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Perilous whirlpools

May 05, 2013

Some of the factors that threaten to pull young entrants down under.

For all the bright lights and glamour, the razzle and the dazzle, the fashion industry can be a very dark place to work in especially if you’re struggling to break through. The pioneers and mentors are virtually inaccessible to most people and there are too many touts standing in the way, to make your entry and life as difficult as possible.

Egos are big, peer pressure is high, expectations run higher and in return, ethics lie very low. If you’re working hard then the returns come very slowly and you lose morale seeing younger and less talented debutantes edging their way ahead only by knowing the right people. The problems with the fashion industry are multifarious — as they are anywhere in the world — but here’s the gist of what poses as some of the biggest threats to newcomers in our industry.

Council wars

There are two fashion councils in Pakistan and they have been at loggerheads for the longest time. This somewhat confuses newcomers who lack the knowledge, focus and direction to know which one to join, if at all they need to join any council in the first place. Designers need to know that membership may help them get a subsidy on retailing at a council-operated store, fashion week or international exhibitions but what it does not affect or restrict business in the larger scheme of things. They can still stock at an opposing council’s store if their product is approved and they can most certainly show at any fashion week for the same reasons. The only difference is how much it’ll cost them. Cases in point are designers Shehla Chatoor, Sana Safinaz, Adnan Pardesy and Wardha Saleem, amongst others, who are showing at the PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week without being members of the Pakistan Fashion and Design Council.

Model behaviour

Designers do face incredible pressure to make an unforgettable debut but when it comes to debutantes, the greatest and gravest pressure lies on fashion models. First they are faced with the dilemma of opting for surgery to perfect any imperfections on their faces and bodies. Then they run the risk of drug abuse and anorexia to become as thin as possible. What they don’t understand is that healthy and well-toned is always preferable to skin and bone. Most new models do look positively skeletal these days.

The most dangerous threat, however, is the proverbial ‘casting couch’, whereby models — both male and female — feel pressurised to offer sexual favours in exchange for lucrative contracts and high profile or foreign shows. A lot similar to the film industry in this respect, it has been noticed, however, that individuals with a strong sense of values (those who come from stable backgrounds), manage to resist the moral derailing. And they manage to succeed irrespectively.

The creative versus commercial conundrum

The biggest choice that young entrants face in the fashion industry is whether to take the creative route and design clothes that are edgy and fashion forward or to stick to what pays the bills: the commercially safe and humdrum styles. Very few designers — like Sana Safinaz and Sania Maskatiya, for example — have managed to balance both very effectively and it has to be said that not everyone has their skills. However, the best thing to do is to strike a balance. Successful fashion brands are a mix of brilliant ideas and saleable merchandise. It is important to have both skills.


Fashion coordinator’s job is to align a photographer, a model, a stylist and a designer for a mind-blowing conceptual work, be it a shoot or a show. But there have been complaints about individuals charging a hefty fee for coordination and publication, which they cannot guarantee. This leads to confusion, delays and monetary losses as some designers are unaware of the system. The best way to counter this is to stay within professional bounds and to approach fashion editors directly.

Plagiarism versus inspiration

The plagiarism versus inspiration debate is widespread in fashion industries all over the world and Pakistan is no different. Most pioneering designers feel that their work is copied rampantly and it is true that many who are commercially popular — like Nomi Ansari, Sania Maskatiya and Umar Sayeed — are ‘copied’. More than plagiarism, counterfeit production is the biggest menace for designers, whether they are creating luxury pret, bridal ensembles or lawn.

The runway to retail disconnect

One of the biggest issues in the fashion industry, especially applicable to young designers who are starting out, is the lack of production capacity. Designers manage to invest enough money to design 16 garments in a collection for a show or fashion week but most of them do not manage to manufacture those designs for ready-to-wear retail. Only designers with standalone stores have the discipline and need to keep their merchandize well stocked.

The bottom line is that fashion, like any other industry especially those related to glamour, fame and fortune, has its pros and its cons. There are dangerous whirlpools that threaten to take you down and equally damaging individuals that act as deterrents to success and credibility. The trick is to avoid them and stay clear of under the table deals, short cuts and working with people who have no apparent credibility. As the end of the day, it is the choices you make is what defines who you are, how well you do and how you are perceived.