Makeup artist Bina Khan caught up with Sanam Chaudhri, a fabulous fashion designer in her own right and the new Chairperson of the Fashion Pakistan Council.
One of the main criticisms faced by Pakistan’s fashion industry is that young blood is undervalued and seniority is seen as the greater advantage. With the selection of its new board, Fashion Pakistan Council has undergone a dramatic transformation, boasting names like Sanam Chaudhri, Sania Maskatiya, Mahreen Karim and Wardah Saleem, By putting young, technological and retail savvy designers at the helm, and garnering the support of experts educators and innovators in the field (such as Zahir Rahimtoola and Shehnaz Ismail) this new council promises that the coming year is going to be a big one. With their upcoming Genex Trunk show (inviting graduates from all over Pakistan to attend the rivalry within cities), a Fashion Day Out, technical workshops, and two fashion weeks it looks like they are going to deliver in a big way and we have a lot to look forward to!
Bina: So obviously, a big congrats on becoming head of the Fashion Pakistan Council. Did you have any idea you were being considered?
Sanam: Thank you, No, not at all! All I knew was that the council was forming a new board and I had been elected as one of the seven members. When Shamaeel (Ansari) announced me as the new Chairperson, I nearly fell off my chair.
Bina: Talk us through your genesis in the fashion world. What were your beginings? Who are your influences? Where did you train? Did you always know you were going to be a designer?
Sanam: I’m a textile major so desining was always on the cards. I worked for a textile mill after I graduated and moved onto working for Naheed Mashooqullah (architect extroardinaire) where I trained and worked as an Associate Interior Designer for a number of years. Whilst working with Naheed I started exhibiting embroidered kurtis (which were the rage back then). My product became popular which gave me the confidence to delve into pret, and that’s when Zahir Rahimtoola of LABELS asked me to stock with him.
Bina: Did your product change once you were supplying to LABELS? How was that a learning experience for you?
Sanam: My product has evolved over the past four years since I first started stocking with multi brand stores. I understand my Karachi clientele very well and they understand my design. Lahore is tricky and Islamabad even more so. It’s taken me a white to come to terms with the difference in aesthetics; now I cater to each city accordingly.
Bina: How was designing for Bonanza? That is a brand that caters to a huge audience. How did you tackle that? Did the company have valuable advice for you?
Sanam: Bonanza give me a free hand to design as I please. They wanted some edge, and that is exactly what I put on the table. But retail is tricky because you’re selling on a much larger and more mass scale. Sales are good and I’m grateful to Bonanza for trusting me to take their pret line forward.
Bina: If you’re famous for one thing, what would you say it is? DVF has her wrap dress, Carolina Herrera the white shirt, Sanam Chaudhari has…)
Sanam: The bubble and sack shirts. I can’t tell you how many I have sold! I introduced them two years ago, and people still ask for them. It’s Chaudhri love!
Bina: Haha! You have mentioned before that it was a showing at fashion weeks that took your career to a different level. Does that give you a strong desire to invest in the facilities that you can now yourself offer young designers?
Sanam: Oh definitely! I am very dedicated to the council, and now that I’ve been given a chance to make a change I surely will. FPC hosted the first ever fashion week in Pakistan, and it changed my professional life. FPC will have a generation millennial trunk show next year, where we plan to mentor fresh graduates and give them a chance to show their designs. This should groom the new generation of designers to design an export worthy product. We want to focus on the business of fashion.
Bina: How exciting. What exactly are your plans for the business side of the Council? How do you get people to pop more tags?
Sanam: The first event that FPC is hosting is a Fashion Day Out, which will generate a lot of business for retailers, multi brand stores and brands that have their own stores. We also have a fashion expo planned for early next year which will bring together fashion and industry under one roof where buyers can seek anything from an embroidered tunic to the thread its been embellished with. There is so much talent in our country. Our fold art and craft is sought after internationally. We must make an effort to develop it, as it gives us an edge.
Bina: It seems that we have an abundance of talent but our quality is variable and our output is often not in our control. With all of these challenges, how can we hope to compete with other countries? How can FPC help with these issues?
Sanam: We plan to have small workshops for designers, conducted by the likes of Feri Rawanian (GM at Linmark Intl.), Zahir Rahimtoola (CEO, LABELS), Taymur Paracha (CEO Gulabo) and Salim Chatoor (CEO, Threads and Motifs) highlighting issues such as quality control and sizing.
Bina: Wow, that is so smart! Fashion is obviously as much about image and PR as it is about business, and with modern technology and social media everything is live and global (witness The British Fashion Councils Instagram page during London Fashion Week). How much does the responsibility for showing a different side to Pakistan weigh with you?
Sanam: We are a young board and we plan to make FPC as tech savvy as possible in the coming year. A lot is in the pipeline, so I guess everyone will just have to wait and see.
Bina: Traditionally the fashion world is full of cliques and rivalries. I have noticed that this has changed more and more, recently. What new doors can this open?
Sanam: Working together is always beneficial. Brands and designers need to collaborate on ideas and be supportive of each other, along with the new generation to form a powerful industry. We need to leave our egos at home and work together to bring the Pakistani fashion industry to the forefront. An idealistic notion? Yes. Impossible? No.
Bina: Well you have to start from a place of idealism at the very least. What is the one big change you would like to bring about?
Sanam: The misconception that fashion councils ONLY organise fashion weeks. The council’s main objectives are to help individuals and design houses in the sale and promotion of their stuff to the domestic market and to help in the export of Pakistani branded goods to international buying houses and retail stores. We want to promote emerging designers, create awareness about them.
Bina: How do you plan to do that?
Sanam: We plan on participating in various local and international events and exhibitions. We want to engage with international buyers and journalists, and use tools like social media to not only bring about a bit of fizz and oomph to the industry, but also to create awareness about Pakistani fashion and what our industry is all about. It is, after all, a huge success story! And on a personal note, we are all willing to take time out of our busy schedules because we are responsible citizens and proud Pakistanis. We want to create more harmony in the field and we want to be hard headed about seeing economic growth. Let’s hope we achieve our goals!
Designer you admire most: Maheen Khan and Haider Ackerman
Your personal style is: Fuss free
The most beautiful face of all time: Monica Belucci
If you could have designed in any era you would choose: The British Raj or the 80’s
Tiger print – thumbs up or down? Up!
Red lipstick – yes or no? Yes
Bed head or sleek blow dry? Bed head
Bold individualism or classic safety? A bit of both
A place that inspires you: Lahore Fort
Dream city to work in: New York
Dream place to chill in: Florence
Your dream job: Creative Director at Balmain
The best meal you have ever had: Dall fry at a small hotel in Saddar
Your most exciting fashion moment to date: Shopping at the Alexander McQueen store with everything 40% off!
What is your perfect day? Hubby, son and me lazing in bed on a Sunday morning