It’s taken years of blood, sweat and tears but fashion is finally a serious business in Pakistan. It isn’t just limited to the elite and those with deep pockets but has managed to permeate into mass market, catering to every age and income bracket. With the kind of progress that the fashion industry has managed to make, we’ve also managed to self-correct on quite a few issues but there are some that still linger, dragging down the standard that’s being set. There’s no time quite like the new year to rectify these practices; the promise of a new beginning and the chance to start afresh provides the impetus necessary for everyone to stop a moment and take stock. Here’s what we at Instep would love to see happening in fashion this year, with just as many things and trends we’d like to see the last of.
The need for standardized sizing
Pakistan has experienced a high street retail boom in the last five years or so. While brands like Khaadi and Sana Safinaz High Street precipitated the current business models (Generation and Cynosure predate these, if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of it), but Sapphire really changed the game in terms of affordable, off the rack clothing, revealing a massive demand in the market that could be capitalized by those moving swiftly. The Pakistani masses now have a plethora of brands and price ranges to choose from but unfortunately there is no standardized sizing that the entire sector follows. Sapphire’s small will have entirely different dimensions from a pret kurta at Nishat and pants are an entirely different story, with varying waists and lengths. Not only that, most local brands do not cater to an extra-large or petite size, meaning that if you’re shorter than what most brands deem average height (and let’s be honest, we’re not the tallest race in the world in any case) you will end up looking like you borrowed clothes from a friend. God forbid if you’re an extra-large in size because you might as well not go to the store and feel mortified to find there’s no provision for sizes beyond curvy at best.
We admit it hasn’t been long since Pakistan has begun to manufacture pret and there’s a long way to go and a lot to learn but sizing might be one of the easily rectified aspects of production. Retailers worldwide make items that cater to sizes other than average and while the quantity might be lesser than the more easily sold sizes there is, nonetheless, provision for them.
The need to show ingenuity through silhouette, not print
Pakistan’s idea of pret so far has also been limited to printed pieces (thank god the abominable silk digital prints have receded into the annals of fashion history, hopefully forgotten for a while longer yet). Walk into any store and you get flora and fauna galore. There will hardly be a print without blooms, birds, bees or scenery and while we understand they sell extremely well because they’re safe, it’s time pret brands showed us ingenuity through silhouette and finish.
It would be interesting to see brands deconstruct staples or reinvent traditional silhouettes without relying too heavily on a busy print to carry the design off. Brands that tend to play with cut and colour rather than only investing in prints also stand-out in the market for offering a unique product (case in point, Generation and its denim line). Even brands that introduce silhouette based diffusion lines report a better response to them than their regular pret collections (Nishat Linen often finds its denim diffusion pieces sold out as soon as they’re sent to stores).
This isn’t to say that denim is the only way to go but that collections that play with texture, treatment and cuts will balance out a print heavy design philosophy while also showcasing the brand’s style innovation. We’ve often had to borrow from the boy’s section at major retail brands when looking for a plain kurta with a formal collar and the usage elicits queries always. There is clearly a demand; this is the year to kick-start supply.
The need to redefine ‘celebrities’ and separate them from the ‘almost famous’
With a nascent fashion industry and a film industry undergoing revival, Pakistani media and entertainment outlets have had to redefine famous. Weekly magazines, social media and a bourgeoning socialite culture contributed heavily to making people famous for the sake of it. While we’re no one to hold judgement over anyone’s celebrity aspirations, where it does become detrimental is when it begins to give credibility to those simply seeking fame. The Anna Wintours, Suzy Menkes, Racheal Zoes and Pat McGraths of the world had to pay their dues to be considered at the pinnacle of success but of course, technology has expedited the process of proving your mettle. The problem locally lies in the fact that the fashion fraternity has become extremely insular. Yes, we’ve come a long way and definitely deserve a round of applause for building infrastructure that led to fashion being considered a serious form of commerce but there’s still a long, long way to go. We can’t perpetually be self-congratulatory or pat each other on the back.
Yes, it is important to highlight new talent or give credit where it is due but to turn those who work behind the scenes into the faces at forefront might be negating the entire purpose, bringing down what it means to be a celebrity or what it takes to be famous. If a professional with years and years of experience walks in, they deserve to have recognition for their effort and contribution to the development of industry. It is important though to form a distinction between those who are in the fraternity to bring positive change and to recognize those who are simply riding on coat tails to become famous.
Fashion weeks need to be more about fashion
It’s painful to admit but the fact of the matter is that fashion weeks have begun to resemble giant hoardings for their corporate benefactors. We’ve lamented this fact extensively through 2016, pointing out several instances where there was a greater presence of sponsorship material than there was fashion representation.
From Bank Al-Falah sponsored fashion presentations that hardly ever yield stellar upcoming talent to capsule collections designed to please media partners (TV One’s collaboration with Shamaeel and Amir Adnan, anyone?) and of course, brand advertisements playing on loop before, between and after every show, it’s hard not to forget that the main aim of these events is to promote fashion front and center. Even the exhibition space inside the venues is often lent to corporations with no link to fashion.
While we’re all for merging corporate with style there has to be a time and place for it and fashion weeks are not it. Councils and designers both will have to take ownership of their brands and how they are presented to the fraternity as opposed to simply letting sponsors dictate terms.
Fashion models and the need for refreshing the pool
It might be an unsavory fact but models are essentially picked for their looks and their physique and the industry relies on an influx of fresh faces to keep things from looking monotonous. Pakistan, unfortunately, is experiencing a severe dearth of new models and mentors.
Firstly, there is the taboo around modeling to contend with and that limits many who might aspire to join the profession. It’s considered to be non-compliant with the conservative values espoused by a large chunk of the population and hence, girls are kept away from it. Those who do however manage to break in find themselves at a deadlock. The industry’s cliquey nature ensures that designers keep working with models who they’ve developed a rapport with.
Sure, a designer has all the right in the world to choose who the face of his brand is but by never giving new talent a chance they’re limiting their brand and also the industry. Veteran models who’ve enjoyed more than their share of time at the top continue to walk every show and you see the same six or seven faces open and close for designers from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. This creates a natural barrier that makes the amount of effort required to groom yourself to the point of being considered professional not worth the return that the industry is willing to offer.
We need to expand our horizons and give others a chance. The only way our industry can sustain its growth is if we allow innovative ideas, people and approach to continually nourish the pool of experience that has been cultivated over the years.
To quote Robert Frost, “…But I have promises to keep, and there are miles to go before I sleep.”