Published in Sep-Oct 2015
Sitting in his office strewn with design sketches, racks of clothes and books, Adil Moosajee recalls blundering through the first year after he started EGO in 2006 in Karachi’s Zamzama.
“We did everything we were not supposed to do. We started from scratch and there was no other local retail clothing model we could learn from. We faced all sorts of challenges and we messed up a lot. But by the end of that first year we had also figured out a lot. For instance, we realised that 15% of our clothes were responsible for 90% of our sales. So we did away with the menswear, the western wear and the heavy formals. We also understood that a successful design was the one the daughter loved and the mother hated,” he smiles.
“And just when we figured it all out, they dug up Zamzama,” he shrugs. “No one could reach our store.”
Ever the optimist, Moosajee clearly relishes talking about the personal and professional challenges he faced.
While children his age were competing to get into the ‘right’ school, young Moosajee was dealing with a speech impediment and changing schools frequently while trying to find his bearings.
“I was terrible at academics and I avoided socialising because of my stutter.”
It is hard to believe that the man with the contagious can-do attitude which enabled him to set up a retail clothing business (EGO), a fine dining restaurant (The East End) and consultation services for interior design (Lincoln Corner at the PACC) and The Nest I/O (incubation space), actually spent his early years in a shell. And it was a defining moment in America which changed all that. In 1994, after his O’Levels he enrolled at a community college in the US. Lonely and self conscious, he did not talk to anyone for nine months and ate at the same Taco Bell every single day.
“Then one day I woke up and decided that I could either give up and go back or change things.”
He made a list of his challenges and picked his biggest fear to deal with first.
“I decided that the next day at college I would introduce myself to every single person I came across. The first introduction took me five minutes, but I was soon on a spree and by the end of the day I had made many friends, joined various societies and my stutter was 75% better.”
After this Moosajee grew his hair and moved to The Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science where he changed five majors in four years and graduated with 232 credits instead of the required 126.
“I just wanted to try different things and took every course I could from photography to physics.”
With a degree in Fashion Apparel Management, he flew back to Pakistan, and joined a buying house. In doing so he ruffled a few family feathers as he was expected to join Moosajees, his family’s men’s formal wear fabric business. (The original Moosajees is still located in Saddar and is an old Karachi mainstay.) Not one to do things conventionally, Moosajee offered to tread the middle path by opening another Moosajees store in Clifton. When his family shot down the idea, he set up his own fabric and tailoring shop in a 300-square feet outlet on Zamzama called M2. In the one year of its existence, M2 thrived, but had to be closed down when it started to compete directly with the original Moosajees store.
Disheartened he moved to Lahore and joined Crescent Greenwood as Head of Product Development.
“That was in Pindi Bhattian, so it was a great experience, but a terrible life.”
He then moved back to Karachi, married and joined the Textile Institute of Pakistan and taught there from 1999 to 2004. After another teaching gig and consultancy at a textile mill, a vision was beginning to take shape in his mind.
“Whenever I told my friends I wanted to do something different, they advised me to buy a foreign franchise and bring it to Pakistan."
"I didn’t want to buy a franchise, but this made me realise that there was a gap in the market for a clothing line for young people. And this is when I decided to start EGO.”
After a difficult obstacle-ridden first year at Zamzama, the store moved to The Forum.
“There is a story behind that,” says Moosajee narrating yet another anecdote.
“While I was searching for another location, a friend who runs a shoe business told me she had found a 1,000-square feet shop at The Forum and was looking for partners to share the rent. I roped in another friend who was starting up the Raintree Spa and the three of us joined hands.”
With the new partnership and outlet in place, Moosajee – who in his own words thrives on change – flew to Thailand for his next project: a course in reflexology in order to personally train the staff at the Raintree Spa. This time he also decided to do his own shop interiors, and in record time.
“I once hired someone to do our shop interiors and it took six months, as a result of which we ended up offering our summer line in winter. We couldn’t afford to wait that long. Now I do the interiors myself. I had our Forum outlet ready in four days, in time for the Eid shopping rush.”
Although sales went through the roof at the Forum store during that Ramazan, the three partners still didn’t have enough cash to fulfil their dreams of expanding and this is when Moosajee decided to franchise EGO.
“We told potential franchisees that we would take care of their losses for six months.”
EGO franchises soon opened in Lahore and Islamabad. The first franchised store opened on M.M. Alam Road, another two at Haji Karim Bukhsh (HKB), also in Lahore and one store in F-7 Islamabad. By this time celebrities such as Zeb and Haniya were beginning to notice and endorse the brand, and EGO was slowly but surely expanding. There are currently 20 EGO stores in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Gujranawala, Rawalpindi and three franchised stores in Dubai, Mauritius and the UK.
With competition increasing in the face of many big players, such as Al Karam, Gul Ahmed and Khaadi entering the prêt market, Moosajee is under no illusions about EGO’s standing in the game.
“We are on a middle path at the moment; we are too small for economies of scale and too big to be a boutique.”
Not one to be fazed by the challenge posed by bigger players, Moosajee continues to expand EGO’s offerings.
“We have just launched a line for working women, evening wear and accessories as well as one for unstitched suits. We have reorganised structurally and brought in specialists in embroidery and print making.”
His latest love – the one he talks about with a glint in his eyes – are his interior design projects. “I love these projects. They are short term, satisfy me at a creative level and are just right for my attention span.”
Mention The East End and he launches into (yet another) story about how he opened the restaurant as a result of a project-going wrong thanks to a minister who insisted that Karachi belonged to a particular ethnic group.
“The East End, which offers an eclectic mix of cuisines (including my daadi’s Bohri recipes) from the cultures that co-exist in Karachi, was my way of talking about the multiethnic flavour of this city.”
Starting a ground-breaking clothing retail business in an uncertain market, opening a high-end restaurant to drive home a point, Moosajee’s dreams are larger than life and appear to make no sense in a practical world – until they work of course. One also realises that he is in no mood to ‘learn’ as he launches into yet another delightful description of his plans for an interior project he is working on. When you look sceptical, he laughs...
“When my plan is in place, I bring in the architects for the reality check. That’s their job, not mine.”
Shahrezad Samiuddin is a pop culture junkie and a screenwriter. email@example.com