Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

From 'kapray ki thaan' to display racks and visual merchandising

Published in Sep-Oct 2015

The factors that drove the change in the clothing mindset of urban Pakistanis.
.Illustration by Creative Unit.
.Illustration by Creative Unit.

Pakistani women love to dress up. Wealthy, middle income or trying to make ends meet, every Pakistani woman has something in her wardrobe to fit all occasions. Clothes to work in, cook in, go out in, celebrate in, mourn in – and for all seasons. Traditionally, the contents of this wardrobe were defined by colour appropriateness and the intricacies of their embroidery and fancy work.

New clothes involved paying a visit to the dukaanwala to prod him into unravelling umpteen bolts of fabric until a final selection was made. Next followed a trip to the dupatta dyer to match colours and on to the embroiderers to discuss threads, weaves, sequins and beading. Fabrics, bits and bobs assembled, the last stop of this sartorial journey was the tailor to haggle over designs and timelines and issue dark warnings about the consequences of any mishaps during the sewing process.

Times began to change and the retail environment moved from the fusty dukaan to more spacious plazas and small scale boutiques and finally to air-conditioned malls and dedicated own stores. Bolts of fabric were replaced by display racks, each component smartly matched to show-off the allure of the eventual ensemble, and the grouchy dukaanwala was jettisoned in favour of a ‘sales staff’ of young men and women better attuned to delivering ‘service’ and the ‘right experience’ to the customer.

In between the transition from the dukaan to the mall, came the three-day designer lawn exhibitions held at top hotels; these started off as fairly sedate affairs, but the sheer weight of customers saw them degenerate into a circus of pushes, shoves and arguments. Yet, these exhibitions brought to the fore the existence of an almost insatiable demand for new fabric collections for every changing season.

Come 2015 and the entire experience has flipped. Walk into a mall and all the top clothing brands have their own stores – and whereas once it was mostly about fabrics, today 50% of the retail space is populated by what is referred to as ‘prêt’.

Prêt (short form for prêt-à-porter) is the French term for ready to wear and has its genesis in haute couture – the super exclusive, super expensive clothes designed by top fashion houses to clothe the super rich. Prêt-à-porter were clothes inspired by haute couture but adapted to the functionality required for daily wear, distinct from the less expensive, off the peg, ready to wear women’s clothes. However, lately the meaning of prêt has been expanded to refer to any type of readymade clothing.

In Pakistan, readymade clothes have been around for some years but usually confined to run of the mill shops and defined by their poor fitting and indifferent styling. Khaadi was probably one of the first quality brands to display a limited range of ready to wear kurtis. Yet, although the quality was superior, the sizing was problematic. So women carried on doing what they did – buying fabrics and taking them to the tailor. Until everything began to change about three or four years ago...

So what was the congruence of factors that drove this change in the clothing mindset of the urban Pakistani woman? At the very root, it has to be the economy, which despite its systemic dysfunction, continues to create wealth among pockets of society. What else can explain the ceaseless demand for new (quickly sold out) collections every quarter? In fact, it is this latent wealth that has placed urban Pakistanis within the ranks of the world’s most avid shoppers, and the reason why malls proved to be early successful ventures that turned shopping from a hassle into an experience. Parallel to this another transformation was taking place – and that was the concept of convenience, first expressed in the kitchen. As more urban women began to work, there was less time to cook from scratch – hence the nexus between the boom in convenience foods and the emergent supermarkets.

Now convenience has permeated from the kitchen into the wardrobe. Just as cooking from scratch has become an occasional ‘luxury’, assembling clothes from scratch too has become a luxury that the urbane Pakistani woman can now afford to discard at will. All she has to do is walk into a mall and buy her prêt.