Aurora Magazine

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Pakistan’s Very Own M&S

Published in Jul-Aug 2021

"Unlike other textile and apparel sectors, there is no market data for this category and no association of the producers..."

Amami Clothing, a recently established apparel company in Faisalabad, has launched a range of undergarments for Pakistani women who are looking for high-quality, comfortable innerwear at affordable prices (something the company believes had been missing in the market for a long time). Talking about how the idea of Amami came about, one of its two founders (who prefers not to be named), says, “Every time my friend and I went abroad, women in our families asked us to bring them undergarments (it was one consistent item on the list every time), and we wondered why they didn’t buy them here in Pakistan.”

With this initial insight gained from women in their family, the two partners decided to start their own line of undergarments and go into the retail business. Since they had no prior experience in the textile and apparel industry, they hired foreign consultants to help them set up the business, including an Italian lingerie designer (a woman), who also conducted initial market research by visiting lingerie stores, small markets, wholesalers in all the major cities, as well as by joining local women Facebook groups. Being a woman, she had access to lingerie stores – ‘a no-go area for men’. “In Pakistan it seems very odd for men to question women about their undergarments as you never know what kind of an answer you may be given,” remarks the founder.

“We tried to do as much research before we started but unfortunately, unlike any other textile and apparel sector, there is no market data for this category and no association of the producers of these products. Therefore, our research was independent and included direct interviews with local men and women,” adds Mark Moore, Amami’s production consultant, based in UK.

Their research findings identified a big divide between what was available in the local market. There were either cheap Chinese or Indian products of poor quality made with man-made fibre/polyester (costing between Rs 150 and 500), or imported products that come through the grey market from well-known brands such as Marks & Spencer which are very expensive (ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 12,000). There was no mid-range option for women who want comfortable, good-quality undergarments at reasonable prices.

Women who can afford high-priced products either buy them here at international stores such as Next or Women’s Secret or go abroad and buy them in bulk for their year-long consumption; those who cannot afford them have to make do with what is available. Most women from the mid-tier segment purchase from departmental stores that sell Chinese and Thai brands or from the multiple e-lingerie stores that have sprung up in the last two years, including Floraison Store, Losha, The Lady Shop, Woomen, shez, intimatefashion (IFG) etc. all of which sell imported undergarments.

“Our goal was to offer the mass market a high-quality, long-lasting alternative to cheap Indian and Chinese products as well as expensive brands,” says the founder.

Amami was set up in Faisalabad – the textile hub of Pakistan, keeping in mind the ease of recruiting the right staff (production managers, textile engineers, labour as well as material). “If there are any glitches in your machinery, there are enough qualified technicians there to fix it. The market is buoyant,” says the founder. Production began in April this year, under the supervision of Moore, who has over 35 years of experience in fashion and textiles and has held senior offshore technical and sourcing positions for Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and Next.

The company is using European high-quality precision machines programmed to give a perfect 3D fit on every product. The material (cotton) is procured locally along with export quality sewing thread (A&E by Nishat Mills), while the components, including shoulder straps, hooks and eyes, cups, under-wires, wire channels as well as elastic, which are latex-free, are imported from Sri Lanka through M&S and Victoria’s Secret approved sources.

The items under production currently include women’s underwear (midis, high-legs, thongs, low-rise shorts and full briefs), vests and T-shirts and T-shirt bras. They are further developing four more styles in bras: cut and sew, sports, nursing and training.

Amami, instead of launching into retail, have now decided to manufacture these products as white label products for retailers. “It is such a huge step to introduce a brand to a market. We first want to establish a base where people know that they can trust our product and it is far easier to work through established retailers in Pakistan,” explains Moore, adding that the company will customise products according to demand.

Hence, it is difficult to put a price tag on the products as they are not the ones who will be marketing them, but yes, their products will definitely be a lot cheaper than the imported ones available. The company is already talking to major retailers in Pakistan, including Bonanza, Gul Ahmed and Khaadi as well as departmental stores and e-stores throughout Pakistan.

The response from retailers though has been positive (“the common reaction is oh, somebody should have done this long before; it’s a great idea”), but cautious in terms of how it will be received in the local market. “We used to think our middle and lower income segments were conservative and the higher-income segment more liberal, but we discovered it was the other way around,” says the founder.

Explaining this further he says while pitching their products to retailers, the first question put to them was: “How would we sell it? We need a separate room for this.” “And I ask them, ‘Why?’ I read an interview with Debenhams covered by a local newspaper that said when the brand placed their lingerie in the open, not only did sales increase 25 to 30%, men also started buying the products.” For him, it is very important to challenge these stereotypes as innerwear is openly sold in Sunday bazaars or Lunda bazaars and it is very disappointing when the customers who have the means and international exposure say they won’t be able to sell it openly.

As for other challenges, the founder says there is definitely no ‘ease’ of doing business as they are importing machinery as well as components from abroad (no support industry for this category exists in Pakistan), and they have to pay high duties because they are not exporters. Although 50% of the company’s workforce is made up of women, he wants more women to join because they are gifted with attention to detail and better product handling. “Many women employees quit because their husbands do not want people to know where they work. We need to change this mindset.”

The company’s vision like any other is to be more competitive and bring in more customers. They are optimistic that their products will be well-received. “We are basing everything on the knowledge and experience that M&S have gained over a hundred years. They make perfect underwear and it is a globally recognised brand and we are very close to achieving the same standard,” states Moore.

The founders believe if Amami proves to be a success and two or three more such companies come forth, the support industry will automatically establish itself and Pakistan might become the next regional hub for exports of these products.

Going forward, Amami’s products in the pipeline include a range of men’s and children’s underwear. Looking at the market, they believe the next item could be lounge wear, which became wildly popular globally during the pandemic.

“We believe if we can persuade the Pakistan market to buy our underwear then they will trust us and buy what next we have to offer to them with the same level of quality and performance,” concludes Moore.