By Maliha Rehman
A new store, a new logo. A little more than five months ago, high street heavyweight Khaadi had gone through a transformation. The brand’s longstanding logo for 23 years representing the hand of the weaver was gone, a more abstract doodle taking its place. The cement and earth signature interior was replaced by wacky bursts of color, bright lights and Instagrammable walls with catchy slogans. A whopping 32,000 square feet large store in Karachi’s Dolmen City Mall earmarked the beginning of the brand’s reinvention.
But the reinvention could only be genuine if it was resonated in Khaadi’s core product-lines: the swathes of unstitched fabrics, the racks lined choc-a-bloc with ready-to-wear and the accessories.
Spiraling back to more than two decades ago, Khaadi had been a fledgling brand which had made its mark when customers began to make a beeline for its ready-to-wear. Anywhere you went – cafes, malls, dinner parties – you’d see at least one or two women and men wearing Khaadi. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the brand played a huge role in building Pakistan’s appetite for ready-to-wear.
Many other labels quickly caught on and pret stores began popping up in droves. Khaadi continued to grow, spreading out into multiple stores across the country as well as globally, branching out into sub-brands that catered to children’s wear (which is no longer in stores), accessories, home accessories and a hand-woven premium label, Chapter 2. Latching on to Pakistan’s unrelenting obsession with unstitched fabric, lawn and winter fabrics became a major focal point. Somewhere along this journey, though, the pret that had been the brand’s biggest coup in the past, began to recede into the shadows.
The entry of multiple contenders in the market meant that Khaadi was no longer one in a few stores selling ready-to-wear. There were many more options available now and the sartorial smorgasbord across all labels drifted from prints to embroideries to color blocks to hand-woven textiles. You couldn’t tell one brand from the other. You couldn’t walk into a café and identify the brands being worn by the people sitting there. Khaadi’s pret aesthetic had gotten diluted.
Which is why a new logo and a new store may have had been exciting changes but to truly make its mark, Khaadi needed to make a comeback: the apparel within the store needed to be new too. The signature needed to become recognizable yet again. The Khaadi of yore had captured the imaginations of young women and men and everyone, everywhere would be seen wearing the clothes. This mass popularity needed to be visible again. This was a task that was easier said than done. Two decades ago, Khaadi had been one in a handful of brands building its identity in the mass market. Now, there were dozens of contenders in the field, with more and more filtering in every year.
This was an observation that I had made when I had visited the new Khaadi store, in a special opening for the media.
Five odd months later, the reinvented Khaadi is veritably flexing its muscles in ready-to-wear. Lining the retail racks are processions of ready-to-wear which have become very varied. There are the embroidered formals that form part of the Khaas line, dholki-wear and shaadi-wear that you can buy off the rack. The embroidered stitched shirts, two-pieces and three-pieces are readily available, catering to the market that will always be bowled over by an embellished neckline.
Nudging shoulders with these designs is basic ready-to-wear: fine cotton co-ordinates in pretty prints stitched neatly, all-whites, basic tunics in bright colors eschewing embroidery and print altogether, basic tunic-and-pant and tunic-and-dupatta sets. The basics are selling so well – evidently, quite a bit of the market has gotten tired of the usual embroideries.
Hania Aamir wearing Khaadi and Chapter 2 while promoting her movie Parde Mein Rehne Do
Some cleverly placed trappings are also there. Prior to Eid, for instance, during the busy Ramzan shopping season, bangles were strategically placed at the sales counter, enticing customers buying their festive-wear. Statement jewelry stands encased in the Dolmen City Mall store showcase collaborations with premium brands Esfir Jewels and Allure by MHT. A permanent gift-wrapping kiosk is set up in a corner. Well-planned gimmicks calculated to make you want to stay in the store a little longer, buy a little more.
And just like that, one sees Khaadi being worn everywhere: in cafes, in the mall, at dinner parties, well on its way to ensnaring the ready-to-wear market like it had in its earlier heydays.
CEO Shamoon Sultan accepts that the changes in the ready-to-wear aesthetic are a calculated move. “The pandemic made us sit up and reevaluate our strengths and weaknesses,” he says, “and we decided that we wanted to bring about some definite changes within our various lines. This is just the beginning – there is much more to come!”
That sounds promising and stepping into the Khaadi mega-store in Dolmen City Mall Karachi, I find it easy to believe. There’s a new logo flashing out at you, a new shopping experience laid out in an extensive landscape but more than anything else, the Khaadi spin-cycle is churning out a new aesthetic that is easy-to-wear, easy on the eyes and affordable. The old Khaadi’s back with a bang – in a new way!