Fashion scandal: Why target Nida Khurram when we all plagiarise?

Published June 4, 2015
Big or small, all designers should be held accountable if they imitate other work. But this is not usually the case in Pakistan. Antonio Soares' illustration for Chanel (L) and Nida Khurram in one of her 'designs' (R)
Big or small, all designers should be held accountable if they imitate other work. But this is not usually the case in Pakistan. Antonio Soares' illustration for Chanel (L) and Nida Khurram in one of her 'designs' (R)

Fledgling designer Nida Khurram has become famous overnight... for all the wrong reasons.

For Nida is the latest copycat caught out plagiarizing from the West. The designer, in her newly launched line of stitched swiss voile available at Karachi’s Fashion Pakistan Lounge, supposedly paid ‘tribute’ to the fashion illustrations of London, Milan and NYC-based artists.

In the process of paying ode, though, she lifted off complete images, added floral borders or funky backgrounds, and replicated them in digital print. Inspiration or imitation? To be fair, it seems to be more of the latter.

How it all began:

A photo posted by Instagram (@instagram) on

Portuguese illustrator Antonio Soares, one of the artists ‘honored’ by Nida, certainly seemed to think her work was imitation. In a tirade on Facebook, he declared the collection to be ‘disgusting’, berating Nida for using his work without asking for his ‘permission’.

His post quickly went viral with the local fashion fraternity and social media mavens pitching in their opinions on how plagiarism needs to stop.

Which is true — the plagiaristic vein runs deep in Pakistani fashion, with far too many designers curbing their creativity and drifting off to the runways of Paris, Milan or London for inspiration.

Gazing upon the catwalks at recent fashion weeks, one keeps experiencing waves of déjà vu because that outfit, those details or that print looks all too familiar.

From newbies to veterans, designers don’t hesitate to replicate designs ranging from Balmain to Balen, D&G to Givenchy, Rohit Bal to even closer to home, the long-suffering oft-copied Bunto Kazmi.

Some Pakistani designers' outfits look a little too much like what we see across the border. Manish Malhotra (L) and Elan
Some Pakistani designers' outfits look a little too much like what we see across the border. Manish Malhotra (L) and Elan

Nida Khurram is just another designer joining the burgeoning milieu of plagiarists within local fashion.

What does the designer have to say?

After a brief period of silence, Nida decided to speak out about the furor surrounding her design. The designer professes to be an ‘admirer’ of fashion illustrators.

“I have always been very interested in research and development and as a faculty member at the Asian Institute of Fashion and Design (AIFD) in Karachi, I have enjoyed inculcating an interest in lesser-known artists amongst my students,” explains Nida. “It’s why I dedicated this collection to them.”

She maintained that her designs were not akin to imitation or replication, but rather were a tribute to the fashion illustrators in question.


Curiously, the same fraternity criticizing Nida predominantly pardons the big guns, ignoring their copies or worse, defending them as ‘inspired’.


Curiously, the same fraternity criticizing Nida predominantly pardons the big guns, ignoring their copies or worse, defending them as ‘inspired’. Aside from a few lone critics, the rest seem to be too concerned about the freebies they would lose out on were they to attack the bigger designers.

And who would invite them to those coveted fashion after-parties were they to censure them openly? God forbid, they could even lose out on the advertisements placed by fashion heavyweights in their print or electronic publications. Pummeling the bigger names is just not lucrative and barring a few nifty bloggers like aamiriat, luxepakistan, hardly anyone chooses to go down that route.

A photo posted by Instagram (@instagram) on

A lot of talk, but little action

“Plagiarism is bringing down industry standards and checks and balances do needs to be set,” agrees Labels’ CEO Zahir Rahimtoola.

“But how can new designers be expected to refrain from it when big designers are doing it as well? Nida’s replications are nothing new to Pakistani fashion. I don’t understand why people are so shocked by it,” he adds.


With larger designers, hardly ever is there the hue and cry similar to the kind that has been raised against Nida Khurram.


With larger designers, hardly ever is there the hue and cry similar to the kind that has been raised against Nida Khurram. Critics on social media have chosen to make an example out of the new designer, choosing to criticize her rampantly with hardly anybody jumping to her rescue. But Nida has only followed in the footsteps of some of the country’s most illustrious designers who have a definite penchant for plagiarizing.

Alisha Hashmi for Mina Hasan seems to be a bit too inspired by ATSU's sari. —Photo courtesy: vintagegulabblog Instagram
Alisha Hashmi for Mina Hasan seems to be a bit too inspired by ATSU's sari. —Photo courtesy: vintagegulabblog Instagram

And they get caught out — again and again and again. For in the Internet era, new collections and designs are just a click away and copycats are exposed overnight on social media.

Despite this, it’s mindboggling that the replicas continue to surface, undermining brand value and bringing down the standards of a nascent industry that is working hard to gain a stronger foothold in the economy.


In Pakistan, it is still admissible if a Beech Tree, Generation or Agha Noor produce replicas and sell them at economical price-points. But when a designer high-street label attracts in customers on the basis of its designer name, it loses its credibility while copying.


Perhaps one needs to follow how 'inspiration' takes place in the international fashion scene. Internationally, high-street brands Zara and H&M infamously replicate designs off the catwalks but then these brands don’t profess to create designer-wear. Armani, however, can’t sell copies through their high-street Armani Exchange.

Similarly in Pakistan, it is still admissible if a Beech Tree, Generation or Agha Noor produce replicas and sell them at economical price-points. But when a designer high-street label attracts in customers on the basis of its designer name, it loses its credibility while copying. For instance, a Gulabo, Sana Safinaz, Nida Azwer, Elan or Zara Shahjahan can’t be caught copying even with their high-street lines. They owe it to their customers and to their painstakingly created brand image.

Fashion's young guns vs the old guard:

A photo posted by Instagram (@instagram) on

Perhaps Nida came under the crossfire more so because she was caught out by the artist she copied himself, bringing in bad publicity for the country. But most ostensibly, the young designer is just an easy target.

Having properly launched her label just last year and without a fashion week showcase to her credit, Nida is yet to build a style mafia of her own, sated by freebies and ready to jump to her defense.

“It leaves a bad taste in the mouth,” says designer and journalist Mohsin Sayeed. “It’s unfair for media at large to tackle just one designer without naming any of the others.”

Who, specifically, are these ‘others’? A more accurate question would probably be, who isn’t? Perhaps it’s just that most of the fashion fraternity is spreading itself too thin, taking part in multiple fashion weeks and lawn launches simultaneously. Even the most brilliant creative minds can reach their limits with such a choc-a-bloc schedule.

There is no doubting Shahjahan's talent but every creative mind is bound to hit a road block.  —Photo courtesy: luxepakistan Instagram
There is no doubting Shahjahan's talent but every creative mind is bound to hit a road block. —Photo courtesy: luxepakistan Instagram

But then why show at all if it will only end up bringing down brand value? What’s the satisfaction in curbing your creativity and earning accolades for a collection that isn’t really yours? And is it worth the hassle of waking up the next day and defending yourself hoarse when your imitation gets revealed?


To lift off the artistry without adding her own tweaks makes Nida’s designs clear-cut copies rather than inspirations.


Mohsin Sayeed bemoaned, “I have stopped talking about plagiarism because ultimately, how many designers will we name?” Why not all, again and again, in Sunday headlines and on magazine cover-pages? Why not put an end to it altogether? It’s high time."

But to lift off the artistry without adding her own tweaks makes Nida’s designs clear-cut copies rather than inspirations. There’s a clear differentiation between the two and it’s unfathomable that Nida wasn’t aware of it. It doesn’t set a good example for the budding young designers she was teaching before resigning last year to focus on her career.

With so many big names resorting to ripping off designs, who is innocent? —Photo courtesy: abcnol.com
With so many big names resorting to ripping off designs, who is innocent? —Photo courtesy: abcnol.com

More importantly, it also doesn’t set a good example when the media and the crème de la crème of the design fraternity lambast one designer and choose to ignore the others with more clout. The lack of honest critique in local fashion is just as damaging to the industry as plagiarism itself and may, in the long run, bring it down.

That’s a point to ponder over the next time Sabyasachi shawl lookalikes are showcased onto the runway or a designer lawn uncannily similar to a D&G print is advertized or certain floral prints look all too familiar.

As for Nida Khurram, she may regret the designs she put on the market — but not because they're imitations.

“The designs inspired by Soares have actually been very troublesome for me. Not only have they stirred up this controversy but because they have faces on them — and most people don’t like wearing clothes with faces — they haven’t even been selling well!” laughs Nida.


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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