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11 Jul

Zainab Chottani’s ‘destination wedding wear’

One remembers Zainab Chottani’s first fashion show, at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week in Lahore, several years ago. It was a time when fashion weeks were taking off in Pakistan and for a Karachi-based designer to show in Lahore was considered a huge achievement. Fast forward a couple of years and the world has become the designer’s oyster. Chottani, now successfully operating from a multi storey atelier in Karachi, is catering to clients all over the world. She says her biggest market is in the USA, she is preparing to start business at The Rack in Dubai (this will be her third retail space in the Emirates) and she is showing at foreign fashion events, constantly expanding her operations wherever there is a market for Pakistan’s wedding wear.

Keeping this in mind, Chottani decided to participate in the annual Destination Wedding Planners (DWP) Congress, held in Thailand this year. DWP has been picking up a lot of traction since it began four years ago. The UAE-based brand aims to bring the biggest names in the global wedding industry together, making it a glamorous trade fair for weddings, you can say, and Zainab Chottani was one of the few designers invited to participate from Pakistan.

Zainab, with her team, at DWP in Thailand.

How did she think she was selected, I asked Zainab, considering Pakistan has a wealth of high end wedding wear designers?

“I asked them the same thing,” she smiled as she replied. “I was told that they have a panel that sends emails to 300 event planners who are attending the congress and the DWP organizers then ask the attendees which designers they want to meet at the event. We were selected by the event planners, most of them who were Indian. So that’s how we were selected. A couple of other designers were also invited from Pakistan but we were the only ones who ended up going.”

Pakistan has a huge market for wedding and yet the Indian market is so attractive to designers here. Why do you think that is the case?

“Yes, the Pakistani market is big but the Indian market is bigger. Plus India is thinking huge in weddings right now. And you have to remember that Indians are not only in India. They are everywhere. I spoke to an event planner from Kenya who does Kenyan weddings but she also does South Indian weddings in Kenya. The market is huge. Then I met someone from Lake Como and she said exactly the same thing. I told her that I only make traditional Pakistani wedding wear but she was interested because she only does Indian weddings. India is literally everywhere. And it’s not difficult to cater to them.”

Was there any concrete benefit, in terms of business, for participating in the DWP Congress this year?

“We got to meet 40 event planners and out of that 14-15 were interested in working with us. They do 20 weddings a year each and we have come onto a panel, from which we’ll get business. We’re doing a huge wedding in January to begin with. Then the Kenyan woman also put us on their planner. We’re on the right path and talk to them on a day to day basis and this is a great way to start, I feel.”

You’re also catering to a Pakistani and Indian clientele in Dubai?

“Yes, we’re stocking at Ensemble, Zeen (formerly, Designer’s Lounge) and we’re going to start stocking at The Rack very soon. These are three completely different markets. Razia at Zeen has Indian and Pakistani designers, Ensemble caters to a mix of Pakistani, Indian and Emirati clients and this new store, The Rack, is completely Emirati. We’re trying to design differently for all three stores.”

Zainab Chottani has been spreading her wings internationally, but that has minimized her visibility in Pakistan. She is seen when there is a lawn collection to launch but she is no longer showing at fashion weeks in Pakistan. One hears of random international shows that she is participating in but she is rarely seen at shows in Pakistan.

Is this a conscious choice she has made?

“We are taking a break (from fashion weeks) right now. And I feel international shows do benefit me more. The international shows may not be too great but the market is huge and only people who buy attend. I did a show in LA three years ago and it’s still working for me. We still get orders on it. 70 per cent of my clientele is in the USA anyway.”

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Pakistan’s fashion industry, especially the wedding wear segment, is going international and designers are shifting their focus from local business operations to the Middle East especially. Zainab Chottani is smart to tap into that market and one can see her opening an exclusive studio or flagship store in Dubai very soon.

Zainab with Frieha Altaf, who also attends DWP every year.

 

Aamna Haider Isani

The author is Editor-in-Chief at Something Haute as well as Editor at Instep, The News. Full time writer, critic with a love for words and an intolerance for typos.