The Economics of Fashion – the Great KA-CHING!

By Sonya Rehman

Lights, ramps, models, brands, elaborate garb, pretentious pageantry, tangible art  and sentences lavishly sprinkled with words such as; ‘fabulous’, ‘dah-ling’ and ‘jaani’…many would assume that is what the word ‘fashion’ strictly encapsulates as a whole.

But just as there are two sides to one person, fashion too, comes with another, slightly less frivolous face. A ‘refundable’ face (which oft spawns bratty offspring’s greed and pomp), yet making every man go weak in the knees and lusty with desire…the one-dimensional face of moolah. Dosh. The buckaroos.

Yup, that’s right. Fashion rolls in the dollars, pounds, the rupees, and the what-have-yous faster than corporate Tasmanian devils – and at scales higher than mergers between two colossal multinationals.
And that’s where Fashion Weeks, the world over, step right in…or rather, stiletto-saunter their way right in!
So how did this entire trend of Fashion Weeks begin? The story goes as far back as 1943 – during the midst of World War II. Yes, yes glamour amidst war and destruction…whoever said fashion wasn’t shallow?

But coming back to the origination of weeklong fashion shows, the first-of-its-kind fashion week was held in the Big Apple (NYC) when fashion aficionados were unable to travel to Paris for fashion shows since half the world was adamant on bombing its brains out. Thus began the development of annual and semi-annual Fashion Weeks around the globe.
Aptly termed the ‘fashion capitals’, London, New York, Paris and Milan have had a considerable history of hosting the best, the most showy, and the most recognized Fashion Weeks in the world, making international media, young designers, bipolar fashion photographers and audiences froth at the mouth with enthusiasm.
But as mentioned earlier, there’s more to fashion than yards of cloth and wannabe Anna Wintours. Fashion Weeks, I stress, are meticulously planned out.

Each show – from the venue, the lighting, the music, the shape of the ramp, the event planners, the designers, the local and foreign buyers guest-list, the models, the makeup artists, the stylists, and the media houses…one sole Fashion Week oftentimes takes months of planning, sweat and toil.

And with the mass amount of money (and effort) usually pumped into a Fashion Week, high returns and profits superceding the ‘break-even mark’ are always expected.
The business of fashion is a multi-million dollar one – primarily with regard to a New York, Milan, Paris or London Fashion Week. Those are the biggies.
For example, in 2004, New York Fashion Week generated an astounding two hundred and fifty three MILLION dollars for the ol’ Big Apple! Imagine that.

But even the smaller, closer-to-home fashion extravaganzas such as Bridal Asia (across the border), Lakme India Fashion Week, Dubai International Fashion Week, Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week etc, attract retailers, buying houses and richie-rich solitary buyers, all of whom place high orders, which in turn generate healthy profits.
For example, just last year during the Spring/Summer Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week, apparently one hundred and sixty – local and foreign buyers – had been registered, many of whom carried hefty budgets of over a crore of rupees. Now if that didn’t make India’s economy yelp “ka-ching!” in fiscal delight, one wonders what did.

As the writer, Jason Potts states in his article: “Fashion facilitates economic growth by providing consumers twin opportunities: to periodically liquidate their dated fashion goods, especially those that may have been consumption mistakes, as they abandon old fashion rules and adopt new ones; and to consume alternative goods that, thanks to standardization, cater for the varying risk preferences of consumers. This process may seem wasteful from a static account, but it is dynamically efficient in the promotion change and re-coordination that eventually registers as economic growth. Rather than being merely a feature of bourgeois leisure, engaging with fashion trends might be better understood as a process of creative destruction that works through social pressure to provide a fresh and self-regulated impetus for consumer learning.”

Concerning the motherland, last year, November 4th (running till the 8th of the same month), an event was due to mark Pakistani’s first-ever fashion milestone in the form of Pakistan Fashion Week (PFW).
But as quickly as the fires of hype erupted through the forests of media and publicity, it was just as quick to sputter out with a whimper and a sizzle of disillusioned embers.
To be put together by IMG Fashion (internationally known to host Fashion Weeks for yonks) and the local, event-management company, Events Unlimited, PFW never materialized come November.

While many believe and state it was called off due to the onset of political turmoil within the home-base (given the first bomb attack last year in October on assassinated PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto, and her congregation of supporters in Karachi), others subscribe to the fact that PFW’s cancellation had “a lot more to do with the situation in the country”, as Frieha Altaf says. “It was disorganized”, she explains before going on to state, “I was working on the opening ceremony and had so many meetings, but at the same time knew this wasn’t the way to go about it…there were too many issues happening simultaneously. From my own experience, when I started doing the Lux Style Awards (LSA’s), it took me four years to get it right! There’s a lot of learning involved with big events like these, and you learn from your mistakes and keep improving. Itnay jootay mujhay pari for the LSA’s for the first two years, but everyone comes around – when you’re doing something good, people always come around. The trouble was that Events Unlimited didn’t have experience, and the problem with IMG was that it was just too bloudy busy.”

But Brand Manager (PFW Designers Relations) for Events Unlimited, Neera Mansoor, has a different take on the whole fiasco. “Because of the political situation things went haywire, and I suppose now, only after the political situation clears can we have a Fashion Week.” Having attended the Lakme India Fashion Week in 2007, Neera enunciated “One needs to understand the business of fashion, if we’re all on the same wavelength, only then can it happen effectively. There’s so much attached to a Fashion Week, that there’s a separate format for it altogether. One has to understand that it won’t only put Pakistan on the map, but also help the country’s economy – and that will come with the attendance and participation of international buyers. Right now, people are under the misconception that Fashion Week is ‘just’ a fashion show – it’s much bigger than that. It’s about Pakistan and an industry of fashion which is so strong that it can outdo anybody.”

Perhaps the reason as to why PFW failed before it took flight was a little bit of both – the country’s political turbulence and a bit of mismanagement…but no matter what, the consequence, in the final analysis, was inevitable.
Such things happen though, and should generally be taken with a grain of salt. So what? PFW never materialized…so what?
Who cares, it’s not as if our local designers and fashion councils gave up their careers to sell poetry on parched paper near the beach, right?

Fashion in Pakistan has moved on, the shows are ongoing, the fabrics still cut and stitched, and the karighar’s – under the supervision of their employers – are still hard at work.

It’s not as if the world fell apart, I mean sure, it would’ve been nice considering the media mileage Pakistan would’ve gotten for being a moderate (forgive the cliché) nation. For now, I suppose we can be rest assured that we’re still getting as much media mileage (if not more), given the salsa of local elections, suicide bombers ramming themselves into navy colleges, restaurants and government buildings, and that batty Danish fella out currently with an anti-Muslim movie. BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera, FOX News, SKY News – baby, we’re all over the place!

But coming back to Fashion Week – what would it take to have one of our own? Will an international, experienced, event management company like IMG really do the trick? Of course.
This is because; the Pakistani fashion industry is still too choppy – as far as professionalism goes – to ‘manage’ an event so titanic.

It’d be a task impossible to carry out without assistance from an overseas company.
Besides, under the wing of a qualified, foreign company, international buyers perhaps would take it more seriously – even the international media at large. Think about it.

The economics of fashion truly is a profitable one, particularly concerning Fashion Weeks.
PFW was just bad timing I guess, or wasn’t it?

Images, Dawn

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Hi Sonia
    Happen to read your article . We are launching Inndia Fashion Week ,Dubai and Pakistan FAashion Week ,Dubai in 2011 . Please do drop a line if you are interested to be a part of these events .
    With Warm Regds
    Musthafa Zafeer.O.V.
    Mg.Partner & Sr.Lawyer
    Musthafa & Almana

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