Star Tech: POPC in Dubai gifts Mideast's first artist marketplace

Three Pakistani nationals — Amna Aijaz, Arafaat Ali Khan and Haroon Tahir — are shaking up the digital merchandise space for pop art

By Joydeep Sen Gupta

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Published: Fri 28 Oct 2022, 1:27 PM

In July, amid the easing of the Covid-19 pandemic, Dubai gifted the Arabian Gulf the region's first artist marketplace, aptly called POPC.

The start-up has launched a variety of merchandise, such as T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, canvas and framed prints, conceptualised by young Middle East-based entrepreneurs and artists.

Amna Aijaz, co-founder and head of design, POPC, is the brain behind it.

In August 2020, as the world was grappling with the pandemic, she wanted to launch her own merchandise store after the events and marketing industry took a major hit because of the raging viral outbreak.

Amna quickly figured that there was no online pop culture artist marketplace in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, where artists could easily upload and sell their designs at no cost or hassle. Amna's findings stem from her eight-year immersive experience in the creative industry and pop culture. She was born in the Maldives and moved to Dubai at the age of 10, and the Pakistani national has been living in this vibrant and creative city for the past 19 years.

Soon, Amna realised that independent pop culture artists were confined to selling their merchandise at events and were desperately looking for a fixed platform to sell their works. Amna connected with her former university classmate Haroon Tahir and her ex-line manager Arafaat Ali Khan, who is known for co-founding the region's first and largest Comic Con, and they concluded about a complete dearth of quality merchandise available locally.

To make matters worse, the products available were not on par with global standards as far as print quality, design, fit and durability were concerned.

Amna weighed on the dearth of quality merchandise available locally.

"From our experience and research of the local market, all the merchandise produced locally are low calibre heat press prints and lack the right fit and cut when it comes to apparels. There is also a general lack of infrastructure or understanding of on-demand or custom production, which is the key element of POPC's supply chain. Ours is a more sustainable option that ensures minimal waste during production," she said.

The market insight gave tailwinds to their creative venture.

"In January, POPC entered the market research and development (R&D) phase in January 2021. Development of the site continued through till March 2022 as the three of us co-founders, Haroon, Arafaat and I, further re-engaged with the artist and pop culture community through social media platforms while building the right merchandising team that understood the business on-demand model. The site went live in April 2022 and the launch took place in July," Amna said.

"At present, we have 16 artists live on our website, and another 15 are in the pipeline. We manually curate each and every artwork that is submitted by them.

"Their backgrounds and nationalities are quite diverse with the majority of them being based in the GCC. Our repertoire includes renowned British artist Des Taylor, Saudi Arabia's Anood Kurdi, Syrian Nour Abou Harb, Indian Leroy Fernandes and Sri Lankan Route 345 (Sachi)," said Arafaat, a Pakistani entrepreneur, who has been at the forefront of the pop culture movement in the Middle East for the past 20 years, and has been given a Golden Visa by the Dubai Government for promoting creativity in Dubai.

Arafaat, a resident of Dubai for the past 40 years, is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Waverider Entertainment, the holding company behind POPC. He helped secure seed funding for the platform because of his vast experience in pop culture, journalism, marketing and advertising and personal rapport with a wide network of local and global artists.

Haroon, who was born and raised in the UAE and also of Pakistani descent, is a force multiplier as the head of marketing in the fledgling creative endeavour. His family has a strong link with his adopted homeland, as both his father and grandfather are retired military officers and served in the UAE Armed Forces in the 1970s and 1980s.

He has over eight years of experience in fashion and lifestyle marketing, communications and research with a background of working at the region's top creative agencies and launching campaigns for renowned local and global brands. And all his skills come in handy to take the start-up to the next level.



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