Pakistani Showbiz

The rat-race to London–Khaadi strides ahead

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What’s the secret to Khaadi’s success? It’s a question that many designers and textile mills ponder over as they desperately try to spread their wings and gain a stronghold over fickle customers.

But despite the growing milieu of shiny, happy shops selling ready-to-wear at competitive prices, the crowds never cease to throng Khaadi, the prêt never fails to fly off the racks and the unstitched lawn attracts long winding queues of excited buyers. What has made Khaadi overtake the so-called ‘textile giants’ and ‘cutting-edge designers’? And why is it the only brand to be bounding beyond Pakistan with an increasing number of international retail standpoints?

Khaadi’s CEO Shamoon Sultan PHOTO: Khaadi

In the sycophantic avenues that fashion often trundles through, everybody and anybody is proclaimed to be a leading designer or brand. Actions speak louder than words, though, and that’s why Khaadi’s CEO, Shamoon Sultan, is the veritable kingpin of fashion retail. Let the others blow their trumpets and pose at umpteen red carpet affairs. Shamoon would much rather expand from one store after the other, each following the standard Khaadi interior décor with wooden planks, earthy color schemes and varnished wooden cash-counters. He’d much rather delve from unstitched lawn to menswear to affordable prêt, children’s clothing, shoes, bags, jewelry and luxury-wear; all the many colors that encompass the ever-expanding Khaadi umbrella.

Shamoon and his wife Saira at Khaadi in London PHOTO: Khaadi

“There is so much more that we have to do”, he says and you can almost see the numbers whirring in his head, for Shamoon Sultan maybe a textile graduate but he also has a fantastic brain for business.  What he does, he achieves. Currently his mind is preoccupied with the upcoming gigantic 22,000-square-feet Khaadi store under construction at Karachi’s Dolmen City Mall. A few years ago, he said that he was not interested in stocking at multi-labels abroad and wanted to have its own international identity. Lo and behold, there are now four Khaadi stores in the UAE, one in Kuala Lumpur and three in the multifarious UK.

“Dubai’s a shopping hub to the world, has a multi-ethnic population and is just a short flight away from Pakistan. Setting up stores there made sense”, explains Shamoon. “The store at the Pavillion Mall in Kuala Lumpur just followed in 2013 and then we placed our focus on London, launching last year and then extending ourselves to two more branches”.

Khaadi’s UK standpoints are not in your typical desi location either. There’s one store sitting proud at the ‘it’ Westfield mall in Shepherds Bush, London another in Westfield mall Stratford City, also in London. The third one is in Birmingham – the UK’s most populous city after London. “We don’t want to associate ourselves with just the Indo-Pak contingent in London. We want to extend ourselves to the Western shopper who appreciates our particular Pakistani aesthetics”.

Currently, there are two more Khaadi outlets underway in the United Kingdom and peripherally, this sounds like Pakistan fashion’s biggest success story yet. But is Khaadi in anglicized UK bringing in any profits?

The Khaadi store at Westfield Mall in Stratford, London PHOTO: Khaadi

“We have long-term goals and profits are subsidiary concerns at the moment”, says the foresighted Shamoon. “The UK is a huge market but it’s also a difficult market. For any brand to be successful in retail, it has to have a clear-cut footprint in the market and be easily available. Right now, we’re ingraining our footprint in the UK”.

To that end, there’s a brand new line, ‘Khaadi West’, currently under works targeted primarily towards the Western market. Knowing Khaadi, it may just make Londons’ fashionables take notice and begin splurging on the brand that’s already driven Pakistan into regular shopping frenzies.

Khaadi West design PHOTO: Khaadi

And as Khaadi’s footprint advances  far and wide, one wonders what’s become of all our other local ‘giants’? Designer ateliers don’t really stand in comparison given that most of them have limited production facilities and cater to a niche audience. One remembers the Amir Adnan label branching out to Dubai but retreating when the market didn’t respond.

There are some textile bigwigs that have dabbled into international waters though perhaps not with the same flash and gusto as Khaadi. There are three Bareeze stores in the UK, one in India and five in the UAE, housing the many ready-to-wear and unstitched brands that fall within the CEFAM family. Bareeze, in fact, even extended itself to Norway and Malaysia only to close shop when the market didn’t respond well. Nishat Linen, similarly, has a whopping 10 stores in the UAE, five in Saudi Arabia and three in Canada.

But what of a Gul Ahmed, an AlKaram or even a Bonanza? Why do they seem content in putting lawn billboards all across the country and not extending themselves further by dabbling into international waters?

Abid Umer, CEO at AlKaram, speaks of an upcoming retail store in Dubai and is set to launch the upcoming Sania Maskatiya lawn line at multi-label Ensemble Dubai. The marketing team at Gul Ahmed, meanwhile, is content on expanding their local market, with a target of opening two stores per month, while global orders are dealt through the online store. “We have presence in almost every continent”, they claim but being known by a handful of expats and limited online sales are hardly the same thing as setting up clearly visible standpoints in high-flying international malls.

In the rat-race of retailing designer prêt, Khaadi is miles ahead of the others, despite not being a textile heavyweight. In the last 15 years it sailed into the arena and jostled the market awake to the possibilities of ready-to-wear. It’s no wonder that all the textile bigwigs that hitherto had primarily focused on home textiles for export, are suddenly stepping into pret.

“We still have a long way to go,” says Shamoon confidently, but the other ‘giants’ attempting to nail ready-to-wear have to go much further.


Maliha Rehman is a fashion and lifestyle journalist with a penchant for writing, all the time! Log on to Twitter for more updates @maliharehman

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