Harboured in the massive FTC Building, the TDAP (Trade Development Authority of Pakistan) offices in Karachi look like they mean business. And that feeling resonates when you walk into the massive space that Rabiya Javeri Agha, Secretary General TDAP, sits in. It’s all about image, she reinforces when we sit down to talk, elaborating that “if people don’t like you, they’re not going to invest a single dollar with you.”
While the TDAP invests its time and energy in developing trade relations all over the world, within all business sectors in Pakistan, our interest is its association with fashion, textiles and garments. The TDAP has been involved and supportive of the Fashion Pakistan Council in Karachi for years but can that association be quantified into sales and numbers? Javeri talks about all this and more as we sit down to talk about the role TDAP is playing in developing the image of Pakistan and its fashion industry…
Instep: Is there a number we can put to textile export in Pakistan?
Rabiya Javeri Agha: Textile export in Pakistan is 13.5 billion dollars annually, which is nearly 50 percent of your entire export, considering your entire export is 25 billion dollars. But if you look at the trade figures, they are going down. So what’s actually going down is your commodities: cotton yarn, which we used to sell. What is going up is all your made ups: garments, textiles and everything that you are marketing as fashion or wearable accessory or a value added product is going up by nearly 14 percent annually. So this means Pakistan has to change its profile; it’s time to go into the higher level.
Instep: Is there a number that we can put to fashion, since most designers are not even registered taxpayers?
RJA: I’m not talking about couture. Paris fashion week generates one trillion worth of dollars of business. Why? The shoes, the bags, the hair, the make-up – everything generates subsidiary industries. So maybe I can’t quantify one Christian Dior gown, but that catwalk has generated the waves of an industry.
Instep: TDAP has been involved with FPW for the last several years. What has this collaboration generated in terms of dollars and cents?
RJA: We support the fashion industry in two ways – one, we create a platform for everybody – domestic and international, what’s out there in terms of design. Two, we create connectivity. We bring buyers that we think are relevant to Pakistan (at Expo Pakistan) and connect them. So in Expo Pakistan last year we signed deals worth 1.5 billion. Those deals did include garments. There were dealings with fashion designers. I’m not at liberty to sharing the names (of local brands) but yes there were deals with designers between production houses in England, in Bangladesh with designers over here to produce or design their stuff. We recently took orders from Uniqlo in Faisalabad. We have taken orders from Marks and Spencer.
Instep: Coming to the textile fairs you are heading out to…
RJA: This textile trade fair in Ghent is a 70-year old tradition; Flanders was the trade route for the trade of wool. It is a historical market fair. We have been associated with this fair for ages and the Ambassador (Naghmana Hashmi) was very keen for Pakistan to be a part of it this year. Mind you, when the Ambassador spoke to me I was not in favour of it because my market is not Belgium. It’s also a sale fair; it’s not a buyer’s fair, which is very serious business. So the audience is different. But the ambassador was very keen on showing the people what we’re doing with ourselves.
It was a very difficult fair to sell (to retailers in Pakistan) because people were not interested in going to Belgium. It’s a very small fair but we had the biggest pavilion of around 24, 000 square metres. A large chunk of that was for commercial activity and 25 per cent for cultural activity. But we had to really, really market this – go out and get people and luckily we managed to sell all stalls. They are not the big names but they worked.
Instep: Why would they be interested?
RJA: Because they sell. They make money. These are all small-scale businesses – the big brands didn’t want to go on a nine day sales fair. For them, order is the big thing; they want an order of a 1000 shirts at a time, at least. Small sales do not interest them.
Instep: What is the mechanics of the process? Does TDAP fund it?
RJA: Whoever’s the exhibitor has paid the rate. We give a subsidy of 50 per cent to women. So if you’re a woman you get 50% off. They are small SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) – surgical people, handicrafts, marble, carpets, some furniture.
Instep: What about the cultural component at the fair?
RJA: When the cultural component came, we were at a loss because everything has to happen at the Fair Grounds. First we thought of a fashion show but there was no big textile houses coming, a fashion show was irrelevant. I was very fortunate that Nilofer Farrukh, whose husband owns Hub Leather(she is the curator of the art magazine Nukta Art), offered to curate the show.
Instep: How does all of this impact long term relations and export possibilities with Europe?
RJA: The EU has already granted GSP (General Sales Preference) plus status to Pakistan, which allows us to send some 6000 products to the EU, free of duty. That is a huge achievement because the same products in India cost 10 per cent more. So we had a 10 per cent financial break. But the EU demands that to get the benefit of GSP plus, you have to ensure social compliances. It’s not a free ride. And what are social compliances? The ethical part. No child labour. Equity of gender. Labour Laws. Security, fire. All these things are built into the GSP plus.
We are trying to educate people because after a while they will come to review us, and if we have not got these systems in place, they will take it away. We have two years to get our act together. We’ve distributed brochures in English and Urdu requesting that these guidelines are ensured. We have started to audit companies. We have a Dutch consultant coming free of cost, courtesy the CBI of the Netherlands. He is helping us. They go to the companies, they audit them, they tell them their mistakes and how to fix them.
This fair is another step in building image. What the ambassador and myself are trying to tell them is that we have many of the things you talk about. Our women are working, there is cultural space, there is creativity, there are Special Olympics, there are women who’ve climbed the Mount Everest – we are trying to show them the softer side of Pakistan. The exhibition is trade related, and cultural, not so much fashion. We do have a music component. We have lots of films. We have Coke Studio, I am Karachi, Akhtar Chanal will be performing, and we have an art display. It’s a small affair but it’s a fair that should be able to encapsulate the energy and the positivism that Pakistan has.
Instep: TDAP has also managed to secure a fashion show at the Texworld in Paris?
RJA: Texworld Paris is one of the shows in which TDAP exhibits. Last year when I had gone to Texworld, they had told me that Turkey or Vietnam or one of these countries had the fashion show component. We convinced them, since we are a sizable community and we do take stalls, to give us the fashion show. We got it.
Instep: So who will be showing?
RJA: Obviously the priority will be given to the people who exhibit there. So the people who have stalls there will show their product at the fashion show. However, since a lot of the people exhibiting at Texworld were selling denim, we asked the Indus Valley students to design the shirts. There will be four of them – two teachers and two students. It’s just a fashion show for trade and not for public or anything.
Instep: Pakistan has been showing in Paris for years. What other linkages has that managed to curate?
RJA: Ambreen Iftikhar, who is Pakistan’s Commercial Counselor in Paris, has been working with a fashion school in Paris that wants to create linkages in Pakistan. She asked me to talk to them so I am going to meet them and to tie things up with the Textile Institute of Pakistan. It is a beautiful oasis over there.
I’ve got all the pictures and brochures, to see if they’re interested, and I’m going to try to create a linkage because this connection will heighten the profile of this school and more people will go there. Students are our strength and these are things that TDAP is trying to do consciously.
Instep: You speak of building and branding Pakistan to the world. What is TDAP doing in that respect?
RJA: If people don’t like you, they are not going to invest a single dollar with you; they’re not going to do business with you. Countries move in the same way. If they don’t like you, they’re not going to do business with you. They would rather do business with a country that’s a little bit more expensive but who they like. So when Pakistan talks about trade, one of the most important components to enhance trade is improving your image. And you cannot improve your own image if you don’t market yourself. There are countries that don’t market themselves, and where they don’t market themselves, the world puts their image on themselves; they put their own perception.
Now with the new world, there is also a very conscious value attached to purchase. If you think diamonds are coming from blood money, you wont buy those diamonds. There is a very strong ethical strain going though the developing world that says we want to know whether this product is tainted in any manner. To be able to sell your product, you also have to sell a package of ethical goodness.
The world has to understand that Pakistan is not about bombs; it’s about something bigger and better. We called the Pakistan trade show Aalishaan (a name given by Seema Jaffer and I really give her credit for it)and it’s a brand for a country.
Instep: Aalishan Pakistan was conceptualized as a strong brand. It took off very well in Delhi but was cancelled in London last year. What plans do you now have for Aalishan Pakistan?
RJA: Aalishaan did very well in Delhi. We packaged Pakistan in every component: food, music, art. We took the Citizen’s Archive of Sharmeen Obaid; they had an oral history program between children of parents who were born there and children whose parents were born here, and there’s an exchange of postcards between the two children. We took over Delhi. The next one (Aalishan Pakistan event) was scheduled in London, which was cancelled so things are on hold.
Instep: The impression is that the government got cold feet when it came to marketing a glamorous image of Pakistan, which is why they cancelled the fashion and music component?
RJA: I wasn’t even asking for a glamourous image because some people might find that objectionable. I’m just saying that Pakistan has to be marketed for what it stands for. London is going to be really tough to go back to because we lost our credibility. We took too much on our word and we lost our word. I have lost so much face that I don’t even know where to go.
Instep: What do you intend to brand Pakistan upon?
RJA: Our strength is our youth. We are 180 million people and the youth is more than half of our population. That’s a commendable force that fills you with some kind of energy, some kind of vitality. That’s what we have to sell to the world- this is the more than 80 million strong youth of Pakistan. So what is our strength? Philanthropy. We are the largest or second largest giving nation in the world. That is a lot to be said for a poor country. Our history, we have a history going back to the Indus Valley civilization – nobody has that kind of history. These are our plus points. Can we market them in a bigger context, for money, for trade?
Look at India. Why did Modi market yoga? Why did he market International Yoga Day? It’s bloody good branding. It’s a 9 billion dollar industry. And now if you associate Yoga with India, whenever you buy anything related to Yoga, you’ll be reminded of India. It’s all branding.
Instep: How do you feel fashion helps in branding the country?
RJA: Firstly, the image of the Pakistani woman that is conceptualized by the West is very strongly eroded because they conceive of everybody in hijab, they do not know the spectrum of clothes that are worn in this country. Second, the fashion industry is very important for giving an impetus to the production houses. These fashion schools, AIFD, Indus, PIFD, they funnel the creativity to these lawn and production houses, which are 50% of your export in textile. These children – the graphic designers, textile/fashion designers – they are providing you with the opportunity for you to actually change. I talked to one of these production houses who admitted that the whole concept and psyche has changed ever since these schools have come in.