By Fareeha Qayoom
ahsir has been a big name in the Lahore fashion industry since God knows when. He is a designer by inclination and by training. He’s a graduate from NCA, Leicester Polytechnic and St. Martins UK. He was there at the start of Ammar Textiles. He was also there at the start of Leisure Textiles, Sigma Knitting Mills and a few more factories that are no longer on the map. He was there at the start of the new fashion wave that hit Lahore fifteen years ago – there were only handful of designer knitwear boutiques back in those days – his was called Ai No Corrida.
Yahsir was there at the start-up of the first fashion school in Pakistan. He was also the first one to launch a whole new designer brand in a field that’s been dominated by the huge woven operations like Gul Ahmed and Al-Karam. He’s managed to launch the product, retain his position of being the number one textile designer in the land and still go on teaching at the fashion school. What I find so special about Yahsir is the fact that he keeps breaking new ground in all kinds of new directions that others have even not thought of yet, making it possible for others to follow in his wake and managing to still stay consistent. So many people quit mentally when they have achieved their career peak and start going downhill fast because they are out of fresh ideas.
Yahsir teaches fashion drawing at the Fashion School. “I have been affiliated with the school for the past 10 years. I always wanted to be a part of such a place. I am happy that this opportunity came my way,” says Yahsir. “There is a big demand for our students by the export and design houses – they get absorbed very quickly by the industry. They are so versatile. A few of our graduates are designing ready to wear for design houses like Generation, Chen One. Even couture designers are after our graduates. There has been a big growth in the fashion industry. I personally feel very good about it. This institute is making the fashion scene more professional.”
Yahsir has his own signature brand of summer prints which he launched ten years ago. He is so successful that the market is full of fake and cheap imitations of his work. Yahsir has been taking steps to stop the production of counterfeits. “I filed a law suit against the counterfeiters last year, besides, my designs are copyrighted. It’s not enough though, you have to enforce the copy right to make sure people do not infringe on your rights. Last year I did that – it’s been tough but I took the first step. It has already made a difference this year because manufacturers have become careful. They’ve changed it a bit. Shop keepers have also reduced their stock of counterfeit. It’s not been completely eliminated yet. It’s an uphill task. I even wrote to the world intellectual rights organization, (WIPO). They have been guiding us. We can’t do much to stop the production of counterfeit but we have managed to bring awareness about the problem. We have also managed to build pressure. I have learnt during this process that the message can go out there. The only way is to get people together and get it done. It affects us more because it’s our livelihood.
We have worked very hard to build this brand. We need to do everything possible to safe guard our product.”
Discussing why he went in this direction, Yahsir says, “It’s my interest too. I am a trained textile designer from NCA – I wanted to do this. Rizwan (Baig) was the first one – he collaborated with Jubilee lawns, but yes, you are right, mine was the first independent designer label that was not affiliated with any other brand. I just wanted to do it. It’s been very hard – but we have managed to build a brand. We started with a budget limitation. From day one, we knew marketing was important. Gradually we have been increasing our budget. Now I have a team of people who work with me on all aspects of the business.”
“We have to listen to our customers,” declares Yahsir. “We design for them – my customer ranges from a 15 year old girl to a 70 year old mature woman. We have to keep this in mind when designing. We have to put our customers first – their likes and dislikes are important. At the end of the day, I have to design a commercially viable product. We are doing mass production, quantities are bigger. We cater to a large segment of society. It has to be a good balance. We keep changing constantly to cater to changing tastes. Fashion is about change, you have to keep up.”
“Ours was the first brand to sell a two piece fabric. Our signature is our color schemes. I think that’s our major strength,” declares Yahsir. “Fashion has a bigger audience now because of the media. There is a big demand for fashion,” asserts Yahsir.
“People want it now. I think it’s a good sign. There are so many new labels, a lot more competition. This will definitely raise the standard of work. You pick up any fashion magazine – you see more professional approach. We as an industry are getting better. I have not studied the current trends formally but I can see it happening. Having said that, I believe we still have a long way to go. Modeling requires new blood.”
“We are still not ready to launch fashion week from Pakistan,” says Yahsir. “The international buyers, they want something new. It will probably take us another 5 years to get there. It was not overnight for India either– it’s taken them time. There are whole host of designers who still do not show their collections – but now they have a big pool of designers. In Pakistan I think Libas is the only one who’s doing 100 percent exports. I think most of the designers who claim that they’re exporting are only exporting local clothes and designs.”
Discussing possible avenues for growth in the fashion industry, Yahsir says, “Embroidery is something we can build on and compete at the high end of the market internationally. Looking at all the factors I think breaking into the high-end garment business is still tough for Pakistan. I know of only one person who is willing to work in this direction – Jamima – she is sufficiently high profile and may give Pakistani design houses a new direction. Again it’s a good sign but international high-end market means western fashion.”
“As an industry we are not ready to cash in on the trends – we need to be stable as an industry first. Only then we can compete globally. We have skilled people now. What we need now are entrepreneurs who can think in this direction. Even international market in couture has scaled down. I don’t think we can tap into this market,” concludes Yahsir. ■
This article was originally published in the print edition of “The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review,” (Tkfr), issue 12, October 2005