While driving along main roads, watching television and reading newspapers and periodicals, one comes across visuals of top local and foreign female models clad in colourful lawn outfits. They are everywhere, from the costly billboards to the coloured front and back pages of popular publications and primetime ads run on tv.
One wonders how big the business has become over the years that it can afford to pump huge amounts into advertising.
The production of lawn in Pakistan started around half a century ago. Back then, Gul Ahmed Textile Mills started supplying printed lawn cloth to the market which suited the warm climate of the country. Al Karam followed shortly after. In no time, the race started, and many joined in.
Several of the mills that marketed their own product were vertically integrated units, meaning they could start from spinning yarn to the finished product.
Anis-ul-Haq, secretary of All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA), Punjab zone says the increasing span of summers has a lot to do with the flooding of market with seasonal material, as lawn can be worn for over seven to eight months a year.
Though the exact size of the lawn industry has not been worked out, industry estimates put the figure around Rs 50 billion at the least.
Fashion designers and mill owners have collaborated with each other to give the industry a boost and make designer lawn one of the most sough-after products. He says, some mills take top fashion designers on board to design their ranges and on other occasions designers get their stocks of lawn produced by mills.
Just as China is associated with silk, Pakistan is beginning to be known for its lawn, says Haq.
This is despite the fact that Pakistan does not produce high-count fine cotton used in the manufacturing of lawn. The yarn used in lawn is high-count (60 and above) which is produced from cotton imported for the USA and Egypt. Or lawn manufacturers use high-count yarn dumped by India in Pakistan. “India provides heavy subsidy on this yarn,” he adds.
Anis-ul-Haq says this growth is attributed mainly to the growth of fashion industry, research and development in the sector and entrepreneurship skills of investors – “Pakistan’s cotton products are best in the the world. 80 per cent of its textile production is based on cotton. 20 per cent of the textile products are made of synthetic material whereas globally this percentage is around 60 per cent,” he adds.
Haq says the dupattas with lawn suits come from India, hence, the manufacturing industry in cities like Gujranwala is at the brink of closure.
He adds that several APTMA members are manufacturing lawn far more superior than that manufactured in power loom factories by seasonal investors — “Mill owners have set up captive power plants to ensure continuous supply of their composite units. They also have in-house fashion designers, pattern-makers and market researchers who strive to make their products relevant to the market. The power looms on the hand, are not sophisticated and totally dependent on electricity supplied by WAPDA. The frequent power failures compromise the quality of the cloth they produce”.
Tasneem Khan, General Manager WAK Group, who also looks after the newly-launched clothing brand Ivy, says the first edition of their line is already sold out. They will come out with a new stock around Eidul Fitr. She says it was their first season and they engaged a mill in Faisalabad to weave lawn for them according to their specifications and designs. “Quality control is a big issue and the responsibility of the brand owners. Due to this reason, they must check the fabric at the production unit, press and then pack and dispatch it to the retailers and franchises,” she adds.
Khan dispels the impression that designer brands start minting money right away. On the contrary, she says, it is very difficult to make any profits in the start as huge resources are spent on the development of the product, its branding, promotion and distribution — “The brand has been launched by five established fashion designers who were already doing business from home for the last eight years.”
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Khan believes the success of a designer brand lies in its proper presentation and placement. So, they hired the services of an advertising company. This company took care of their billboards, brochures, banners, packing material, advertisements run on cable networks. She says after introducing the brand to the target audience, they engaged the best retailers, including Saleem Fabrics, Raja Sahib in Lahore and others who have presence in multiple cities. “I hope the brand will make a better profit on its next collection as it will not have to spend as heavily on its introduction as it did on its launch.”
On the quantity of lawn produced every year, Haq says it is hard to determine the figure as for every registered brand there are three power loom factories producing fakes. As the cost of designer lawn is out of reach of a huge clientele, he says, a ready market exists for copies of popular and latest designs of lawn.
Chaudhry Abdul Haq, ex-chairman All Pakistan Cotton Power Looms Association (APCPA) distances himself from the practice of producing fakes. He says there are 150,000 power looms in Faisalabad that simply produce grey fabric for themselves or for clients who contact them.
Quite often, he says, often people hire the power looms to produce lawn and provide yarn as well. Some of them ask power looms to arrange for yarn. Indian yarn is quite popular as it is easily available in the market. “We do not ask them where they will sell the cloth after printing. They are mere investors”.
The ex-chairman APCPA, however, admits that the increase in lawn business has helped the power loom sector. The investors mostly engage their looms during off-season, when the price of raw material is down, electricity is available for longer hours, conversion rate (of converting yarn into cloth) is low and machines are lying idle. This way the investor gets a bigger profit margin and the wheel of the industry keeps running. “It is quite common for these investors to get their stock ready in winters and launched during or soon after spring,” he adds.
Export of lawn is another grey area in the country. For example, Haq says, there is a huge market of lawn in India but it cannot reach there through official channels due to a very complex duty structure imposed by the Indian market. “The duties are so high that they make Pakistani lawn non-viable there.”
Besides, he says, there are state taxes imposed on goods passing too. “This means if lawn from Pakistan has to reach a destination in South India by road, all the duties imposed by the states on the way will be added to the final cost. The situation may improve if there is a breakthrough in Pak-India trade relations and both the countries give incentives to each other on a reciprocal basis.”
But this does not mean that Pakistani lawn does not reach India. Many yatrees, tourists and conference attendees who come here return with loads of popular lawn designs.
“The demand in the West is not so high as Pakistani fabric and lawn designs are Asia-specific. Though Pakistani and Indian diaspora often buys the products online,” says APTMA secretary.
There are some manufacturers who have warehouses in Gulf and some Western countries where they keep stocks and supply products to online buyers via courier, he concludes.