Onwards and upwards

April 25, 2019

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THERE is no doubt that Pakistan’s retail sector is moving onwards and upwards. That much is beyond debate. When it comes to fashion retail, there are not even small-time naysayers to argue with. There is a certain sense of eagerness among the masses to wear and promote local fashion brands. In fact, there is a level of pride in parading your purchase which was in the years of yore only associated with imported stuff.

Although fashion retailers existed in Pakistan since very early on, what really kick-started the sector was the introduction of global brands and outlets in the local market. Once consumers were seen buying freely even with exaggerated price tags, the local industry also came out to have its share of the pie. The locals had to go for quality in order to compete with established foreign brands, and they did that with due investment and professionalism. Once that threshold was crossed, there was no dearth of buyers.

Among a hoard of enabling factors behind the obvious success of the local fashion brands over international competition, reasonable price points and availability surely rank high on the list.

While the local retail industry is far away from being saturated, it definitely has become highly competitive in recent years. A brand doing well always compels its local competitors to up their game if they are willing and competent enough to win a considerable market share. Otherwise, they may decide to barely survive or just find another business for themselves.

With textile exports taking a hit owing to various reasons, the big players have turned to the local market for sustainability, taking fashion retail to an entirely different level.

This almost cutthroat competition of gaining the market share eventually improves the overall quality of the market. And it has. We can observe examples in our markets as well. With the more recent influx of numerous fashion brands in Pakistan from all around the world, some local brands have emerged to be the market leaders and are actually giving a tough time to their rivals from overseas. In a lot of cases, the local brands have grown so much in this competitive setting that they have themselves outgrown the country’s geographical borders and have now gone international.

One of the major aspects that have aided the health of our retail sector tremendously of late is our local produce of good quality cotton and the local craftsmanship. The local lawn market is a proof that speaks for itself. Countless lawn brands are launched each year in the local market and many, if not most, do really well for themselves.

Cotton lawn, which used to be a very ordinary, affordable and bland affair, is now anything but. The enchanting colour pallets of lawn brands and advertising-driven glamour have certainly made lawn a hot commodity in society. The craze of modern cotton lawn is still fresh but it cannot be categorised as a fad anymore; it has proven its hold.

There were times when nobody preferred wearing the lacklustre fabric but the markets have shifted so radically that one will have some difficulty finding any women or any grownup for that matter who would not be able to recognise any of the mega brand names. Lawn designers are not treated as prodigies in our society for nothing.

Also gone are times when there were two seasons in a fashion calendar; In the last five or so years, there are about 10 ‘micro-seasons’ per year. New lines are coming out every other month. The term is called Fast Fashion. The fashion industry nowadays is designed to make you feel “out of trend” every few weeks. The merchandise is typically priced on the lower side as the quality is also low in terms of durability. The idea of business is to produce relatively lower quality merchandise and sell it in high volumes at cheaper prices.

Talking about the element of affordable prices among Pakistan-based fashion brands we need to give due credit to the country’s internal capacity – in the shape of its agriculture sector which produces one of the best qualities of cotton, the raw material without which even the most highly competent aptitude for value addition and merchandising would hold no water.

The reason we can produce such good quality garments at such competitive rates is that we hardly have to rely on any materials or labour from outside the country, we are virtually autonomous in these area and that gives our local fashion industry a major edge over other competing markets that do not have this luxury of self-reliance.

With textile exports taking a hit owing to various reasons, it is only understandable that the big players have turned to the local market for sustainability and the local market has not disappointed them at all. There are no losers in the equation.

To be honest, the market is not exactly favorable for local businessmen bringing in fashion brands from abroad. Even if they are bringing in a fast fashion, low priced international brand, after they take in the massive costs of importing the merchandise it becomes so expensive for the importer that they are bound to raise the selling prices to the level where they are considered exorbitant by the initially targeted audience and when the brand eventually opens its doors for public, it ends up as just another overpriced destination for average quality apparel. This scenario kicks them out of the fast fashion game which is what this “fashion era” is all about. The only brands that are actually serving the masses and selling high volumes at very economical price are local ones, and thank God they are good. In recent times one may notice a lot of local fashion brands are coming up with their taglines focusing on the fact that they are made in Pakistan which points towards the fact that consumers are not only aware but also appreciative of fashion apparel that is made in Pakistan.

The comparatively higher income and a more relaxed financial environment, cost-wise, allows the local names to open more and more outlets which obviously boosts their reach to the fashion hungry audience. People living in the metropolitan cities of Pakistan can often be heard complaining about the number of shopping malls being made in the city but every shopping mall on every nook and cranny has almost each one of our local apparel brand. It is just because they can, and they just can’t afford to miss out on an opportunity; even if it sounds useless now may turn into gold any time. Such are the dynamics of expansion of our retail sector.

When otherwise there is a huge dilemma of employment opportunities for people in Pakistan, our retail industry has proved to be a beacon of hope in the last few decades. The industry has been able to provide job opportunities to not just the well-educated lot but all the way down to people with just basic education to their merit. Our local retail industry is among those very few sectors in Pakistan which have always been a flag-bearer of the idea of equal employment opportunities as well.