You need, for a second, to forget the bits and pieces of cardboard and sponge that you were served with a tepid drink on your last PIA flight. You also need, for another second, to forget the feeling that you’re hanging on to dear life when the plane takes off or lands. Forget all of that because PIA has been trying to convince you of its changing ways by way of a swanky new uniform for its stewardesses. It may, unfortunately, be a little more difficult to forget the stewardesses on your last flight.
So, think fashion, think makeover and most importantly think positive and you may be able to see this new uniform, which has been doing the rounds on social media, as a ray of hope that things are changing at PIA. The journey began almost two years ago when PIA, with the help of Bunto Kazmi and Naseem Jaffer (wife of then Chairman PIA, Nasser Jaffer), invited 16 designers to propose a new vision for PIA’s uniforms. A selection panel was appointed and designs by Nomi Ansari (outfit), Sania Maskatiya (scarf and apron) and Yasmin Sheikh (cape and gloves for winter) were chosen for the ladies while menswear by Republic was selected for the stewards. Production was set into motion.
The next year and a half saw a trip to China for fabric sourcing and lots of coordination between PIA and Nomi Ansari on tweaks to the design.
“I was available throughout, helping them in every possible way,” Nomi Ansari spoke about the experience. “Initially it was very exciting but then there were too many people involved in decision making. There were too many amendments. (Earlier this year) I finalized the design and sent it to them. I was not informed or asked about the final changes. Of course the final design is changed and everyone who worked on it should get credit. We were all doing it for the country and that’s why we all cooperated in making this happen.”
The actual issues arose when real air hostesses were called in for measurements and some of them, or rather most of them, were a little too large to carry off the tunic and jacket comfortably or attractively. Nomi’s original design had to be modified.
Here entered Yasmin Sheikh, whose cape had been selected in the fashion show. Now most of you may not know Yasmin Sheikh but she’s a quiet and media-shy designer who has been working in England with several major design houses and their garment production for years; she also does sampling from a small studio in Karachi. Yasmin designed a collection for Kiran Aman when the jeweler showed at the PFDC L’Oreal Bridal Week in 2011.
“When we got our first set of samples from China, everything was too tight on the actual airhostesses,” Yasmin recalls. She had volunteered to help with the execution of the uniforms. “Their body shapes were totally different. We tried many professional tailors in Karachi but we encountered too many technical issues. The uniforms just did not sit well on our full-figured women. The uniforms had to be ready in time for August 14 but they were not ready by end July and PIA was losing time. This is when I stepped in to help out. The lowers had already been tailored and 60 shalwars were ready. I basically just modified Nomi’s look to the ‘shirket’ (which is a combination of a shirt and jacket). There was a lot of back and forth and it was very time consuming. But we all helped out because it had to be done for the country.”
The cherry on this cake was the scarf and apron by Sania Maskatiya, who lent the final look a splash of colour.
“The print is from our Udaan collection, which is basically the flight of birds,” Sania shared. “The apron has a skyline and is an adaptation of our Naqsh collection. We wanted it to be bright and fresh so we used an aqua, a coral and a lime green. It has been done in three colour ways.”
To get the final image that we’ve been seeing, a group of the prettiest airhostesses was selected and taken to Tariq Amin in Islamabad. For now these uniforms will only be seen on the PIA Premiere service, which flies between Pakistan and London.
By no means was this a simple or stress free process; credit goes to the designers for taking time out and working on it completely free of cost. And as they say, all is well that ends well. The uniform we see does look good and it’s a combination of everyone’s hard work and contributions. Now let’s just hope that PIA can go a little deeper than skin deep and give its infrastructure a makeover too.
(This article was originally published in Instep, Aug 16 2016)