When British Council and Fashion Pakistan council invite you to discuss fashion. You go! Atleast I did. The discussion wasn’t about the frivolity of fashion rather they discussed far reaching issues like the opportunities for greater creative and commercial collaboration with the industry in the UK and the barriers Pakistani designers face when exporting their products. Starting with panel discussion with Secretary TDAP Rabia Javeri, Member of National Assembly Nafisa Shah, Branding Consultant Craig Speller and the officials from British Council themselves moderated it.
Event also briefly touched upon British Council’s newly published report on ‘Culture and Creative Industries in Pakistan’. I think everyone who is even remotely interested in business aspect of Pakistan’s fashion and art business must read this by clicking on the link above.
As for what went down during the event, I have chosen to not write a lengthy account rather I will pose the questions to you guys and what I thought:
1. Access to finance is quoted as the biggest problem for starting or growing a fashion business, what to do? a: I suggest fashion councils to start an incubation service or atleast provide legal/financial advice through a window operation. If they can’t do it fully at least invite applications and do it for one new designer every year. Get help from business schools for research,feasibility reports and business plan formulation.
2. Should new fashion design graduates directly become designers or apprentice somewhere for a while? a: Newbies are often deluded to think they know everything, I personally feel every new graduate should work atleast 1 year under another more experienced fashion designer. The members of councils and big textile companies should sign memorandum of understanding on this.
3. Why can’t designers remain unregistered and be part of informal economy?a: Getting the company registered is like losing the virginity you will have to do it somehow. If you don’t you wouldn’t be able to get a lot of benefits like GSP PLUS (Generalized System of Preferences) which is basically an exemption from duties. Also when you are registered its easier for corporations and Govt. officials to get your services for projects. And you can probably represent the country.
4. What’s the problem if we have two councils, the more the merrier no? a: It’s farcical no less. All the designers now show at both the Lhr fashion weeks and Khi fashion weeks but its just the egos of the few individuals that we don’t have one national council. Which means that the designers cannot lobby for govt policy making with a substantial bargaining power as one entity. The foreigners also won’t consider the petty insecurities when deciding which the official council to deal with. Grow up people or should I say die already!
5. Isn’t it better if we focus on exporting regionally to India /Srilanka or should we keeping looking towards the West? a:Economically speaking it is always better to export regionally because of shorter distances, and shared heritage leading to common taste & preferences. However political conditions have always hamper that for Pakistan.
6. Most of Pakistani designers that exhibit in UK, or the west in general aim to target the IndoPak diaspora, is it wrong? a:I think unless you are an aunty taking shadi joras in suitcases to equally fat aunties there its not right.You should be aiming for big retailers like Macy‘s, Marks and Spencer. Or probably opening your own store like Khaadi did
7. Whether to focus on selling our local silhouettes as they are or western designed ensembles in UK and elsewhere? a:It would be counter-intuitive if a designer from Pakistan goes to UK and tries to sell them a little black dress for example, they themselves can do it better and cheaper why would they buy it from a Pakistani designer. You need to sell them silhouettes they wear but with things that they cant do it themselves. You can just carry garraras and assume them to wear it
8. Things like TruckArt and Rilli Tukka work have been there, should we continue doing them or put a spin on it. How to communicate this? a: As above I think we should put a spin on them because how would a designer or a brand build on the narrative if they keep selling the same thing. The exporters might as well buy it from a souvenir shop . There needs to be some value addition in terms of design and function of the product. Inaya does a better job brand communication and this is where brands like FnKasia fail.
9. All these policy talks are good but who would enforce them? Fashion Councils? a:They will have to otherwise it will end up becoming a fancy photo session; they can make internal milestones of standardization and work towards achieving them bit by bit every year. Every year they could gauge the progress. British council and TDAP could facilitate via training and workshops for people that have the capacity to export.
10. Most of the designers don’t even have quality standards and fulfill the requirement what to do? a:Only those designers should be made to go abroad who actually have the capacity to produce and do quality control for trade. Those who aspire to but haven’t gotten there yet should first do feasibility reports on their businesses because it shouldn’t be a touristy vacation trip like most of the designers end up doing.
Next day British Council invited me and a couple of other bloggers to have brunch with Kendall Robins and Craig Puller, where we talked more deeply about pressing issues facing fashion in Pakistan. There are were a lot of things discussed there but I can’t write a lengthy report. I hope British Council arranges more of such educational events where people could get down and serious about fashion as a business.