What happens when fashion weeks’ red carpets are rolled up and bright lights turned out? The idea behind any fashion week in the world is trade but retail reality is not so ideal for designers in Pakistan
Almost six months after an event in Karachi, the PFDC & Sunsilk Fashion Week is wheeling its way back to Lahore. Pakistan Fashion Design Council, one of the country’s two main fashion councils, made a commitment to hosting fashion week alternately in Karachi and Lahore. And as the event approaches, Lahore’s fashionable elite is airing out its designer wardrobes and getting that final shot of Botox for extra measures. It is essential to look flawless on the red carpet and there’s so much focus on appearances that even designers tend to forget they are here for much more.
What Pakistani designers are doing is hopping from fashion weeks in Pakistan, sponsored shows abroad, charities, collectives and retrospectives; they are forever in the limelight. Their sales unfortunately are not as productive as their social life.
What Lahore’s fashion week has been successful in doing is creating a united platform to showcase ‘some’ of Pakistan’s best names. It loosely follows Eleanor Lambert’s objective of starting a ‘Press Week’ in New York back in 1943. Lambert, a publicist, wanted to bring all American designers to the forefront at a time when fashion connoisseurs in the USA were unable to fly to Paris due to the WWII travel restrictions. The first Press Week fed starving consumers with American brands and the rest is history.
Fashion weeks in Pakistan are whetting the local consumer’s appetite for fashion but not satisfying it. The bridge between showing and actually selling must be crossed before fashion weeks can be consequential for the future of fashion.
Many labels that have shown to glowing reviews at fashion week – Ali Xeeshan, Saai, Zara Shahjahan, Sublime and Teejays for example – are still not widely accessible in Karachi and even if they are, the numbers are trivial. Many designers argue that they are at least available in Lahore but what’s the use of showing in Karachi if you aren’t going to retail there? These brands need to be made more available, only then will the resources spent at fashion weeks deem relevant.
Two more cases in point are Akif Mahmood and Mohsin Ali, the two PIFD (Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design) graduates who were launched with everything short of a 21-gun salute at fashion week. Their design acumen merited praise but again, runway glory must always be followed up by the entire gamut associated with a fashion show, essentially retail. Akif and Mohsin got a big break with fashion week, but did they manage to break into the market? What happened to them after the buzz blew over?
Akif Mahmood, who wowed us with his ‘Kolors of Kafiristan’ collection, is working at the Libas factory these days. Libas, Sehyr Saigol’s personal label, has been training ground for many young designers over the years. Akif, one of the few, has been using the facilities to design ‘Akif for Libas’ but one has not seen it in Karachi.
“I would have liked to start my own label immediately after fashion week but didn’t have the set-up to do so,” he says. “I had many offers but Libas was the only offer that allowed me to design under my own name. I will have my own, independent label very soon.”
Mohsin Ali, the second and perhaps even more talented student from Quetta, wasn’t as lucky as Akif.
“I joined NN after fashion week as I had invested everything I had into my fashion week collection and had no resources left. NN made me the most lucrative offer and that’s why I joined despite having no interest in either bridals or embellishment. I committed to working with them until fashion week, in which I will also be showing my own collection. Then I will branch off to work on my own label.”
This brings us to the second bridge fashion weeks in Pakistan need to cross. While established designers need to stop using the platform for self-glorification, upcoming talents like Akif and Mohsin need to be awarded the resources to progress not regress.
While the council waived off their participation fee for showing at fashion week, the designers still had to invest huge amounts into getting their collections ready. After showing, they had to shelf their personal goals to work for labels that weren’t essentially ideal for their personal creative growth. Had Mohsin been apprenticing with a Hussein Chalayan, one would have agreed he were adding value to his creativity but working at a bridal studio must have been pure brain drain.
Business mentoring and investment needs to come from the council.
The British Fashion Council has several helpful funds and scholarships that are awarded to deserving designers. The BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund assists British designers with 200,000 pounds as well as mentoring.
NEWGEN, another BFC initiative, identifies talented new designers while sponsoring their showings and exhibitions. Acclaimed names like Alexander McQueen, Matthew Williamson and Christopher Kane have been on the roll.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America follows the same format.
The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Selection Committee annually selects three emerging fashion designers, who receive business mentoring as well as around 300,000 dollars each to pursue their own independent design plan.
Pakistan’s talented designers need to be nurtured; something the late fashion journalist Isabella Blow also said when she visited Pakistan several years ago. The PFDC needs to channelize its efforts.
Other industry components can and should also chip in. Libas, the magazine that claims to be Pakistan’s Vogue, should similarly pump in scholarships. Daily newspapers that continuously piggy-back on fashion should give something back to the system. TV channels that can afford to host fashion weeks of their own should create scholarships to facilitate business plans for deserving designers.
The only known monetary fashion scholarships so far come from Unilever. Two students each from four different fashion schools across the country are awarded the LSA Academic Award in their final years. Moreover, textile giants Gul Ahmed have recently started hosting a nationwide competition for fashion students, culminated in a grand show and cash prizes. This is a start.
Until more assistance is put into the fashion industry, it’ll keep sinking back to square one. Designers’ supply chain will remain painfully weak, partly due to their incompetence and partly due to the lack of funds. Upcoming talents will continue to struggle in the absence of business mentoring. Until all this changes, life after fashion week will continue to leave a lot to be desired, quite literally!