Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The Battle For Desi-Cool

Published in Sep-Oct 2019

Prêt-based fast fashion brands have cornered the convenience market and are now expanding their product portfolios.

Gone are the days when mangoes reigned supreme in summer. Thanks to market forces and our need to look good, the first rays of the sunny season to come are quickly blocked by huge billboards, signalling the beginning of the summer lawn wars. Although fashion brands have been long used to diving into a competitive market in terms of price points, over the years another issue has reared its head: the struggle between legacy and fast fashion brands. In fact, legacy brands such as Alkaram, Gul Ahmed and Nishat (all of which benefit from huge amounts of customer trust) are struggling to shake off that ‘aunty brand’ tag and become synonymous with desi-cool. Be it their choice of brand ambassadors (Ayeza Khan, Iqra Aziz, Sajal Aly et al) or their digital campaigns, it is obvious that legacy brands are trying to be more upbeat, relevant and fashion forward looking with the whip smart working woman.

Women today want fashion on the go, and although western brands such as H&M, Mango and Zara have become fashion phenomena in their own right, local brands (with the exception of Khaadi) are struggling to become the Zara of the desi woman.

The competition for legacy brands comes mainly from prêt-heavy fast fashion brands, such as Khaadi, Sana Safinaz and Sapphire. Add to this mix a host of smaller brands like edenrobe, Élan and other up and coming brands. All these brands are investing heavily in prêt because they have cracked the code that makes the woman of today weak in the knees: convenience. Although, for sure, unstitched fabric may give one more room to personalise one’s look, prêt is convenient and sells like hot cakes online. As a result, as more and more women turn to e-commerce websites for a hassle-free shopping experience, brands are reconsidering their resource allocation in terms of prêt and unstitched. Ask any working woman whether she would give up on convenience in order to remain loyal to a particular brand and she will say no. She doesn’t have the time and she will buy whichever brand gives her what she is looking for and then waltz off to her next meeting. You can in fact draw up a profile of the women who have the time and energy to buy unstitched fabric, style it, fight it out with their darzis and eventually settle for a mildly disappointing version of the look they had in mind.

In terms of their advertising, lawn brands have yet to impose their own distinct visual language, which is perhaps why their top-of-mind appeal and eventual loyalty is almost non-existent. Pick any fashion commercial released this year and if you remove the logo, you won’t be able to tell Khaadi from Bonanza. Girls dancing around trees or running towards or away from the camera with semi-sensuous, borderline awkward expressions is an execution as old as Methuselah and is seen in almost all commercials with different adaptations and backgrounds. The only brand that managed to own their heritage and legacy was Gul Ahmed. It was also the reason why their advertising was probably one of the most talked about (in a positive way) in 2019. There was also the catastrophe released by Nishat with Sajal Aly dancing and disappearing into the sea. The reviews in marketing-centric groups such as Khalid Alvi Marketing Next were far from positive. The same goes for their digital strategies.

Here is a little exercise for you: Take one post from any four lawn brands. Crop out the logo and then ask a friend to identify which brand it is. Chances are he or she will not even come close to guessing unless it is for Generation which, although not a lawn brand, has broken through the clutter and etched shalwar-kameez with joggers in our brains as something quintessentially Generation. Their campaign was a bold move and although it received mixed reviews, at least they managed to set a distinctive visual tone. For old school people like me, the brand has earned my respect for taking a chance by taking us back to the time of PTV dramas. J. is perhaps the only brand that stands out from the lawn clutter, and that too because they have stayed true to their religious imperatives and use mannequins instead of models. For the most part, the Facebook and Instagram pages of these brands serve as an archive for their photo shoots and a medium to drive traffic to their e-commerce websites. Take a quick look at all these pages and then head to Generation. The brand has set itself apart from the others by using unapologetically desi visuals (rose petals, braided hair and paranda-wearing models wearing chunky jewellery). Generation may not be a lawn brand, however the other brands would do well to take inspiration from them and break away from the pretty model playing with the dupatta narrative. Generation’s communication is raw, fresh, yet quintessentially subcontinental.

Although, for sure, unstitched fabric may give one more room to personalise one’s look, prêt is convenient and sells like hot cakes online. As a result, as more and more women turn to e-commerce websites for a hassle-free shopping experience, brands are reconsidering their resource allocation in terms of prêt and unstitched.

H&M and Zara are two international brands, which despite being direct competitors, use very different visual languages on their social media platforms. H&M is real, fresh, infectiously festive and shows people generally living the good life wearing their clothes. Their communication is very ‘life is a party when you wear H&M’. Zara is all about deadpan expressions, that almost-celebrity swag and the higher than average lifestyle. Flat backgrounds, models looking straight at the camera with a devil may care attitude reflect Zara’s high street chic philosophy. The point I am making is that two competing brands can set a completely different visual architecture through their social media assets, something our lawn brands haven’t quite cracked yet.

If there is nothing distinctive in the communication of most local brands, sales are a different story. While the legacy brands are still in their line extension phase, Khaadi, Bonanza and J. have branched out into different categories. Khaadi have added fragrances, skincare, homeware and food to their expanding business empire. Bonanza have recently added fragrances to their offerings and J. have already made a name for themselves in fragrances and makeup.

To sum up, the success of a prêt-heavy brand, such as Khaadi (which is not a textile giant) signals the shift in Pakistani fashion trends, whereby women will choose convenience over loyalty, which is why prêt is the present and the future in Pakistan. This may be old news for brands like Khaadi, Sana Safinaz and Sapphire which figured this out a long time ago. It, however, should be food for thought for textile giants like Alkaram and Gul Ahmed which are losing out to prêt-heavy brands. Another thought to ponder is the fact that the overwhelming preference for prêt and the extreme price cuts seen during the sales season may just see Pakistan move towards disposable fashion faster than we may think.

Taniya Hasan is a content marketer.