KARACHI: Of the brands that made a splash at the recently held Fashion Pakistan Week 3 were the British retail brands Next, Monsoon and Accessorize, making a mark for actually encapsulating the event’s central theme of ‘high street fashion’.
With quality, style savvy clothing for women, men and children, the shows demonstrated that the days when these local variants of international brands would just pass their season’s old wares to Pakistan are gone.
However, with Debenhams slated to open its doors to aficionados in Karachi by June this year and other international popular brands like Mango and Nine West also making inroads into the Pakistani retail market, one wonders if the local market is large enough to absorb these brands whose average price point often hits a quarter of the salary of many of the urban working class professionals.
“Oh for sure. It hasn’t even started,” exclaims Yasin Paracha, Managing Director for Team A Ventures, the group responsible for bringing in Mothercare, Next, Monsoon, Accessorize and now Debenhams to the country. “Pakistan is by far the largest untapped market in the region,” asserts Paracha, stating that they haven’t even begun catering to the gargantuan appetite that exists for retail in Karachi alone, which has a population of over 18 million people.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” seconds Quiz Clothing’s Aftab Arshad, who, within a year’s time, has opened up two outlets in Lahore and has now set his sight set on Islamabad and Karachi. Although Quiz is generally perceived as a ‘party clothes’ brand which houses slinky and risque attire, it has still managed to carve its niche here. Arshad claims, “We doubled our imports last year and that goes to show that there is a huge demand here.” Clearly then, the market is booming and even if it’s the upper 10% that is being targeted, in a population of over 180 million people, the numbers are still enticing.
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Meanwhile, UK-based publication The Independent recently cited that the UK seeks to increase trade with Pakistan from £1.9 billion to £2.5 billion in the next three years. With British parliamentarians Lord Green and Baroness Warsi in attendance at the Debenhams launch press conference in January this year and with the British Council pooling in resources with Fashion Pakistan Week, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that the UK is taking a greater interest in Pakistan vis-a-vis fashion and lifestyle, along with trade. “It gave us a huge high,” confesses Paracha with reference to Green and Warsi’s visit to Karachi.
Foreign vs local brands
Yet, the question remains: how will local retail brands such as Crossroads, Outfitters, Stoneage and others fare with foreign competition? “Crossroads and Khaadi have progressed heavily,” says Paracha. “The others have to push up their game too. Due to increasing competition, international brands will raise the standards for modern retail in Pakistan. This will create a healthy mix that will increase choices for consumers.” He cites Mothercare’s example and how after its advent in 2005, this untapped avenue for retail shot up with other local variants producing quality children’s wear.
While one can always argue that the target audience for these brands is the jet set crowd that typically shops in Dubai or London every summer, Arshad is quick to point out, “We bring in new stock at Quiz every two weeks and not many travel with such frequency.” Even Paracha echoes the same, stating, “We try to price our products as competitively as possible and our company is projecting persistent growth.”