Fashion is political, with extensive impact and implication of its times, and vice versa and Instep explores the many subtexts of style and fashion with The Pink Tree Company.
Mohsin Sayeed is excited. On this warm Karachi afternoon, he plays a video on his phone featuring The Pink Tree Company’s Eid edit. Bells tinkle in the background as the model floats through yellow drapes; trailing the skirt of her yellow and white peshwaz behind her. The imagery is cool and soothing, an oasis you can create for yourself during the blistering summer months.
The collection, titled Amaltas, nods to the shower of yellow flowers that adorn trees which are planted and bloom during the monsoon season.
“What could be more Pakistani summer than the amaltas?” Sayeed muses. And indeed, what could be more representative of the Pakistani festive aesthetic than the designs that line the racks at the label’s Clifton studio?
There are rows of block-printed fabric fashioned into well-draped silhouettes, finished with glimmering gota. There are leheriya dupattas and shiny tissue tops. Pattapatti peeks out from pant cuffs. All that’s missing are sets of reshmi kaanch ki chooriyan, motia gulab ke gajrey, and a glamorous Mussarrat Nazir belting out shaadi ke geet. The Pink Tree Company knows its identity, and wears it well.
Mohsin Sayeed, Creative Director of the design house, is articulate and easily excited, his partner, CEO Hadia Khan, is the sensible curve to his sharp edges. Their third partner, Sheena Rizvi is COO, and the perfect blend of co-conspirator and practicality enforcer.
“He says his grandest idea is yet to come, but if you were to ask me, I would have to say that all his ideas are the grandest; I just tweak and reign it all in,” says Khan. Lifelong friends, it is clear that Khan and Sayeed understand each other perfectly, and come from a similar place as far as steering the brand goes.
“We are a socially and culturally conscious, craft-based, niche luxury brand,” says Sayeed. “Everything that we do is to preserve the craft native to this corner of the world, the style and trimmings we grew up seeing.
“We source our gota from a shop in Bolton Market, from these two old men who couldn’t care less whether we purchase from them or not. Our block prints are handmade, our panni work originates and is done by women in Sindh, our Kashmiri embroidery is created in Kashmir. We are passionate about the craft of Pakistan, and we want to, and need to keep it alive.”
Sayeed refers to a collection launched a few months ago. Cheent fabric embellished with panni made for a striking range, and the whole process of creation to execution to promotion was done mindfully.
Cheent – a speckled print that originated in the subcontinent – might not have been available commercially to us, but we have seen it all our lives, in specific regions of the country.
What The Pink Tree company at large wants to achieve, apart from being a profitable company, is maintaining the integrity of Pakistani craftsmanship, and as far as Mohsin Sayeed is concerned, new is not always better.
“Every society faces inhetat – a certain deterioration – of the elements that are native to it,” he says. “This, for me, is a terrifying idea: we have to somehow preserve and pass on our indigenous crafts otherwise they will die out.”
To him, and to anyone who thinks beyond the surface, fast fashion is anathematic. “When did we decide that bad was good, that substandard products that follow trends blindly are something to aspire to?” he asks.
“It isn’t just that fast fashion is not always great fashion, it is never high quality, it crowds landfills, and it is completely unfair to the common laborer.”
“Everything from sourcing material, to warehousing, distribution, presenting - costs a lot. Think about this: if after incurring all these costs, a brand is still offering knockout prices, someone, somewhere is getting shortchanged, and that someone is almost always a worker.”
Perhaps the consideration of this well-rounded list of concerns comes from the training the label had received from the British Council in 2017, when they were picked along with five other design houses to show at London Fashion Week. Khan and Sayeed are both happier for the experience, which they point out wouldn’t have been possible without the financial support they received. As we enter a rather interesting fiscal chapter in Pakistan’s history, it is easy to foresee a future where government support of creative industries will be largely nonexistent.
Hadia Khan believes that with the right organization getting involved and educated, the process of taking Pakistani fashion to an international market will be easier.
“There is a lot of interest and demand for Pakistani fashion abroad, especially within South Asian countries and communities,” she says. “What ends up happening though is that TDAP (Trade Development Authority of Pakistan) takes different people to global platforms each year. A big part of winning international markets is consistency, but if the market never sees the same brand twice, it will never take it seriously.”