“I love Easternwear,” Omar Farooq states. Republic by Omar Farooq’s Creative Director speaks in measured tones, giving out just as much information as he thinks is needed. At the end of each of his responses, he will stop and nod, encouraging more questions.
For a designer who began his career with an eye on being, “Pakistan’s Tom Ford,” the declaration is a little surprising. But for the entrepreneur who has strategically built his business, cautiously expanding to one more metropolitan with plans to develop physical outlets in other high-demand cities, and registering with the UAE Freezone to ensure more international clients feel comfortable doing business with the label, the statement is on-brand.
“I had vowed I would never get into Easternwear when I started,” says Farooq now, “because maybe I wasn’t equipped then to take on this segment.”
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Easternwear is the most popular and demanded Republic by Omar Farooq category. “It outsells our Western lines,” he says, “Easternwear is 60% of our sales, both at home and in the U.K. and U.S.”
That said, it appears that once Farooq tried his hand at creating Eastern pieces, he found it engrossing and complex, and ultimately, very rewarding.
“Easternwear is based on a certain design philosophy. First, you decide the color. You decide if it needs to be dyed. Then you pick a surface; so for instance, for an embroidered surface like chikankari the pattern is developed, the thread it will be done in is picked. There’s a whole philosophy,” he explains.
Perhaps it is the very involved process of picking and organizing the crafts that go into a single Eastern clothing item, be it casual wear or occasion wear, that excites Farooq about it. Perhaps it is the fact that within Pakistan, and expat Indian and Pakistani communities around the world, occasion and wedding wear will always be in demand and a high seller. Or maybe, the business and creative elements of making and managing the Eastern lines, while outshining contemporaries are what keep someone as meticulous as Farooq constantly engaged, and in an evolution mindset.
Westernwear, according to Farooq, is not a category where someone can visually assess the product and pass a quality judgement. “A black suit is a black suit,” he says. “You won’t know whether the suit you’re looking at is high-quality unless you wear it.”
With Easternwear, the marks of quality are immediately apparent.
“It’s so easy to differentiate between a good embroidery and a bad embroidery; a good embroidery and even horrible embroidery,” he emphasizes.
“If you look at a surface, you can gauge right away how fine it is, how fine the embroidery is, the amount of work that has gone into creating that piece by us, versus by other labels doing similar work.”
The attention to detail and careful planning that Farooq invests in his business and its product is evident. He points to a family: the groom, his father, and brother, trying on their clothes for the wedding at that very moment.
“This is something people will always need,” Farooq believes, “a wardrobe for every event [within a shaadi]. And that’s where we come in, we cater to and curate the wardrobe completely.”
While the ethos and strategy has worked out well for Republic by Omar Farooq, shown by the steady expansion and growth, everyone knows the real gold lies with womenswear. The suggestion is quickly rejected by Omar Farooq, who points out that womenswear is simply not his forte. “We do have unisex pieces,” he says, “but I believe Republic has a very strong, menswear vibe, and womenswear just isn’t something I’m interested in.”
But again, this is just a very major diversification within product line. As far as keeping things fresh goes, Farooq has his eye on the prize.
“When we started out, social media wasn’t what it is right now. The way the younger people have come in and taken over, the way social media platforms are used now, it’s changed everything, from business to fashion to perception of fashion.
“There was a time that it was taken for granted that all men needed, wardrobe-wise, was a couple of shirts and some nice pants.
Now that perception has changed, that man has changed,” he says. “I think men are spending more time and money on themselves, and social media has created a new paradigm for menswear in Pakistan.”
ending down a military-inspired line for his first fashion week, believes that tailoring the product to the market while maintaining quality, and allowing the brand to grow is what will sustain a business. His military-inspired collection, if memory serves, was well-received by critics, but a decade or more ago, not every man in Pakistan would have added even a single small overtly ‘stylish’ piece to his outfit. To spin the situation a little on its head, perhaps the clientele for 2011’s Republic by Omar Farooq exists now. The designer himself notes that younger men – “30 and below” – are more self-assured than their predecessors, and definitely more aware of what they want and how they want to be perceived.
If one skims through the mostly glowing reviews of every showcase Republic by Omar Farooq has ever put out, the standard observation across publications and platforms is how the collection was built on, or remained true to its aesthetic. Consistency, as we well know, is the foundation of success in any field, and with the arts, fashion to be specific, and Pakistani menswear to be even more so, consistency is essential. We’ve seen several menswear brands simply peter out over time despite strong creative bases and encouraging reception. For Republic to be still around, expanding, and planning on more, the consistency has paid off.
Saying that, Omar Farooq does not believe in staying the same.
“Brands that don’t evolve, they tend to disappear,” he says. “The intensity of menswear will remain, but if brands don’t evolve with time, with what’s going on around them and the world, they will disappear. You can’t stick to the way you’ve always done things; you have to grow.”
For Farooq to say this seems contradictory, because his modus operandi seems to always have been, perfect the product, expand the business. But he believes that he’s done it the right way so far.
“I’ve never believed in being ‘the face of my brand’. The face of my brand is my brand. It’s the product. This is the first time I’ve ever engaged PR for my brand. I had to make sure my product was perfected, and the niche developed. That should speak for itself.”
A similar approach had Farooq delaying Republic’s launch in Karachi. The Karachi store, which opened its doors in March of this year, was a few years in the making, but Farooq didn’t feel confident about launching it outside of Lahore until he could ensure the entire brand function, including production could be done in Karachi.
“If I’ve got the clients but can’t deliver on time, what’s the point?” he asks.
“The creative director could change in 10 years, I can be replaced, my focus has been on providing the finest in product and service; the business should build equity, and the equity shouldn’t be dependent on me or my name.”
At this point, things are going according to plan. Omar Farooq is the sole proprietor of his business, and the business is debt-free, and still meets its requirement of having running capital. Republic by Omar Farooq, as Omar Farooq points out, is an international company now, and apart from global expansion, will expand in promising local markets as well, including Faisalabad, Sialkot, and Multan.
Omar Farooq is dedicated to creating a business that lasts, and a product that continues to surpass others in its category. He is also pleased the skinny pant is exiting menswear. All is well.