Much has been made about how Pakistan has made its way to this year’s FIFA World Cup on the backs of the football makers of Sialkot. The sports goods industry of Pakistan, despite a stellar record was suffering from something of a global hiatus from major sporting events due to concerns over the use of child labour and less than ideal industrial practices. All of this now seems behind them, with over 3,000 Adidas Brazuca made-in-Pakistan-footballs used on the football pitches of Brazil. Furthermore, millions of more Adidas Brazucas are being retailed around the world ranging anywhere in price from between $25 to over $300 (and this is not counting the Chinese knockoffs).
As the return of Pakistan’s sports vendors to the global mainstream becomes cause for celebration, it also brings to mind a fine little detail. Note how I have always mentioned the Brazuca as the Adidas Brazuca, because this is what it is, essentially a product by Adidas, a 15 billion German multinational company. While we rightly take pride in the Pakistani sports industry reclaiming lost market share in the global football market (it had dwindled from 80% to 13% in a decade), not many people outside of Pakistan know (or care) where the ball is made except that it is made by Adidas.
It is pretty much the same in all categories. Go to any major western retailer and you will find top quality Pakistani merchandise in their offerings. You will see $45 T-shirts of Banana Republic, messenger bags from Van Heusen worth a couple of hundred, all of which are made in Pakistan. But apart from a bit of national pride and export earnings, it does not translate much into a facelift for brand Pakistan. The football industry’s success story with the Brazuca pretty much follows the same arc. Pakistan has been a sourcing ground for many top-tier multinationals for many years, primarily on grounds of cost. When we have the lowest costs with the highest standards, we get the business, when we slip – as we have on many occasions due to law and order and labour issues, or even costs, the business goes elsewhere (China, Indonesia and Vietnam).
The reason why we remain vulnerable to these sourcing pressures is primarily because we have no brands that say Pakistan is top-tier and worth it. We ride the coattails of the big names in the global industry which is fine in its own right – but in the long run only to a point.
So although it is great to celebrate the debut of the Pakistan-made Adidas Brazuca at the FIFA World Cup, it will still be a short lived success; I bet you don’t remember the fact that the ‘94 and ‘98 World Cup footballs were also made in Pakistan, quite simply because there is no ‘brand’ recall of that fact.
What is more important in the long run is that Pakistan takes what it has as unique and gets some of the mainstream brands to take this to the global stage. As a Pakistani living in the west, I feel more pride in seeing goras try National Mixed pickles in desi stores than in seeing Paul Smith’s Peshawari chappal bearing a disclaimer that says the chappal was inspired by a city called Peshawar – which most Paul Smith customers will not be able to pick off a map.
Pakistani manufacturing’s potential is like that of the rest of the country, we know it’s there, but somehow it doesn’t come to the surface. But things do seem to be changing – for example, Khaadi stores are opening in London and Pakola cans are lining up on shelves in North America.
However, Pakistani brands will need to work harder in broadening their appeal to wider audiences. Although this will take time and will require effort, in the long run, Pakistani products need to move from being backstories on the fine print to being brands in the mainstream.
Tariq Ziad Khan is a US-based marketer and a former member of Aurora’s editorial team. firstname.lastname@example.org