PAKISTAN’S FASHION CATCHES UP
Fashion in Pakistan has always been a force to be reckoned with. Through several military dictatorships, socio-economic instabilities, natural calamities, and even the threat of Talibanisation; fashion has persevered on. Recent years have seen Pakistan make international headlines not only for its political battles but also for the headway its fashion industry has been making. With ‘fashion week’ being the new buzzword, local and international media including the Telegraph, Times, London, Indo-Asian News Service, Elle India and Vogue are finally showing an interest in what Pakistani designers have to offer.
There are those who find this phenomenon surprising – an unnatural occurrence perhaps. From living room conversations to news desks across the world, the idea of Pakistan as a country with a burgeoning fashion industry seems to be a contradiction in terms.
However, the fact is that Pakistan has a very rich cultural and traditional background dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Fashion is and always has been a means of communicating culture, beliefs and expression. This was apparent even as far back as 1966, when Pakistan International Airlines hired Pierre Cardin to design the uniforms for their flight attendants, prompting fashion conscious women across the country to eagerly emulate Cardin’s design.
For many within the fashion industry, their craft is an attempt to depict the country as they see it; modern, secular and upwardly progressive. However for the remainder, much like the rest of the world, it is a passion and a necessity.
In her interview with fashion journalist Aamna Haider Isani, Telegraph’s Fashion Director Hilary Alexander said, “Pakistan definitely has a unique selling point. Its ability with handcraft and textiles and beading and embroidery, its understanding of color and print is really special. And this tremendous heritage – 1000, 2000 years – and more and more in the western world where fashion becomes increasingly mechanized and mass produced, people are seeking more and more to find something that has a different feel to it. These two things: the handcrafting and that people are looking for something new is what makes Pakistan interesting.”
For an industry that was serving primarily bridal and limited consumer markets, where only select industry big wigs were getting some global recognition, there has been a definite shift in ideology. The initiation of ‘fashion week’ in Pakistan, combining couture shows with ready-to-wear collections, seems to be a bid to finally introduce Pakistani designers to the rest of the world.
The Pakistani fashion industry is also focusing on giving young talent support and a well- deserved launch pad. Developing a synergy with the fashion schools such as Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design they are working towards bridging a gap that had left many talented newcomers hangings.
According to industry veteran and award winning fashion designer Shaiyanne Malik, the catalyst could be a product of the changing times. “More and more people are becoming fashion and brand conscious in Pakistan. With the surge in media and a host of fashion channels, exposure to trends both locally and internationally has become more accessible. The market is growing and products of local fashion design schools are bringing their training into mainstream to develop a new clientele.”
“Designers realize the need for the local market and adapt to existing global trends accordingly. What is more gratifying than reviewing a fantastic collection is watching how the fashion trends displayed on the ramp are translated into real life by ordinary people. Take the national dress shalwar kameez for instance. A wardrobe staple for every Pakistani, how a basic two-piece outfit has evolved with time is a phenomena. You name it and we have done it,” says Fathma Amir, the Editorial Assistant at Xpoze Magazine. “Designers have styled ashalwar kameez to appear like a mini dress over palazzo pants or a heavily embellished gown with trails or even drop waisted tunic over skinnies! Contemporary or old school, Pakistan can boast about being the only country in the world which has developed its national dress time and time again, making it current and relevant enough to be worn anywhere.”
With three registered fashion councils in Pakistan, all three of them attempting to organize at least two fashion weeks a year, the push towards developing trade and production is also apparent. The Pakistan Fashion and Design Council (PFDC) is spearheaded by Sehyr Saigol and backed by fashion heavyweights Khaadi Khaas, Kamiar Rokni, Sublime, HSY, Karma, Nickie Nina and Ammar Belal.
While Shamaeel Ansari, Maheen Khan, Deepak Perwani, Sana Safinaz, Bunto Kazmi, Faiza Samee, Sonya Battla, Rizwan Beyg, Umar Sayeed, Amir Adnan, Nilofer Shahid, Nomi Ansari have associated themselves with Fashion Pakistan (FP). And Tariq Amin and Amir Adnan are the names behind the more recently formed Pakistan Fashion Council (PFC). The existence of three very similarly named councils with the seemly same agenda has brought up a heated debate on efficacy of the councils. However, the verdict on whether the absence of a single unified council and the underlying power struggles are a hindrance to the cause or healthy competition remains to be seen.
Munib Nawaz, the first Pakistani menswear designer to win an international design award at the Miami Fashion Week, feels that the multiple fashion councils are demonstrative of the “potential for growth and interest we have in this country.” According to him it is only a matter of time, “Every industry takes a little time to become internationally recognized and we have all it takes and more to be a global player. We are heading in the right direction.”
Foreign buyers are the backbone of any fashion week and the past several fashion weeks have boasted interest from countries such as America, Australia, Ireland, Spain, the Middle East, the Netherlands, the UK and more. If nothing else, the fashion weeks initiated by the various councils are building recognition for the country’s fashion industry in a way that it has never known before. Creating awareness through commitment and consistency, Pakistan’s fashion industry is steadfast in their endeavour at developing its own identity.
“The biggest challenges Pakistan’s fashion industry faces is the day to day challenges the common man faces everyday, like load shedding where you lose out on working time, the rising expense of generators, the instability of a city where there are strikes almost every third day and the whole city and sometimes the country is on lockdown.” says young designer Feeha Jamshed, the daughter of fashion giant Tanvir Jamshed. “The government still doesn’t support us fully by giving subsidies to textile mills to allow designers and design houses to have their own prints for collections.”
Despite the obvious hurdles, Jamshed, who has taken the reins of one of the oldest fashion labels in Pakistan, has an optimistic outlook for the future. “Even after facing such challenges everyday we still manage to be on point with international trends and are continuously innovative.”
The fashion industry of Pakistan is an in-depth showcase of the country’s talent; “continuously innovative” yet relevant. It is not only an outlet for creativity but also a tool of cultural production giving a contemporary face to ancient crafts like gota kinari, zardozi, resham ari,and chatta patti. It connects designers, textile manufacturers, stylists, photographers and countless professionals to provide growth, mounting career opportunities, and most of all an enchanting escape.
Published: Suhaag Magazine, Issue No. 13, 2012 – Star Media Group, Toronto