Sophisticated textiles: How high-end fashion makes it to retail racks

Textile firms buy designs from designers as well as hire in-house staff to create affordable, mass market products.

Imran Rana September 03, 2011


Not everything designed by Sana Safinaz has to cost an arm and a leg, and not all of it carries her label.

The past decade in Pakistan has seen the rise of several new designer labels that cater to an increasingly affluent urban elite. Yet, a lesser noticed, though more profitable, phenomenon has been the rise of mass market fashion labels, owned by some of the larger textile manufacturers in the country.

While designs being stolen from the high-end designers is a relatively well-known phenomenon, perhaps lesser known is the collaboration that exists between the designers that cater to the elite and those who supply clothing for the middle class.

Firdous Textiles, a Faisalabad-based manufacturer, for instance, has in the past bought designs off Sana Safinaz famous designers’ catalogues, said Muhammad Imran, a manager at the firm. The designs were typically ones that had already been released in previous seasons, which were then modified and used to create a mass market retail product.

The firm markets its products under the “Firdous” label and has now hired a full-time in-house design staff to produce its own designs. For summer 2011, the company even hired Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone to model for some of its catalogues. Firdous has previously hired Kareena Kapoor, another Bollywood actress.

Another firm that has purchased designs from well known names in the past is Chenab Ltd, a textile manufacturer based out of Faisalabad that is now partly-owned by a US-based private equity firm.

Yet the collaboration seems to be getting a little more difficult as the textile manufacturers build up their own design staffs and the high-end designers get savvier at marketing their products at the more upmarket retail outlets across urban Pakistan.

Saba, for instance, is a designer at one of the largest textile mills in Faisalabad and has seen many of the clothes designed by her hit the retail racks across the nation. She seems happy with her compensation even though her name is not associated with the clothes she designs.

“The compensation structure varies and depends on the designer’s talent, experience as well as the type of employer,” says Saba. She said that her employer gives her bonuses and other allowances.

The workforce of many textile mills is dominated by men, yet many have strived to create a safe, professional working environment for many of the women they employ as designers. “We need professional, qualified, experienced and dynamic people to work for us,” said Muhammad Naeem, the general manager at Five Star Textile Mills.

Saba is one of thousands of designers now employed by the textile manufacturers that once made the bulk of their revenues by exporting finished goods to the United States and Europe.

As it becomes more difficult for Pakistani firms to compete against rivals in India, Bangladesh and China, the country’s textile exporters have been turning towards the local market and finding a large middle class willing to pay brand premiums.

For instance, Chen One – the local brand name of Chenab Ltd – launched its Pareesa Lawn collection of women’s clothing. The average cost of a piece of clothing is between Rs2,000 and Rs3,000, much higher than the Rs400 to Rs1,200 women pay ordinary tailors for everyday clothing.

Chen One has a chain of 23 retail stores, including six in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, that sell many of its textile products, including linens and other bedroom items as well as readymade garments. The company plans to expand to 50 retail stores over the next four years.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2011.