Amanuel Feleke, manager of Sabegn. Although the space is used for shopping, a good portion of the space is dedicated for art, lifestyle, food and community activities.
The shop sells carefully curated items and stocks products from more than 40 brands while also producing its own line of leather products. The products in the shop include clothes, shoes, accessories, artworks, books and other utensils. It rotates different merchandizes frequently, like a gallery would with art, making sure to turn over so that there is always something new.
Temporary events like pop up shops and exhibitions are hosted; visitors are encouraged to network with the artists, to mingle with each other in the cafe, get the feel of the merchandize, or explore the compound to see in-house artisans in the process of creating. Everything is designed to enhance the shopping experience and retain the shoppers, to make them spend as much time as possible. Because at Sabegn, it’s not the products that are sold, it is the lifestyle.
“Sabegn is a reflection of people behind the products, the artisans, designers and dreamers who work together across cultures to craft their collections. You will only find quality items that are handcrafted by different artisan groups and workshops using local materials and time-honoured skills. Personal attention and care is incorporated into every piece, infusing it with a feeling of uniqueness and individuality” said Amanuel.
“We have a good relationship with brands that sell similar products with us; we have some of their products displayed in our shop. In a way, they are competition, but the market is vast.”
On the most recent events hosted by Sabegn, “Sheger Mixed Art 1.1” and “BlackRhino’s Pop- up shop” various artists showcased and promoted their works. Art lovers, gift hunters, collectors, socialites and members of the community joined in to attend this event.
During the beginning of September, Black Rhino, an up and coming brand known for its uniquely crafted bags and experimental materials was one of the stars at Sabegn. The company uses three materials: leather, canvas and wax prints, all of which are sourced from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa and other African countries.
Founder of BlackRhino Fashion, Leul Tedela said that the brand’s essence is driven by his vision of representing the continent through his contemporary products.
Most of his bags have a casual feel to them “street fashion” as he puts them. “Leather is usually associated with luxury, and leather bags with office-wear.”
“It usually has its own target group, its own established context. But by incorporating it with different materials and designs, it can become more versatile. It can bring aesthetics to necessity, it can become durable, affordable and most of all, it can have an everyday look that can work for everyone.”
Another exhibitor at Sabegn was Izzat Amanuel, Izzat is a distinctive artist known his ‘surrealist’ style , the small stories and simple messages his pieces convey. Izzat uses mixed mediums, frequents inks, markers and acrylics on acid free papers.
In one of his artworks titled the “Moon”, an African woman is portrayed as a moon goddess. The colors in the piece are very basic; blue and white to express light, pink and red to create ambient lighting and dark tones to create shadow. And yet, the contrasts used in his colors result in something iridescent, almost producing a glow-like effect. “I keep things simple.” Izzat said, “I prefer the use of two- three bold, but complimentary colours because I like high contrast imageries.”
Afro-Habesha, a textile brand with many years of experience in the industry, also exhibited its products. The wide range of expertise on materials, sources, ‘shema’ artisans and networks allowed them to produce items that fully focus on nothing but design. The products are completely different from what is out there. Another textile brand, by the name of ”Lulit” produces detail oriented products that go as far as dying individual threads , using plant extracts as dyes and stains. This process intensive brand is also known for the hypoallergenic Gabies (traditional blankets) that are suitable for the most sensitive skin, including new-borns.
Another exhibitor, Woinshet Goshu, an emerging digital artist known for the simple portraits and storytelling she does collaborated with fine art photographer Solomon Nigus. Together, they exhibited 6 artworks inspired by human feelings by reviling untold stories. One of their artworks titled “The love story” tells a story between two people who coincidently met on a public bench and ultimately fall in love. The monochromatic shot shows a public bench under a bridge around Bole. The duo chose it because they believe “it touches many people’s lives”
The photo, which repeats in six different frames, serves as a base portraying the location and timeline, and was taken by Solomon. While the digital drawings made by Woinshet show how the story unfolds from coincidently meeting a stranger, falling in love, growing old and eventually losing them to death.
Other exhibitors include Alemayhu Bekele, a string artist that exhibit intricate and complex string artworks that are three dimensional, Michael Asrat, a comic book and illustrated novel artist who writes inspiring stories for children and teens, multiple photographers, jewellers and established companies such as Duka, Bermero and Misgana who sell locally made shoes.
It is no secret that retail stores face multiple challenges in the forms of inflation, rent and the ever changing styles and consumer behaviours. But by blending ‘experience’ with convenience and transforming themselves to meet the modern shoppers’ expectation, establishments like Sabegn are ensuring their longevity in the industry.