KARACHI: The first Sapphire store opened its doors this Friday at Dolmen Mall, Clifton, at a media launch that turned into shopping frenzy. The store has been launched in retail collaboration between the Sapphire Group and Khadijah Shah, creative director of Élan. Sapphire offers designer pret and fabric and stocks items ranging from basic cotton kurtas to full-fledged embroidered formals in silks and chiffons.
Sapphire’s director Nabeel Abdullah says, “Khadijah’s design aesthetic is unmatched and we have a similar vision for the store. Neither of us is prepared to compromise on quality or design. We want to build an extraordinary brand that offers high quality and chic clothing for everyone.” Shah’s prints are creative and include quirky newsprint and shikari scenes as well as florals and abstract patterns. The pieces, even the basic cotton kurtas, feature detailing. Inevitably, the colour palette and prints are reminiscent of other high-street brands but where this happens, the detailing sets the outfits apart.
While the cotton kurtas and unstitched fabric could become wardrobe staples for many women, it is Sapphire’s semi-formal line that is reaching out to an untapped market. Their silk tunics and embroidered silk pants have designer appeal and are reasonably priced. The price points are firmly mass market throughout, starting at Rs2,200 for stitched cotton kurtas.
Their semi-formal line includes digitally printed silk kurtas near the Rs8,000 mark, as well as fabric for three-piece suits priced around Rs6,500. Their formal line verges on being pricey, going up to Rs40,000. Although the intricate embroidery and elaborate trimming may justify the pricing, there is a real need for great formals at around the Rs25,000 mark and stores such as Sapphire should give options in this range.
They have adopted a ‘fast fashion’ model, such as that of the retail brand Zara, and will introduce new designs every two weeks. Abdullah is confident that they can meet the manufacturing constraints. “The Sapphire Group has been exporting to buyers in the United States and Europe for many years. These clients only accept the very highest quality and we have learned a lot over the years. We are now bringing this expertise to the local market,” he comments.
The Sapphire Group is not the first mill to open a retail outlet but it is the first one to do so with serious designer firepower. Gul Ahmed relies on their in-house designers, while Al-Karam brings in top-name designers for certain lines, with their recent announcement of a collaboration with designer Sania Maskatiya. Sapphire’s model is different, as Shah is the creative director of Sapphire. “We wanted to give something extraordinary. We believe retail brands, the likes of Nishat and Khaadi, are in the same league but we wanted to offer something slightly different from them,” says Abdullah.
Shah’s signature brand Élan features bridal and prêt ranges as well as a casual range titled Élan Vital. Taking on Sapphire would be no easy feat but Shah is confident that she is up to the challenge. “Élan is a high-end, niche brand,” she states. “The sort of luxury intricacy that is central to Élan isn’t affordable for the mass market. I had a great response with my lawn and knew that there was scope for marketing my aesthetic to a wider audience.” Sapphire is planning to open two stores in Lahore by mid-January and will then look further afield.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2014.