The first quintessential Pakistani multi-brand store opened last week in Dubai; congrats Asad Tareen of The Designers, you are it! It was a race between him and Zeba and Shehrnaz Husain of Ensemble and Asad got there first. He's a quiet man, Asad keeps to himself, doesn't talk much but he has kept his nose down and built a business that has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. The Designers was first a furniture store, then it expanded to multi-label boutique - the furniture is still around though and he is stocking it at his store as well. Then he stepped into fashion retail, stocking three popular Lahore labels HSY, Karma and Sublime in Karachi under one roof. Others came in and soon he relocated to a bigger two storey store. He became the first Karachi fashion retailer to open in Islamabad and now he’s hit Dubai. Asad has cottoned on very quickly to growing fashion awareness and the demand that accompanies it and is making all his business moves accordingly.
The most tremendous of these in terms of fashion has been his presence at fashion weeks. Asad Tareen is the only buyer who attends from both Karachi and Lahore fashion weeks from start to finish and picks up designers from what he sees on the runway, not from pictures or from the buzz of fashionistas. He goes, he sees, he picks up. One has had umpteen conversations with him at these long, draining events that he attends religiously, not asking for a free ticket or hotel stay, just to see what is going on, who is making what, who will be the next big thing. He hones in on the rising stars, plays talent scout as it were, and that so important. The growing fashion industry needs people to play the role of mentors, guides and most importantly investors.
After watching PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week, Asad Tareen picked up two of its brightest debutantes Mohsin Ali nd Akif Mehmood and paid them for their collections; as newbies they didn't have the resources to launch themselves. This year he has firmed up his collaboration with Mohsin Ali, financing a line Sin that the young Hazara designer is working on. The first installment of this truly divine fusion wear, that mixes the East and West with Mohsin’s signature easy playfulness, went to Dubai and pieces are now available at the The Designers in Pakistan too.
On the fashion editor front, thanks to Asad Tareen's initiative it was delightful to meet Mohsin Ali in Karachi as excited and full of beans as he always is, exploring the city and falling in love with it as he worked on his first collection for his and Asad’s Sin label. Mohsin Ali is the designer Alexandra Senes of Pret a Porter, Paris singled out on her sojourn to Lahore for his delightful patchwork and zany sensibility. He is as whimsical as the clothes he designs and is working hard to give them a commercial appeal. From the Hazara community, Mohsin now has two deals going for him, one with Crimson is Lahore (the same people who invested in Ali Xeeshan) to make bridals and evening wear in the desi vein and the other with Asad Tareen for the more contemporary prêt label Sin.
“Crimson and The Designers both have set ups which I can use,” he told Instep. “A kaarkhana requires quite a bit of investment, paying workers etc, which I can't afford yet. These deals allow me to design and make money without making an investment. Also I'm very happy to spend half the year in Karachi working on my Sin line with Asad and the other half in Lahore working on my line for Crimson.”
Deals like these are of the essence to the business of fashion. The creation of this opportunity for Mohsin Ali is what makes Asad Tareen the most progressive retailer around. While other multi-label boutiques have inhouse lines, One by Ensemble and Labels for Labels, they don't really boost young design talent which Asad is doing so commendably.
Having a bonafide designer at the helm makes Sin a truly fashion forward line (you will see a style shoot next Sunday) and Asad is adamant that Sin by Mohsin should not be seen as an inhouse label. He makes it a clear point to specify that Sin is a separate entity from The Designers. “Right now, we are making the more formal kind of clothes but we will get into daywear as well. Yes, The Designers will be stocking it, but I am not averse at all to other stores stocking it too.”
Labels and Ensemble as well?
“Yes, Sin by Mohsin can take any direction that is open to it. The Designers is my multi label store, Sin is my investment in a fashion line; it's a separate deal altogether. Why would I want to stop the label from growing? The more it sells, the more money I'll make on my investment. I want Sin to take every opportunity to expand in whichever direction it can.” he says shrewdly.
Mohsin Ali completely approves of this attitude. He's finding Karachi to be quite the adventure, sharing a flat with a buddy of his who is a doctor at the Aga Khan Hospital. He's working, exploring, has fallen in with the beach and the vastness of the city. “It's crazy, there so much happening,” he enthuses. He also realises the potential of the place, and talks excitedly about the fact that Pakistani fashion hasn't really hit areas beyond Defence and Clifton, save for labels like Khaadi and Amir Adnan. Working with a business man like Asad Tareen has exposed Mohsin to that hardcore, Karachi business minded attitude that is more about getting the job done and moving on to next one without expecting to be feted and told how brilliant you are.
At one point in the conversation, Mohsin went on a bit of a tangent about being thankful for this opportunity, Asad interjected saying “Yaar, I'll tell you why I'm doing this. So many designers that are stocking with me don't send clothes on time. I have empty shelves. If I invest in you, my racks will always be full,” he smiles. “It's very simple, you grow, I grow. How is my store supposed to get bigger if designers don't? ”
Sitting with Asad and Mohsin, one realizes how futile the fashion wars of the councils and that oh-so-contentious question which city is the fashion capital of Pakistan truly are. Here is a fashion retailer from Karachi investing in a fashion designer from Lahore. Business is business, fashion is fashion and which city one comes from is irrelevant. Fashion weeks are platforms where talent and trends are spotted and there is no bar on who picks who/what up and where they take them. The Designers has made a great start.
As The Designers takes off in Dubai one can expect Asad Tareen to invest in more upcoming designers. Next up is Akif Mehmood whose hit Glamazon collection from PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week 2012 is expected to hit The Designers soon. The designer he picked to invest in from Fashion Pakistan Week this year is Wardha Saleem. These are great new names in fashion and truly deserving of help. Wardha is stocking a The Designers in both Dubai and Karachi; Asad's also got those other surprisingly good fashion week debutantes, the sisters of Baani D on board.
There are a host of other designers stocking at The Designers in Dubai too. Iman Ahmed of Body focus whose collection sold like hot cakes, Rizwan Beyg, Sonya Battla, Kamiar Rokni, Umar Sayeed, Karma, Sadaf Malaterre, Ayesha Hashwani, Aeisha Varsey, Somal Halepoto, Zainab Sajib, Monia Farooqi, Mehdi, Zarmina, Mina Hassan and many more who are not well known yet like Umsha by Uzma Babar, Nida Ali, Rabeeya Moin, et al. Enough names to keep the racks filled even if all of them take their own sweet time to deliver.
The Designers in Dubai is a decidedly Pakistani store with a distinct Pakistani flavour for which Asad knows there is a huge market and enough names from cutting edge fashion to keep things exciting for an international city. Asad tells me about an upcoming European musician called Vana who feel in love with a Mohsin Ali dress and a Mahin Husain bag that will feature in a video she will be shooting in Paris later this year. It remains to be seen where that proposition and Vana go, a lot can happen in a city frequented by people from all around the world.
Asad Tareen is also grounded enough to know that opening a store in Dubai is just the first step to bigger and better things. Here at home, he is looking forward to the opening of Debenhams. “Yasin Paracha messaged to congratulate me on the opening of my store in Dubai. That was good of him. It's great that he's bringing Debenhams in. It's going to up the game for all of us. It will bring in the global way of doing things and they will have sales people trained by professionals from London. Our designers will look at the quality, sizing, labeling and learn. Us retailers will look at how they run the store and adjust ourselves. It's going to be brilliant! You know whenever you go out of Pakistan and come back, you resent the way things are done here. I’m all for it changing. ”
It’s a great attitude to have. There is no room for insecurity in the 21st century. The good news is that there is enough room for everyone and then some…