21 Apr 2020
Beirut, Lebanon
Sustainable Furniture

Some emblems speak so strongly to a country’s heritage that they are sewn into national flags. An eagle devours a snake on Mexico’s tricolour, recalling the Aztec founding myth of Tenochtitlan (today, Mexico City). The Canadian flag hosts a large red maple leaf in homage to that country’s soaring forests or its delicious pancake syrup — or both. 

For Lebanon, that emblem is the venerable cedar tree, considered a symbol of longevity in the Bible and elsewhere. Unfortunately, literary respect for the cedar has not translated into real life. Over centuries, lumberjacks have slashed the coverage of cedars from 500,000 hectares to just 2,000. 

This historical wastefulness of carpentry is not lost on Farah El Zein, the founder of sustainable furniture company Green Shift Leb. Rather than buying new materials, El Zein creates trendy furniture from used wooden objects. Through upcycling, Green Shift Leb encourages both eco-conscious consumption and labour, with her craftspeople applying their talents in a thoroughly “green” workplace.

Since 2017, El Zein has perceived an appetite in the Lebanese market for furniture that is unique, while also minimising environmental harm. “Our products form part of the circular economy and can be customised to the buyer’s needs,” said El Zein. 

What is more, Green Shift Leb draws in customers with the special background for each new piece. El Zein’s team has made gramophone-style lamps from wine bottles; fashioned a desk into a bookshelf; and repurposed cigar boxes as tea bowls, jewellery boxes and food trays.

“My favourite moments are when people become aware of what we do, and ask about the story of each item,” said El Zein.

El Zein is the creative mind behind Green Shift Leb, drawing on her background as an interior architect and her current PhD studies in sustainable architecture. She finds high-quality wooden pieces and imagines a new future for them. Then, as required, El Zein engages carpenters and other craftspeople to implement her designs. 

For now, Green Shift Leb has sold products at exhibitions and street markets. As the business grows, El Zein would like to place her pieces in concept stores, before ultimately opening her own workshop and gallery.

Like other small retailers, Green Shift Leb must swim strategically to stay afloat in the turbulent seas of Lebanon’s economic crisis. El Zein’s research indicates that her customers have tight budgets for commodities like furniture, meaning that she needs to keep prices low. At the same time, the business model faces upward pressure from the escalating cost of wages, sourcing materials, and transporting products to exhibitions.

Nevertheless, Green Shift Leb is already geared towards a brighter future for Lebanon, when customers will continue making more sustainable choices in buying new furniture. In addition, the business will continue providing an outlet for artisans to select eco-friendly work assignments. “Our aim is to provide local, green jobs to talented craftspeople,” said El Zein. 


Learn more about Green Shift Leb through Instagram and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Green Shift Leb

David Wood is a freelance writer and researcher based in Beirut. He previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
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