– Australian fashion consultant Margaret Rushe Farrell talks about liaising between Australia, Europe and Pakistan.
“We came here with no expectations at all,” Margaret Rushe Farrell, the Australian consultant visiting Karachi Fashion Week told me over a sun-dappled lunch at Café Koel. Monday afternoon was the first meal the buyers were allowed outside of the hotel, as KFW’s neck-break schedule had them tied down to the venue for four days.
“I am so deeply impressed by what I have seen,” she continued. “I want to take Pakistani designers to the world stage arena. I want to show the world that Pakistan is not about guns and fighting but also about fashion. It should be a place attracting tourists and fashionistas.”
Living between Ireland and Australia, Farrell’s extensive knowledge of the fashion industry (especially in buying and selling) spans over 25 years. She is a consultant advisor to many international buying houses and department stores, even in the Middle East, which she feels can be a lucrative market for Pakistani designers. She also has the experience of mentoring designers on how to prepare for new, especially European markets, and that is exactly what is exciting her about Pakistan.
“Some of my biggest buyers are from Europe and the Middle East and a lot of them asked me to check whether Pakistani fashion is worth their while. I’ll be going back to spread the message that not only is Pakistani fashion worth their while but they’d be crazy if they didn’t come quick and find something before someone else comes in and beats them to it.”
Farrell was quick to point out the importance of foreign exposure and the kind of experience, training and business understanding it brings with it.
“Exposure to a European market can take these designers from strength to strength,” she said about taking designers to Australia and Europe. “You see it isn’t just about doing one collection but consistently keeping at it for two years. A designer who shows and garners buyer interest one year has to be present with a follow-up collection the next season. Longevity is important. Buyers are not interested in one off designers.” That’s just lesson one to all Pakistani designers who enjoy forty minutes of fame and then go into hibernation.
To ensure a fair and fluid process, Margaret said that she would be asking the government (Minister for Trade, Tariq Puri has offered assistance) to subsidize costs for these designers so they can be sent to different fashion weeks to learn. Sanam Agha, one of the five designers that garnered interest, may be one of the first to show at Sydney Fashion Week in April next year.
Sanam informed me after meeting the buyers extensively: “I’ve been told that I’ll have to extend my KFW collection to sixty pieces for Australia and I will have to keep a two year commitment (two seasonal collections a year) in mind to even dream of a breakthrough. If European buyers show interest in my work before April, then I’ll have to design a completely new collection for Sydney. I’ve given them my pricing etc. Yes, I am nervous.”
Other than direct funding from the government, Farrell revealed that another opportunity could come from the two-year Commonwealth Fund that would be announced soon.
“Paco de Jaimes, the gentleman sitting with us each night, will be managing that fund,” she said, “and I’ve suggested it to him. The fund will not only subsidize but cover the cost for the designers and then we’ll get different fashion weeks like Sydney Fashion Week and Hong Kong Fashion Week to reduce their prices for them.”
Back to Karachi Fashion Week, the buyer who attracted attention for her fiery tipped hair and muli-coloured nail varnish, shared that she had been offered membership of the Pakistan Fashion Council and she would enjoy helping them fine tune the process continuously.
“I have a whole checklist that I will be giving to Farhana (Siddiqui, CEO PFC) and it will help designers individually as well as fashion week as a platform.”
“What the show was lacking most was an exhibition area,” she furthered. “We need to see the clothes up close. We need to touch the clothes to see they’re not going to fall apart. I can’t recommend a designer unless I’m absolutely sure that his clothes won’t rip at a touch. Rizwanullah, for example, had a lot of energy on the runway but when I saw his clothes up close they lacked proper finish. And the designer’s attitude was not very professional so I dropped the idea of recommending him.”
“We need designer bios, history, price lists and all that information that makes it easy to remember things. You have to understand that sitting through so many shows and meeting so many designers makes it all very tiring. At the end of the day we had to rely on notes we had taken, which isn’t how it should be.”
Other than Sanam Agha, Farrell said she was interested in Aamir Baig, Jazib Qamar (who’s work she found “fantastic and very well put together”), Bina Sultan and Ali Xeeshan, who didn’t participate in KFW but his stock at multi-brand store Ensemble was good enough to leave a lasting impression. No one has been confirmed yet. Farrell will be waiting for the council to send her complete CDs of designers for her to gauge buyer interest. With her 25-year reputation on the line, she’s not in a hurry to invest in the wrong names.
“I have to assure production discipline, quality and consistency,” she concluded. “Pakistani designers need to commit to commercially viable ready to wear and stop focusing so much on one-off expensive couture pieces. They need to understand what wholesale pricing is. They need to have price lists to begin with. I don’t want to recommend designers who cannot deliver to Australia, Europe or even the Middle East.”