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Pakistan’s retail therapy

india Updated: Apr 29, 2013 21:51 IST
Aamna Haider Isani
Aamna Haider Isani
Hindustan Times

It’s been little over a decade since an organised fashion industry emerged in Pakistan, five years since the first fashion week unrolled it’s catwalks to buyers and the media. The industry is barely adolescent but fashion has snowballed beyond imagination despite the odds, which are many.

One would think that establishing a fashion industry in Pakistan would be as difficult as dancing on the lip of a volcano. Talibanisation, economic crunch, power failures and lack of law and order (resulting in a surge in crimes) are just some of the reasons that come to mind as deterrents.

But fashion has become the essential ‘feel good factor’ for more than the average fashionista. It isn’t rebellion against the conservatives, as many foreign journalists like to play up the ‘Tattoos versus Taliban’ stereotype but it is most certainly and most simply, much-needed retail therapy. It’s no wonder that fashion-related stories feature as regular suffixes to the 9 o’clock news. Pakistan does have two fashion councils and half a dozen fashion weeks a year.

Designers are very clear that it’s bridal couture that butters their bread; in fact it even bakes it. Pakistani designers are also dancing their way across the border with their wedding wear. While trade between India and Pakistan is still not kosher for fashion, designers and boutique owners have managed to find a passage to India via Dubai and vice-versa. The first Pakistani boutique in India — PFDC Boulevard — was inaugurated several months ago.

It is owned and operated by Indian designer and retailer Mini Bindra (which makes it legal) and stocks a variety of Pakistan’s top labels. Pakistani designers also frequent boutiques like Ogaan and Kimaya with exhibitions and even organise private showings to a discerning and rich clientele. Those who don’t want to bother with the Dubai route simply stock up a couple of suitcases and visit friends or family.

Indian fashion is just as popular in Pakistan, which is why Pakistani socialite Zeba Husain brought Ensemble to Karachi several years ago. With branches in Karachi and Lahore, she now officially stocks Indian designers alongside Pakistani designers. Husain is a regular buyer at Indian fashion weeks and believes the market for Indian design is flourishing in Pakistan, especially for Indian wedding wear.

Thanks to Pakistan’s growing population, there will always be marriages and, therefore, nothing poses a threat to the industry of wedding fashion. However, bridals may have been the aim and objective of a designer looking for fame and fortune 10 years ago but today the industry is equally ignited by high-street fashion for the rising middle class. Multi-label boutiques are opening in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad and a new boom is in the offing with e-commerce.

Given the menace of the radical elements, billboards do get vandalised and models’ faces do get covered in black paint. But that has simply pushed the adverts higher, the fashion circuit continues to click its Louboutins and paint the town red. Women are wearing suits to work. House maids have traded their shalwars for straight pants. Bottom line: fashion designers do not feel threatened. On the contrary it’s fashion that poses a bigger threat to the household budget, men feel!

Aamna Haider Isani is a leading Pakistani fashion writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.