Published in the November-December 2012 issue of Aurora.
Ayesha Hoda on Pakistani women and the ready-to-wear phenomenon.
Although unstitched designer lawn continues to be in great demand, ready-to-wear (RTW) brands are gaining popularity among urban, upper-middle class Pakistani women.
RTW clothing in Pakistan dates back to the early 80s when there were a few select names such as Generation and Teejays. Eventually, other boutiques also opened to offer RTW, but affordability remained an issue as such clothes were on the pricey side. The trend of RTW caught on in the last decade, when brands such as Ego, FnkAsia and Khaadi emerged with their distinct aesthetic appeal. These were not merely boutiques but came with brand promises of quality, style and affordability for the modern Pakistani woman.
Buying RTW brands is no longer about convenience as Adil Moosajee, the owner of Ego, explains: “Five or six years ago, a woman wore clothes that were not too different from what her mother or grandmother wore. There was also limited experimentation with design. RTW brands like Ego revolutionised this category – we changed what women wear and how they wear it. We made the dupatta optional with changes in fabrics and cuts, used unconventional motifs and did not sell three-piece suits.” Shamoon Sultan launched Khaadi in 1998 and focused on high quality fabric, which is still one of Khaadi’s major sellers.
In 2001, the brand introduced plain kurtas for day wear, moving on to stripes, dye fusion and motifs. Since then there was no looking back. In 2007, Khaadi recruited professional designers to introduce different cuts and launched a fashion oriented label with the Khaadi Khaas line, offering evening and party wear. However, a larger number of customers mostly buy the simpler Khaadi day wear, worn at work, university and elsewhere.
Recently, two relatively new players, Daaman and Sheep, have been making waves in RTW. That RTW is the next big thing is underscored by the fact that large textile companies such as Al-Karam and Gul Ahmed have introduced prêt lines. Outfitters, generally known for western wear, has also launched a line of RTW clothing.
There are many reasons for the popularity of RTW. An increase in the number of working women and greater fashion consciousness are only the tip of the iceberg. Many women cite convenience as a major reason; this is further augmented by the fact that electricity shortages mean that tailors cannot be relied on to deliver clothes on time.
Another major reason is the affordability of RTW, particularly compared to high priced designer lawn. The average price of a branded three-piece lawn suit is Rs 2,000 (minimum) with a good tailor charging at least Rs 500-700, not to mention the additional cost of lace and other accessories. On the other hand, average prices of RTW brands are between Rs 2,500-3,000. Although most RTW brands don’t sell three piece suits and focus mainly on tops, women are combining them with trousers and eliminating the dupatta. Thus the price differential is not great and sometimes it is even cheaper to buy RTW. Designers such as Amir Adnan have taken affordability one step further by launching lines such as Awami, with outfits available for
Rs 1,800-2,200. Even Ego and Khaadi have discounted shelves at selected outlets.
However, making products affordable is not always easy especially for small sized businesses such as Sheep.
“Our biggest challenge is managing product costing – a lot of times gorgeous designs are rejected because they cost too much and while this is very painful, we do want to make our products affordable,” says Ayesha Jafar, Brand Communication Specialist, Sheep.
In spite of efforts to make RTW affordable, there are plenty of people who think these brands are expensive and this has led to the emergence of small entrepreneurial ventures that promise to deliver imitation Ego, Khaadi and Sheep (among others) patterns at affordable rates. Most of these ventures are either small shops or individuals who promote their RTW via word-of-mouth and Facebook pages. Whether they are successful or not is debatable as most women seem to prefer spending on a few original pieces, rather than lots of imitation ones.
Malyha Chaudhry, owner of Daaman, points out, “There is no comparison between what we sell and these brands, and what the tailor will make for you. They do not have the same level of design sense and detail.”
Beyond detail however, RTW clothes are designed to make a strong statement about the people who wear them. Moosajee says that when he briefs his designers he describes the Ego customer as “a journalist/architect, urban dweller, comfortable in different environments, who believes she can make a difference.”
Daaman offers “timeless elegance” and fills “an aesthetic gap,” while Sheep’s brand personality is defined by a single word philosophy, i.e. “uncomplicated”; reflected in its colour palette, cuts and styling.
Overall, the RTW category is growing, and not only in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Brands such as Ego are establishing more outlets in the major metros as well as going to Faisalabad, Multan, Sargodha, etc. Others, like Daaman are trying to tap expat Pakistanis by expanding their online business.
Jafar says that there is definitely room for more retailers as “we are still an under retailed country so the growth opportunities are there.”
More stores with multiple designer brands are also opening up (such as Brands Just Prêt, Ensemble and The Designers), with the line between couture and RTW becoming blurred. Those buying off-the-rack are putting not only convenience but also elegance and style in the shopping cart.