The lawn business is mammoth; its proportions are gargantuan. Hundreds of thousands of rupees are dropped into production and campaigns at the drop of a hat, millions of yards of fabric is printed and distributed, and most is sold. The lawn market is like a vast ocean, with contenders casting their nets and vying for some kind of fortune from it. Lawn is where fortunes are made, whether you are a mill owner, designer, campaign photographer or even a model.
The kind of numbers that mills like Gul Ahmed and Alkaram generate can’t even be imagined unless you read their annual financial reports. According to reliable sources, Gul Ahmed has an estimated five billion rupees set aside for their lawn production alone. “We produce around four summer collections a year; the last is Eid specific since [the festival] has been falling in the summer during the last few years,” says Shehnaz Basit, director for marketing at Gul Ahmed. “All the summer collections consist of lawn fabric. Simultaneously, exclusive ranges of lawn prints are developed for our ready-to-wear department. Over the past few years, clothing has become very important,” she adds.
Gul Ahmed’s textile exports are huge, but that doesn’t imply all lawn is exported; most is also absorbed within the local market, Basit explains. “Only around five per cent is exported.” She says, that “the demand for lawn [export] is very high, especially in India”, but it’s “still a grey market because export duties are very high”.
The amalgamation of fashion designers and lawn, of course, has added prestige and design value to an already commercially successful product. Financially, there was really no need for such collaboration but with the tiny fashion industry hogging the style spotlight, it was a step taken for attention. And true to its intention, textile/designer collaborations have overshadowed publicity for eight months of a sartorial year. March through October, when Pakistan enjoys a lengthy summer and women turn to lawn as their staple fabric, ‘designer lawn’ is all they can talk about.
The last three to four years have seen the saturation of two trends: mills contracting fashion designers to lend their names and expertise for limited ‘designer lawn’, and, inversely, designers hiring mills to print their fabric. The first collaboration is straightforward. Textile mills like Alkaram, Orient, Lakhany, Lala, Crescent, etc, have been known to commission fashion designers anything between two million and 20 million rupees per collection (depending on the designer’s ranking), reveal sources in the business. For textile mills, that amounts to a bucket out of a multi-billion rupee pool; for designers it is relatively easy money (and a lot of publicity) coming their way.
Until two years ago, almost every lawn campaign revolved around this equation. Soon after, many designers (especially those with investment capacity) realised that there was a lot more money to be made if they could finance their own lawn instead of designing for mills. That said, not everyone can afford this huge investment running into millions of rupees required for a process ranging from raw fabric purchase to printing (the latter alone can cost anywhere between 15-20 rupees per yard), to the marketing campaign and actual sales that include exhibition costs and distribution. For a young designer, who wants to play it safe, by printing around 30,000 suits or joras – (which would include fabric for a kameez, trouser and dupatta) to the accomplished names that easily produce up to 200,000 joras, it is a huge undertaking.
It is a risk Sana Safinaz were willing to take when they went solo a couple of years ago. After lending their name to Alkaram, Firdous and Lakhany for almost 14 years, they decided to start printing their own fabric. Today, Sana Safinaz buy their lawn and chiffon and silk used in dupattas themselves, and outsource the printing to various mills of their choice. “It is a head-banging process to get the right quality. We feel that we are bleeding all the way,” says Safinaz Muneer of the procedure that begins in August for a collection to be launched in March next year. It is lengthy and tedious, especially for designers like Sana and Safinaz who sweat it out to create designs according to their own design philosophy, and then team it with the finest quality of fabric available. “It is not easy to put in the sleepless nights, the work and the money,” Muneer adds.
In Lahore Khadijah Shah of Èlan talks about some of the challenges. Shah prints in Faisalabad and with the gas and power outages the entire process becomes a nightmare. “It’s a six-month process, from motif development to printing to adverting and the actual launch,” Shah tells the Herald. “Most textile mills are into bed sheets and linen printing, which doesn’t work for lawn,” she says. “We are printing 25,000-30,000 suits because I feel branded lawn should be exclusive and we don’t want to inundate the market with it.”
Sania Maskatiya, who is launching her debut lawn collection with Sapphire Textiles this year, is going by the same philosophy. “We are printing around 25,000 pieces (joras) so [the quantity] is pretty contained,” says Umair Tabani, the brand’s head of business. The interesting thing is that Maskatiya is simultaneously launching her lawn as a limited prêt collection. Around 5,000 of the printed lawn pieces will be sold as ready-to-wear tunics. While designers have been offering tailoring of their own lawn to their clients, no one has put up tailored units on a considerable scale. “The mill printing for us – Sapphire – will be stitching our ready-to-wear [collection] as well,” Tabani adds. “But we have supplied all the patterns, the buttons and the trimmings for the finishing. We have our own quality controls, checks and balances in place because at the end of the day it is our name on the line.”
Another evolutionary step in the Sania Maskatiya line will be the introduction of figurines and animal prints. Designers have historically stayed clear of both because of a simple reason — they don’t sell. The conservative market condemns figures and animals as prints, unacceptable for religious reasons. But Maskatiya, who has built a reputation around her love for figurines, will be including them in her lawn. Tabani, however, explains that “only 20 per cent of the prints are figurative” and believes that there is a big enough market for them. “Our clients are comfortable wearing animal prints and figurines and we feel people are more open to them now.”
Whether it is textile mill and designer collaborations, ready-to-wear lawn or the introduction of cultural diversity into prints (the latter was unfathomable five years ago), lawn is undergoing a revolution that is influencing the dynamic of the textile and fashion industry. Last year, the Trade and Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) took a large textile exhibition to Delhi, India. This year an Indian designer is reportedly designing a collection of lawn prints for a Pakistani mill, namely Five Star Textiles. Will lawn become the real prêt-à-porter for Pakistan? Will textiles facilitate business between India and Pakistan even if borders remain closed for open trade? So far, it appears that lawn has shown that it has the power to pull revolutions of sorts.