The â€œlawn seasonâ€ is about to begin. Lawn is the name Pakistanis use to refer to the brightly coloured cotton fabric sold in stitched and unstitched form in a myriad of hues to an eager set of buyers who will sometimes go to great lengths to get their favourite suit pieces. More than a hundred fashion houses, big and small are getting ready to unveil their summer collections of â€œlawnâ€ to an eager clientele ranging from housewives and working women, to teenagers and schoolgirls. Every year the competition gets more intense and the demand for the product rises correspondingly.
In Pakistan, the â€˜shalwarâ€™ suit is the preferred outfit for women, but now thanks to strides made by different brands, itâ€™s not just about wearing the right cloth.
Designer Amir Ahmad, who works for one of the largest producers of lawn suits said that they look at brands, at designs, at colours, at cuts, at textures, even at who is wearing what to determine what will be the hottest number in the market for the year.
One of the biggest players in the market is Al Karam Textiles, earlier known only for its menâ€™s suits. Now, Al Karam and other textile mills devote much of their production to womenâ€™s lawn suiting. However, in a market like Pakistan, their investments in producing new designs are short-lived because these are copied within months and sold by others at cheaper rates.
The bigger houses set the trends and the smaller mills then make cheaper copies. So itâ€™s all about continuing to beat the competition by innovating and re-inventing, said fashion writer Mohsin Sayeed.
It was a smaller designer, for example, who stole the limelight with plant and picture motifs last year and caused a new sensation in the market. The fashion house Sapphireâ€™s last collection was so sought after that a video of two women who came to blows at the companyâ€™s outlet over one suit piece went viral last year.
According to housewife Amina Khan, the lawn fabric is comfortable and easy to wear in summer. But with the increasing demand for quality cloth now has to pay more than Rs5,000 for a decent outfit because the rates have risen. The cheaper ones are poor in quality and not as comfortable. But instead of prices dropping with competition, they have actually risen.
While the bigger fashion houses focus on unstitched lawn fabric, fashion designers are now taking the business a step further.
Umar Sayeed, who launched a new outlet in Dubai this year, said that Pakistani fashion houses have come of age. Using almost all locally produced textiles, many houses have started competing at the international level with their range of clothes.
Fashion houses focus on formal wear and this includes bridal dresses, said a designer, who adds that for such dresses â€œthe sky is the limitâ€.
One an average, in the upscale Zamzama area of Karachi, a bridal dress can cost about Rs700,000. The more it is customized, the more expensive it becomes.
One of the most popular sales is hosted by Junaid Jamshed, a rock star-turned-televangelist who has his own line of clothing. Jamshedâ€™s â€œSoully Eastâ€ collection may probably be the largest such offering among designers this year.
In all this, the one drawback many Pakistanis see is that the sale of lawn overseas remains limited despite the quality of the fabrics on offer. Some fashion houses have taken lawn to India but the sales there are nowhere near the volumes seen in Pakistan. These products could do well if marketed properly. But given that the market for shalwar-kameez is limited overseas, sales remain low. Pakistani designers need to move on from shalwar-kameez and focus on other outfits and designs. This can be one way to gain international recognition for lawn fabrics.
Pakistanâ€™s total textile exports exceed $11 billion a year, and exports of ready-made garments are worth $1.7 billion. Lawn exports alone are worth an estimated $500 million while lawn sales within the country are believed to be double that figure. The industry employs in excess of 30,000 people in factories and workshops.
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