To say that the concept of ready-to-wear revolutionised and propelled the fashion scene in Pakistan would be an understatement. What it did was render the traditional shalwar kameez extinct and create a whole new business model for convenience clothing for women. Sure, Teejays needs to be credited for heralding the concept, but it is brands like Khaadi, Ego, Daaman and Sheep that took the risk of introducing separates — an essential prerequisite to fashion retail world over and created a huge market for off-the-rack clothing.
The pressure from pret was such that even fashion designers had to succumb to lowering their prices, streamlining their production and cost and selling off-the-rack rather than selling only through appointments. The two brands that posed serious competition were Daaman and Sheep, which catered to the chic, working professional, offering style savvy options with reasonable pricing. Yet, while Daaman grew, building upon its simple structured design ethos, Sheep, the brand that claimed to distinguish one from the herd, succumbed to following market dictates diluting their design sense quite visibly.
However, Aalia Jafar, Business Director at Sheep, is unfazed by the criticism: “We’re a young and growing brand. We experiment and learn; this means that there will be days when we will be loved and days when our things will not be liked,” she says candidly.
Despite the fact that many Sheep loyalists now feel that it’s losing its edge with its myriad new lines, Aalia astutely asserts, “What would not be good is if we remained the same. With that said, what we never compromise on is our finished product quality and that is how we are building trust within our target segments.”
Change in design philosophy?
The change in direction can be attributed to the faster movement of the slightly heavily worked pieces, suggests Ayesha Jafar, Brand Communication Specialist. She admits that while there have also been changes in the design team, the brand has certainly succumbed to consumer pressure. “You sometimes end up steering to satisfy customer demand,” says Ayesha highlighting the increase in demand of more embellished and embroidered work. Another instance that she quotes of catering to consumer demand is how shirts with full sleeves became a must after garnering impressive revenues off of these, especially at their store at Dolmen Mall Tariq Road.
Apart from that, many opine that Sheep is losing its edge and its cuts — something it was initially known for — are not evolving with the trends that other retail stores are picking up on, such as round hemlines, the peplum, knots and tribal prints. Many also claim that the brand that was once termed as “affordable” is slowly changing its pricing strategy, making the final product too expensive to purchase.
Meanwhile, Sheep has also gone through some structural changes. Prior to opening their expansive outlet at the new Dolmen City, Sheep made a brief sojourn to Labels in Karachi and the PFDC store in Lahore, however both have now closed. “Logistically it wasn’t making sense, especially since we are opening our own stores,” explains Aalia. “That’s the only way we can live up to our brand promise of giving our customers a comfortable, indulgent and fantastic shopping experience. For us, the brand sells because of the customer experience tied in with products people can relate to and enjoy. And the experience can only be maintained at our own stores.”
Yet, with more and more entrants in the pret game, how does Sheep view this heightened competition? “We’re loving it,” adds Aalia. “It’s challenging and has brought life to the business. What’s even better is that the whole industry will be upgraded and will move towards gaining some structure.” Although she acknowledges that fashion weeks have also become integral to the game, she confesses, “We’re not yet ready for it and we don’t want to do it half-heartedly”.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2012.