As winter loosens its grip on Pakistan, more than a hundred fashion houses, big and small, prepare to unveil their summer collections of “lawn” to an eager clientele ranging from housewives and working women, to teenagers and schoolgirls.
The “lawn season” is about to begin, announce fashion writers, and every year the competition gets more intense and the demand for the product rises correspondingly.
Lawn is the name Pakistanis use to refer to the brightly coloured cotton fabric sold in stitched and unstitched form in a myriad of hues to an eager set of buyers who will sometimes go to great lengths to get their favourite suit pieces.
In Pakistan, the ‘shalwar’ suit is the preferred outfit for women, but now thanks to strides made by different brands, it’s not just about wearing the right cloth.
“We look at brands, at designs, at colours, at cuts, at textures, even at who is wearing what to determine what will be the hottest number in the market for the year,” remarks designer Amir Ahmad, who works for one of the largest producers of lawn suits.
One of the biggest players in the market is Al Karam Textiles, earlier known only for its men’s suits. Now, Al Karam and other textile mills devote much of their production to women’s lawn suiting. However, in a market like Pakistan, their investments in producing new designs are short-lived because these are copied within months and sold by others at cheaper rates.
“The bigger houses set the trends and the smaller mills then make cheaper copies. So it’s all about continuing to beat the competition by innovating and re-inventing,” says fashion writer Mohsin Sayeed.
It was a smaller designer, for example, who stole the limelight with plant and picture motifs last year and caused a new sensation in the market. The fashion house Sapphire’s last collection was so sought after that a video of two women who came to blows at the company’s outlet over one suit piece went viral last year.
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Pakistan’s total textile exports exceed $11 billion a year, and exports of ready-made garments are worth $1.7 billion. Lawn exports alone are worth an estimated $500 million while lawn sales within the country are believed to be double that figure. The industry employs in excess of 30,000 people in factories and workshops.
Housewife Amina Khan says for her, the lawn fabric is comfortable and easy to wear in summer. But she laments the fact that she now has to pay more than Rs5,000 for a decent outfit because the rates have risen with the increasing demand for quality cloth. “The cheaper ones are poor in quality and not as comfortable. But instead of prices dropping with competition, they have actually risen.”
While the bigger fashion houses focus on unstitched lawn fabric, fashion designers are now taking the business a step further.
Umar Sayeed, who launched a new outlet in Dubai this year, says Pakistani fashion houses have come of age. Using almost all locally produced textiles, many houses have started competing at the international level with their range of clothes.
Fashion houses focus on formal wear and this includes bridal dresses, says a designer, who adds that for such dresses “the sky is the limit”.
One an average, in the upscale Zamzama area of Karachi, a bridal dress can cost about Rs700,000. “The more it is customised, the more expensive it becomes,” says the designer.
Lawn sales in Pakistan are a happening event. Thousands of women throng hotels and makeshift sale venues to buy to their heart’s content. On an average, they buy a couple of suits.
Watch | Women fight during a dress sale at a local shop
“We go to all the major names. They hold their sales one by one,” says Naheed Sohail, who comes from Canada to buy the latest shalwar suits.
One of the most popular sales is hosted by Junaid Jamshed, a rock star-turned-televangelist who has his own line of clothing. Jamshed’s “Soully East” collection may probably be the largest such offering among designers this year.
In all this, the one drawback many Pakistanis see is that the sale of lawn overseas remains limited despite the quality of the fabrics on offer. Some fashion houses have taken lawn to India but the sales there are nowhere near the volumes seen in Pakistan.
“These products could do well if marketed properly,” says one seller. But given that the market for shalwar-kameez is limited overseas, sales remain low.
Sayeed says the Pakistani designers needs to move on from shalwar-kameez and focus on other outfits and designs.
“We are hopeful that this is the only way to gain international recognition for our products,” says Shamoon Ali Khan, who opened an outlet of his shop in London this year.