Pakistan’s social landscape has recently become inundated with the advent of multiple fashion weeks, hosted by competing fashion councils and organisations. The Herald invited three panellists whose expertise in the field of fashion extends to organisation, design, retail and commerce, to discuss whether fashion weeks translate into sales.
Ayesha Tammy Haq, a lawyer and multimedia journalist was also the CEO of Fashion Pakistan, a council of Karachi-based designers; Shamaeel Ansari, the CEO of her design company with nearly 25 years of experience as a designer, is currently the chairperson of the Fashion Pakistan Council, and Zahir Rahimtoola, the founder and CEO of Labels, a store which popularised off-the-rack western casuals in Pakistan back in the nineties. They were also joined by industry stalwart and former model, Frieha Altaf, the head of Catwalk Productions; Umair Tabani, the CEO for the award-winning Sania Maskatiya label; and Feeha Noor Jamshed, a young designer who has transformed TeeJays. Collectively, they argue that due to the fashion industry being much too nascent, with a little more support, it can in time prosper for Pakistani and international markets alike.
Herald. How critical are fashion weeks for the industry to thrive in Pakistan?
Zahir Rahimtoola. Fashion weeks are an important platform showcasing designers. However fashion weeks need to be geared to the business of fashion as opposed to entertainment. They need to put the right kind of pressure on designers to produce at least two solid collections a year, which is the requirement of any fashion industry in the world. Also, they have helped consolidate the fashion industry and are perhaps the most economical way for new talent to showcase their brand on the ramp.
Ayesha Tammy Haq. The first fashion week in Pakistan, organised by Fashion Pakistan in November 2009 used the media to broadcast Pakistani fashion to the world.
Herald. Why don’t we see more buyers coming in?
Umair Tabani. This is a tricky question. Accessibility comes with designers having the infrastructure to produce. We need the council to facilitate strategic partnerships with designers who don’t have the infrastructure and companies looking for designers. Designers should show a mix of items that are sellable and ramp-worthy.
Rahimtoola. The term designer is very broadly used in Pakistan. There is a distinction between a true designer and a fashion entrepreneur and this is where the problem lies.
Shamaeel Ansari. I agree with Zahir. This is achievable with a synergy between the designer and the entrepreneur.
Tabani. At Sania Maskatiya, we’ve always strived to achieve a balance between creativity and mass demand. Let’s face it: we live in a Muslim country and 95 per cent of our women are conservative and not in good shape.
Feeha Noor Jamshed. The mass production level of catering is minimum. Fashion needs to be seen on the streets. Every international designer has lines for pret, couture and retail. Where my own label is concerned mass production price points start at 2,500 rupees up to 5,000 rupees; pret is from 10,000 rupees upwards; and couture is another ball game.
Herald. Do fashion weeks function simply to showcase designers and their talents, or do they actually translate into collections in stores?
Ansari. Before fashion weeks took place, there were only a few designers that found their way to mainstream consumers. Fashion weeks and the media machinery they involve bring the entire gamut of designers to the forefront. Today, after successive fashion weeks in Pakistan, one can truly boast of at least 50 credible names in the industry. Also it has been a tremendous opportunity for the media to join hands with the secondary industry associated with fashion such as choreographers, photographers and retailers to interact and work on one platform.
Tammy Haq. I think you need to step back for a moment. Fashion weeks are a platform. Designers need to have production facilities if they are looking for huge orders.
Ansari. I agree that fashion weeks can only provide a platform and a quality benchmark for selection. And yes, it does depend on the individual designer to take the collections forward to sales. This can only come about by establishing discipline, work ethic and production facilities.
Jamshed. It should transfer into sales and such platforms have increased sales for most designers making clothes that can be sold off the racks.
Herald. @Zahir, as a buyer, what do you look for when you attend fashion weeks in Pakistan?
Rahimtoola. Fashion weeks are more of a meet-and-greet exercise as we are connected with our designers on a daily basis. Moreover, since we don’t have comprehensive seasonal collections, for me fashion weeks at the moment are not a great buying source.
Frieha Altaf. Besides multi-brand stores, new designers now have the opportunity to show talent and recruit buyers even if it’s in the local market. I disagree with Zahir, I feel the platform brings a lot of talent – and hence sales – upfront.
Tammy Haq. Our designers aim to sell their collections making large capital investments in them which they need to recover. They need to evolve to seasonal collections that they can place in stores as well.
Altaf. I’ve noticed that established designers are not interested in fashion weeks. The new [designers] need the platform more.
Ansari. It is equally important for established designers to exhibit collections as well as the new as today fashion weeks are live streamed to the world and give seasoned designers a kind of exposure they’ve never had before. As such the industry still needs to cater to the upcoming vast demand in regional markets.
Are Pakistani fashion weeks translating
*The above question was posed to online readers during the two-hour live discussion
Herald. What needs to change in terms of designer output and quality control?
Rahimtoola. There is a disconnect between the textile industry and fashion designers. Textile mills are used to producing large runs of fabric, but the kind of fabric produced in Pakistan really does not cut the ice for the designer. However, of late, we are seeing a bridge between the textile mills and fashion designers via lawn.
Ansari. A liaison between designers and the industry of finished garments is needed. If fashion has to go from Pakistan to the West, large-scale manufacturing and quality standards can be established as well as financing with ideal mergers between designers and the textile industry. Pakistan is known for its denim quality. The first collaboration between ready-to-wear garments and textile should be made with denim.
Tammy Haq. The truth is that Pakistan is producing quality garments for high-street stores all over the world. Unfortunately, we are not designing them.
Ansari. Time and again we say that the Trade Development Authority (TDA) has set up fashion cells to document the business of fashion. However, nothing has materialised to date. Support from the TDA would be of great use to document the total value of the industry. Pakistan has always lacked the right kind of support from government authorities for fashion. As such, it is not just fashion institutes that are required. Alongside this, venture capital needs to come in, in order to invest in the talent here. A consortium of textile industrialists investing in designers to do the job of value-added designing would certainly change the story.
Herald. Why has the fashion industry failed to make strides in the international market, whereas countries like Turkey and India tend to project their indigenous designers successfully?
Rahimtoola. India started the business of fashion weeks in the year 2000. Whilst it has held their domestic industry to date, they have yet to make a benchmark on the international scene. Designers such as Manish Malhotra have received critical acclaim but hardly any commercial success. However the same designers have tapped into the local market which has facilitated their growth largely due to Bollywood and fashion weeks.
Ansari. In terms of an indigenous designer label, India needs to find its space on the racks abroad. Coming back to Pakistan, the government here must take a hard look at fashion as an industry. In my opinion, I feel the government has not viewed fashion beyond entertainment for their buyers. It is all about acquiring knowledge in this industry — the economic aspect of the amount of labour it hires in its entirety. As far as the fact that it preserves the job or vocation of the artisan today, we have seen how many machines for digital printing are being imported into the country. There are so any aspects that the government can gain knowledge upon if they choose to.
Tammy Haq. Professionally run bodies will then be able to deal with all aspects of the business. I do not agree with the notion that the government should be involved or be dictating how councils are run. At best there could be some sort of funding which should be made to the council and not designers.
Altaf. That’s why Shamoon (of Khaadi) does so well, he’s got 10 people from overseas running his manufacturing, quality control etc. He’s got five stores in the UAE, and still expanding. His could be the business model to look at.
Ansari. Shamoon’s model is based primarily on the right partnerships, which has meant investment, capital and growth. I feel there is a lot of talent in Pakistan for financial people to run fashion houses. Fashion weeks are helping in bringing the business to the forefront. Slowly but surely we are seeing growth of good management, at least in a few fashion design enterprises. The TDA in my view needs to assist in developing trade. This means organising the financial liaisons. It is only when designers acquire a consistent professional scale of manufacturing that it can truly be called an industry.
Herald. Also, just concentrating on bridal couture and mass-market design creates a vacuum for mid-level consumers and isn’t that where prêt wear comes in?
Rahimtoola. Sania Maskatiya is a prime example of a successful prêt business. She has been able to create a huge prêt business, as have Sana Safinaz. Khaadi is another example of brilliant innovation, of creating a huge prêt market for themselves in an unfavourable retail environment. We have these examples which have been huge success stories. They have been focused in their objectives and have consistently delivered.
Ansari. Agreed. I think the availability of ready-to-wear is going to be important in Pakistan. Lifestyles are changing with little time on hand for everyone.
Tammy Haq. Drive through the Zamzama lanes and you’ll be amazed at how many shops there are and how much prêt they are selling.
Herald. What sorts of gaps do you see in the fashion market, in terms of quality, production, creativity and trained professionals?
Rahimtoola. Quality control is lacking as we do not have standardised quality control levels.
Altaf. The problem is that all the students want to become designers. No one wants to drape, stitch, make patterns, write or just sketch and merchandise.
Tammy Haq. Shortcut Nation, Frieha.
Rahimtoola. We have recently started the business of e-commerce for international markets. Unfortunately, as there is very limited standardisation we have had to create and sell to individually specified and detailed outfits.
Jamshed. [TeeJays] deals in mass production, supplying to all the major multi brand stores in Pakistan and also sells online. We are not taking any custom-made orders at the moment but concentrating on producing and supplying in bulk.
Herald. As a retailer, do you communicate this to designers, and if so, what’s the response?
Rahimtoola. I am of the opinion that fashion councils will need to create advisory bodies to assist designers.
Tammy Haq. Designers need to learn how to execute their craft. The fashion schools and The Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture have produced great talent such as Kamiar Rokni, Nomi Ansari, etc. There may be huge amounts of creativity and talent but lack of business acumen may result in inadequate capital to produce.
Saman. Have fashion weeks helped local Pakistani designers projecting their expertise in the global limelight?
Ansari. The international media always picks up our fashion weeks. Through this we have generated an interest in international fashion communities. FPC has signed many MOU’s this year with international fashion weeks, sending talent abroad. Look at the interest Pakistani fashion has created in India and once trade opens this will be a prolific market.
Tabani. I was in India last week and came back very inspired — they are leaps and bounds ahead of us. We need to structure our design houses like any other textile or garment company. In order to entertain foreign buyers one needs to have the infrastructure in place to bulk produce at competitive prices.
I feel fashion shows do relate in sales — even if not directly but definitely indirectly. It pushes the designer to innovate and create a totally different collection.
Rahimtoola. Indeed, there is a need to bring fashion out in the open. I am of the opinion that currently fashion weeks don’t translate into sales.
Tammy Haq. As our industry is in its early years it can experiment and make mistakes. Look at what the rest of the world is doing, how much of that applies here? It’s not difficult. We just need to focus.
Herald’s Pakistan Fashion moments in 2012
Sania Maskatiya’s Matyala, Uraan, Lokum and Wagah collections were well received by customers and critics alike, along with their collection for the TV play Shehr-e-zaat.
Labels E-store launched as a platform for local designers to reach out to foreign customers.
Sana Safinaz’s summer lawn collection created much mayhem amongst women (yet again), selling out despite controversy surrounding their advertising campaign.
Khaadi launched their collection for children’s wear.
Misha Lakhani’s debut was much appreciated by critics and customers within the fashion community.
Designer Mahin Hussein launched her 14th August collection celebrating 65 years of Pakistan’s independence featuring her eponymous flag clutch.
Debenhams, Mango and Nine West come to Pakistan paving the way for other international retail brands.
Ensemble, a multi-brand store featuring designers such as Nida Azwer, Sania Maskatiya and The Designers opened in Dubai.
PFDC opened Bridal Boulevard in Delhi, displaying Pakistan’s fine couture across the border.
Bunto Kazmi dressed filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for the Oscars.
Elan’s Gold Dust collection was unanimously considered best collection at PFDC bridal couture week.