“Show the H&M skinny jeans in black!” calls out Mohammad Faisal, the owner of a store in Zainab Market, crammed with jeans of all kinds and young girls clamouring for them.
“Jeggings!” squeals Meher, a teenaged customer. Denim leggings — aka jeggings — has become a must-have item for every teenybopper’s wardrobe and this shop has all styles. Meher rushes off to try three pairs, while her mother answers calls on her BlackBerry and then eventually pulls out a crocodile-skin wallet to pay for the purchase.
Another woman walks in, with two young children and a maid in tow, and leaves with two pairs of jeans.
Karachi’s Zainab Market has been a hub for quality denim and western-style clothes for decades now, but this store has become a one-stop shop for those looking to buy trendy products by western brands — at Pakistani prices.
Sara Khan, a Karachi’ite in her 20s, was shocked to find out that the Zara top she had bought during her summer vacations in London was available for Rs500 at the store.
Jeans — including this season’s popular skinny as well as regular boot-cut, flared and straight styles — by the Swedish brand H&M as well as Zara and Mango line the racks and spill out from plastic bags in the narrow confines of the store, along with shrugs, bolero jackets, harem pants, brightly coloured tights and shorts. Other foreign brands that are often available at the store include Abercrombie & Fitch and Berksha.
Faisal has run this shop, Faisal Garments, for over 14 years and during this time he has developed an almost cult-like following as the women spread the word of its amazing stock. But Faisal has never managed to expand. “No one wants to sell a shop, otherwise I would open one tomorrow!” he exclaims. An imitator cropped up a couple of years ago in the same lane, and opted for the same store layout and plastic sheet covered doorway, but Faisal shrugs it off. “They have their customers and we have ours.”
The store sells an average of 800 to 1,000 pairs of jeans every month. Jeans cost between Rs500 and Rs1,500, while the cheapest item in the store are t-shirts, which start at about Rs200.
What has made the shop tick is its ability to keep its pulse on seasonal trends. “We try and re-stock items that are sold out. There was once this huge rush on linen pants and we asked the factories for more.”
The stock, Faisal says, comes from factories in Karachi. It is all export quality, sometimes it is excess or rejected stock. The peak season for sales is between June and August and then November to January.
Women from all income groups and ages visit the store and despite the lack of space and the miniscule changing room, its popularity has not waned. The majority of female shoppers are between 16 and 20 years but even women in their 40s visit to stock up on jeans. “They prefer foreign brands,” Faisal says.
But does the Zainab Market tag bother people? “Sometimes people do hide it and say that they have purchased the items they bought here abroad. But there aren’t many of them.”
Items at Faisal’s shop have also been spotted in the upscale retail stores of Zamzama and Park Towers. “I don’t know how this happens. We do get salespeople from these stores here at times and they buy multiple items. I don’t know if they are buying them to sell or for their own use. We hear occasionally that the items from here are being sold somewhere for Rs2,000 or more, but I wouldn’t know for sure unless I personally go and check.”
Has he ever thought of moving his shop to Zamzama, where he could command higher prices for the wares? Faisal is content to stay put. “Business has kicked off here, Masha Allah. I don’t need to move. People who want to come here will continue to do so.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2011.