From the original handloom fabric, coveted by anyone who heard about it in the early ‘00s, to their signature kurtis and stoles, everything Khaadi did was novel for its time.
One of the most exciting moments during Pakistan’s fashion boom was when Khaadi introduced unstitched lawn, which is a summer staple in the country. It wasn’t just that a name-brand was putting out a new product: customers had come to associate a certain assurance of quality from it too. Over the years Khaadi has definitely had its ups and downs, but at this point in time, it is possibly the only accessible fashion label in the country which hasn’t faltered too much on its original premise of reviving the craft of handloom weaving, creating a market for the brand, while catering to it in return, and growing the business.
To view Khaadi in a wider context, by the time the label opened the doors to its first store in Karachi, Pakistan had only one consistent presence in retail fashion: Generation. Established in the ‘80s, Generation had expanded to multiple cities by 1998, which is the year that Khaadi was born. Pakistan has seen other retail fashion brands; Sundip and Parahan in Karachi come to mind, but anyone looking for actual, wearable casual or luxe pret would have had to rely on Generation for most part.
Once Khaadi introduced its hand-woven, natural-dye fabrics, the trend started catching on. There was something about the earthy palettes, the motifs woven into the cloth, and most of all, the feel of the fabric that captured imaginations. Once the label introduced its line of kurtis - which had to be the first fusion-modest-wear option on the market - still others followed suit. From a label called Khamta which was basically Khaadi-lite, to shops in your local shopping plaza, kurtis became an always-available item.
Who knew, in 1998, 1999, or even 2005, that one day Khaadi would actually become a household name, a reliable gifting choice, and preferred by expats and locals alike? You simply have to know your Khaadi size and sales assistants at any other label’s outlets will bring you your perfect size from their inventory. When in doubt, pick something up from Khaadi Home; and if you want to be super cool, look through their Kreate Your Mark lines for indie fashion, accessorization, or home styling brands for the perfect present.
But perhaps, more than what Khaadi has achieved so far, we should look at how they have achieved it.
In 25 years of existence, Khaadi has grown to over 50 stores nationwide and internationally. They have basics, luxe pret, formals and unstitched lines available for sale. Their Chapter 2 label is a return to the handloom roots. To keep growing - and we are sure there have been quarters or whole years when the company hasn’t been terribly profitable - there has to be an end goal to be met, and we suspect for Khaadi that goal has simply been: keep growing.
In 2021, when Khaadi had perhaps met its quota of physical stores, it introduced the first Experience Hub in Karachi, which though large, is extremely well-planned, one section leading to the next, related section. Similar outlets have since opened their doors in Lahore.
“The launch of the first Khaadi Experience Hub at Dolmen Mall Clifton, Karachi, Pakistan, marked the beginning of the brand’s reinvention focusing on the customer journey and product merchandising to deliver a retail experience exceeding customer expectations,” said Tinath Saeed, Thinker, Brand Experience at Khaadi when reached for comment. “The recently relaunched Kanteen was born out of a desire to create an elevated street food experience featuring a wide range of carefully curated and aesthetically plated food and beverage choices.”
This always gunning forward attitude is mostly what is missing from Pakistan’s fashion industry at the moment. While retail fashion has grown, the roadmap had been laid down by brands like Khaadi and Generation, and benchmarks set as well. If at this moment a new fashion retail brand was to open a physical shop, they would know what to aspire to. But if an individual designer were to enter the market, they would be at a loss if they tried to find viable role models.
The industry has been largely unaffected by the economic dips - “if they bought six joras before, they buy four now,” designer Amna Arshad had told Instep in the last year - but every designer and design house has found a way that works for them. Their clientele remains loyal to them, and so they can continue to work out of their small scale karkhanas/factories, or indeed their homes. If a brand wants to scale up, as Khaadi has done, while there is a retail example, there isn’t one for more upmarket brands. In that absence, can more niche designers look to the Khaadi model as an example? One of the smartest things the company had done was to bring all craftsmen under one roof. Perhaps consolidating operations in one space is the answer to running a successful business?
Perhaps the answer to the fashion industry’s dormancy of the last few years is to gather fashion houses under one umbrella. If newer retail brands can take cues from Khaadi or find the route it has taken aspirational, when design houses and standalone designers come in frequent contact with each other, they could urge each other - however tangentially - to lay that essential blueprint to follow to an industry’s success.
The industry has been largely unaffected by the economic dips –
“if they bought six joras before, they buy four now,” designer Amna
Arshad had told Instep in the last year - but every designer and design house has found a way that works for them. Their clientele remains loyal to them, and so they can continue to work out of their small scale karkhanas/factories, or indeed their homes. If a brand wants to scale up, as Khaadi has done, while there is a retail example, there isn’t one for more upmarket brands. In that absence, can more niche designers look to the Khaadi model as an example? One of the smartest things the company had done was to bring all craftsmen under one roof. Perhaps consolidating operations in one space is the answer to running a successful business?