Ready to embrace elegance

Published in the 561097_10151054345591892_486968464_nNovember-December 2012 issue of Aurora.

Original link here.

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.

229204_10151092521399075_1197411847_nIn 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.

SHEEP-Fall-Collection-Now-In-Stores“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.

DaamanMalyha 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.

Going tomatoes

By Ayesha Hoda

Published in Aurora Magazine (September – October 2012 issue)


The ketchup category has seen advertising activity recently and there are lots of tomatoes to be found whether you switch on the TV or look at a billboard.

The story of tomato ketchup in Pakistan began with Mitchell’s – a food brand that dates back to the 30s. The category has changed significantly since and more brands have entered the market. Today, the category is populated by names such as Bake Parlor, Knorr, Mitchell’s, National Foods, Shangrila, Shezan, and international brands like Heinz.

According to Adnan Malik, Head of Marketing, National Foods, the tomato ketchup category is worth three billion rupees (Source: A C Nielsen) and his brand accounts for 51% of the share. He says that there is a 70% penetration of this category in consumer segments A1, A2, B and C. In sharp contrast, the penetration levels go down to 30-40% in B, C and E.

Since the 90s the strategies for ketchup brands have evolved. Inflation and the economic downturn have seen cuts in consumer spending and brands have turned to offering their customers convenience and economy.

To this end, Shangrila (established in the late 80s) introduced a 100g sachet in the late 90s and became the first company to launch pouch packaging, a development that raised the bar among competitors and also brought the price down, helping develop a market for ketchup among a wider public.

National Foods quickly followed suit and today claims to be the leader in this format. Pouches account for 60% of the company’s sales and even consumers who are not price sensitive and previously preferred bottles, have accepted pouches due to their convenience.

At Mitchell’s, although concentration on pouches has recently increased, glass bottles still account for a 40-50% share of their sales.

Pouches come iin three sizes: 800g, 400g and 250g, and glass bottles in two: 500g and 280g. For all the brands the large (800g) pouch is priced at about Rs 150 whereas the large (500g) bottle is about 10-15 rupees cheaper. However, there is a smaller quantity of ketchup in the bottle, therefore by paying a little extra, consumers get more ketchup, making the pouch more economical.

Most ketchup brands are concentrating on younger consumers, because, says Malik, “We are a a young nation and the trend of having snacks with ketchup is growing.”

However, a major challenge is to ensure that the brand appeals to everyne, including housewives and other influencers.

In terms of advertising strategy, National Foods, Shangrila and Mitchell’s all seem to be focusing focusing on the main ingredient – tomatoes.

National Foods originally positioned (before 2008) their proposition around fun. However, in 2008, the package design was changed to emphasise the fact that the product was made from 100% pure tomatoes, with the focus of the communication turning towards flavour and purity of the ingredients. The company’s recent ad campaign is also based on ‘The real tomato experience’.

According to ad agency IAL Saatchi and Saatchi (National Foods’ creative agency), the new campaign capitalises on benefits such as purity, quality, convenience and economy through tempting shots of food and tomatoes. The campaign was leveraged to television, retail level (POS) and gondola/displays at shops.

Shangrila leverages print and outdoor and does not advertise on TV or radio as the company believes it is against sharia’h to do so, which is why, according to Erfan Mirza, Brand Manager, Shangrila, the brand has a low share of voice compared to its competitors. Yest, he says that Shangrila is still considered Pakistan’s number one tomato ketchup.

Compared to National Foods and Shangrila, Mitchell’s ad spend was relatively low until about three years ago, because of a focus on infrastructure development. However, advertising activity has picked up since. Zakria Fawad, Account Manager, Lowe & Rauf (Mitchell’s creative agency), says the current ad campaign for Mitchell’s tomato ketchup (Bin khaye raha na jaye  – originally released in 2010) stresses the fact that the product is made from the highest quantity of tomato pulp.

Fawad adds that “strategically, we decided to target the younger age group as they are the primary users/influencers but we also incorporated the primary buyer, the mother.”

In addition to the TVC, Mitchell’s is exploring non-traditional marketing avenues. It currently sponsors a food magazine called Chef Special and Chef Zakir’s annual cookbook. The brand has also opted for content integration on Dawat on Masala TV.

Faiza Iqtadar, Media Planner at Maxus Global (Mitchell’s media agency) says, “The brand’s media strategy is to increase awareness, create recall and promote its discounted offer.”

Overall, things look good for the ketchup brands. All the major players have become more aggressive on the marketing front and the size of the market is growing simultaneously. These brands are also looking to explore more consumer segments. Hamid Mukhtar, Assistant Brand Manager, Mitchell’s Grocery Products, for example, says that Mitchell’s has recently changed their penetration strategy from A+ and A consumers to target people in the B and B+ range.

However, as more ketchup brands are providing more options to snack lovers, the big brands may need to think of new ways to differentiate their product apart from the claim of being ‘natural’. They will also have to come up with more innovative media mixes to remain relevant and appeal to various consumer segments.

An evening in the world of Pakistani fashion – #FPW 2012

It was such a relief to get away from the all the news and images of extremism and violence we are bombarded with every day. Attended Day 2 of the biggest fashion event in the country a.k.a. Fashion Pakistan Week 2012. Here’s a photo story of what I liked:

The designers assemble…

Debenhams is probably my new favourite for western clothing! Contemporary, smart, classy… Photo Courtesy: HocusFocus

Loved this collection by Aneeka and Salma Cheema, which combined imprints of Chitral with western styling. These were clothes you can easily picture yourself wearing on various social occasions. Photo Courtesy: HocusFocus

Sanam Chaudhri’s new collection ‘Kage’ was inspired by Shibori, a Japanese resist-dye technique. Loved seeing how Pakistani designers are seeking inspiration from textile design in other cultures. Photo Courtesy: Catalyst PR

The Noodle House @ PC

Last week I had the opportunity to try out South East Asian cuisine for the first time (I’ve only had Thai food a few times before this).

Instead of a typical PR event – like the corporate ones I am used to and was expecting – this was a more informal and entertaining one, where each guest was allowed to order food of their choice. So I got a chance to try out a number of dishes with some fellow bloggers and foodies.

Wok fried honey and sesame chicken

There were specialties from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Shanghai, Bangkok and Jakarta.

This is the first outlet of Noodle House in Karachi. Its first restaurant in Pakistan was opened in Lahore last year. According to the official press release, it’s an international brand launched in 2002, which has a number of restaurants in the Middle East.

Overall, it was a good and different dining experience (with an open kitchen and modern interiors). Anyone heading to Pearl Continental in Karachi should try it out. My favorite dish from amongst the ones I tried – also had Wasabi Prawn, vegetable fried rice, Thai beef salad with Nam Jim dressing and Chicken satay with peanut sauce – turned out to be this:

Thai chicken with cashew nut

Let’s Gtalk!

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth” – Oscar Wilde

DAWN Inpaper Magazine | 12th August, 2012

Originally published here.

Young people are finding it easier to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences in life online

“I am at this new café in #Karachi having the best chocolate mousse cake ever!” — says the latest tweet on my Twitter timeline as I begin to write this article.

The online world can be very superficial at times, giving people a chance to brag about their consumerism. Facebook updates of exotic travel photos and restaurant check-ins are enough to make anyone delirious with envy. No wonder that some research studies reveal how over-connectedness may actually increase feelings of loneliness and mood swings.

While I agree with this downside of online interactions, I’ve also observed a rather positive aspect of the cyberspace in the last couple of years as Pakistanis have become more active online. Through personal experiences and by talking to young, internet savvy people around me, I’ve realised that often active users of social networks and chat programs use these platforms to vent out and express their true feelings.

Here I am not referring to anonymous websites (where people post their dark secrets on message boards) or blogging, but to personal interactions with people you are acquainted with or may have met in real life — that random person in college who will always say hello or someone you met at a picnic and later added on Facebook. Face to face, the conversation will generally not move beyond subjects of mutual interest. But you often see a different side of these people online.

Though there is a lot of room for exaggeration and dishonesty online, young people do seem more comfortable sharing their thoughts over controversial subjects or issues in their own lives over the internet.

In this context, I’m reminded of what Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Today the internet seems to be that mask — you’re connected but there is still a safe distance. And this is not only the case with introverts or shy people. At times people are looking for internet catharsis or advice. There have been instances where I’ve played an agony aunt-type role with classmates or acquaintances choosing to share their personal issues on chat programs.

This might be because as a society we are still not open to counselling, social support groups or simply talking about subjects like divorce, child abuse, therapy, mental health, etc. on a personal level as opposed to general discussions or gossip. Log on to Twitter and you will see people sharing their personal stories. Tweet about emotions, relationships and life experiences, and voila, strangers will tell you how you’re not alone and start sharing their own hopes, dreams and miseries with you.

“Often social media has been my only respite and I love it for that!” reveals Huma Iqbal, a communications professional. “I vent out, get angry, use swear words and sometimes even thrash people online for being mean to me. These are things I might not do in real life when I’m angry and I get a mixed response. Some friends encourage me whereas others send me texts or emails to stop sharing so much online and to be cautious about online security.”

Due to security and privacy concerns, some people find creative ways to vent their feelings without giving away too much information. Taha Kehar, a 20-year-old law student, says: “Whenever I have taken the conscious decision to vent over Facebook/Twitter, it has either been through a cryptic status or a couplet that encompasses my distress. I think it takes a very perceptive individual to understand my exact emotions in such circumstances. So overall the response has been favourable.
More often than not, people do not leave bizarre comments. With time, they have learnt to give each other some personal space online.”

Tehreem Mehmood, who works for an ad agency in Karachi, says she likes becoming friends with people online though these friendships may not always last long. “But letting out everything in front of someone is such a relief,” she adds. “I have one internet friend, who I’ve met only once in real life but we help each other solve problems. Even when we fail to solve problems we can at least listen to each other. We realise that the most important aspect of this online friendship is confidentiality so we are good at guarding secrets and trust each other.”

At times the trust or friendship may be an illusion, or it may be a one-off experience where a person needs a non-judgmental, listening ear in a particular situation, but the internet certainly helps fill a void for many. If nothing else, it reassures you that you’re not alone in melancholy.

Writing Words with Fire

The book I am really looking forward to this summer is Writing Words with Fire — an anthology of poems by young writer and law student, Taha Kehar.

As a former colleague, I have seen Taha’s marvellous play with words firsthand and believe that his work will be a good contribution to Pakistani poetry in English.

We are seeing some interesting and noteworthy English fiction by Pakistanis these days (Mohammad Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, etc.) but I have yet  to come across any good English poetry books. Taha’s work promises to be an exploration of life and emotions from different perspectives — the reality as he sees it.

Will be posting more updates and a review of the book soon!



So I missed an amazing fashion event in Karachi recently. Here are the details and photos. Enjoy!

SHOWCASE 2012 was a four day fashion, accessories and jewellery event for excellence in design conceived by Rizwan Beyg and produced by Sky Productions. It established an independent platform for designers looking to promote their work both in Pakistan and abroad.

The event brought 36 local and foreign designers under one roof, including some new and cutting edge designers straight out of fashion school.

Some of the participating designers were Feeha Jamshed, Saniya Muskatiya, Irfan Ali, Warda Saleem,
Faiza Samee, Hira Lari, Ibrahim Hanif, Ayesha Khurram, Maheen Karim and Yasir Mirza.

For more photos, please click here.