MNR dhol-rolls into London

March 17, 2024

With stores in Gujranwala, Lahore and Karachi rocking to a proverbial dhol-roll, Mohsin Naveed Ranjha takes his Punjabi roots and plants them firmly on Regent Street in Central London.

MNR dhol-rolls into London
MNR dhol-rolls into London

This is the era of the Punjabi. We’re impossible to stop now. We have the courage to take risks. We don’t feel the chuss (thrill) unless we take up challenges,” Mohsin Naveed Ranjha spoke proudly about the opening of his store in Central London last week. One one would have to agree that with names like Diljit Dosanjh and AP Dhillon ruling international airwaves, this is a great time for every Punjabi to be riding the veys.

That said, this isn’t the best time to invest in brick and mortar, let’s be honest.

In a post-covid world, with an entire generation virtually living online, literally, one has seen businesses close down ‘instore’ in favour of ‘online’ operations. Shoppers are happy buying just about anything and everything online, massively boosting digital retail figures.

What on earth then compelled Mohsin Naveed Ranjha, now in the 11th year of his eponymous brand, to go against the odds and invest a very painful rupee to pound conversion to open a store on Regent Street?

“It wasn’t easy, but then I never go for easy,” the designer smiled while sharing the experience over a phone conversation from London. “If I show you our spread sheets and the kind of investment we’ve made here, you’ll question my better judgement and ask what got into me to take on so much. But that’s the way I’ve always chosen to work. Going for the easy and expected is no fun. I’ve always envisioned bigger and better.”

To understand where Mohsin Naveed Ranjha is coming from, let’s go back a little. Just over a decade ago, this young designer hailing from the other side of Ravi, Gujranwala to be exact, was struggling to be taken seriously. Many such, similar fashion aspirants from provincial cities had moved to Lahore with big dreams, but very few managed to see those dreams materialize. In the ‘Sindh Club’ of fashion, as segments of the fashion industry were famously labeled by cliques of that time, there was no room for anyone else.

Mohsin Naveed Ranjha, equipped with a degree from the Gujranwala Institute of Fashion Technology, was to change that, which he did with confidence, determination and a love for his Punjabi identity that was to become his design ethos.

“People would put me down, saying I’m designing like a paindu Punjabi but now there are clients who love my ethos; it reminds them of the golden era of their grandparents,” he says.

Five years into starting brand MNR however, it was Mohsin’s collaboration with Ranveer Singh (2018) that became a turning point in his career. High profile campaigns with Sara Ali Khan and Janhvi Kapoor in 2022, along with Pakistan’s biggest star Mahira Khan, saw Ranjha get the credit he was aspiring for. Tan France wearing his designs to award shows in 2021 and 2022 went on to prove MNR’s global appeal. And there was no looking back.

MNR dhol-rolls into London

The London store launch was very successful. We opened doors at 6pm on 8th March. Sonam Bajwa flew in for the event. Aymen Saleem and Momal Sheikh were in town and attended. I didn’t even try to fly people in from Pakistan because honestly, our people are not willing to let go of unreasonable shashkas and I wanted genuine support, not support garnered by handing out business class tickets.

“Designs that my critics initially saw as paindu or provincial is what eventually caught everyone’s eye. Colour and craft of Punjab is what my brand is all about and we retained elements of that even when designing for Tan France. I actually judge people who come to me for a western gown, for example. It’s not who I am or what I do, so why expect it of me?”

The MNR brand managed to grow exponentially with that core value and today delves into bridals, formals, menswear, unstitched luxury and then lawn. He was never alone in this venture and credits his younger brother, Abu Bakr Naveed Ranjha, for supporting him through the process. While Mohsin heads the brand as Creative Director, Abu Bakr has been the corporate backbone of the company, as Managing Director.

So at a time when high street chains are shutting down stores and moving to online operations, why did he think of London?

“I was content with online retail but I decided to open in London just to give our customers a better luxury experience,” he says. “I wanted brides especially to feel special. We opened last week and we’ve seen a huge footfall of people who are interested in Pakistani fashion, including around 100-200 non Asian foreigners. Our textiles and textures and craft intrigues them.

“I also want my fellow Pakistani people to feel proud that they have a Made in Pakistan brand on main high street London as well. We will be making western lines but they will most definitely have the MNR signature.”

Mohsin is one of many successful Pakistani brands who feel that given the current economic instability in the country (which has in fact prevailed for several years now), businesses cannot rely solely on local sales. They have to look into international markets and regions; while that may not be simple, it is simply the only way forward.

“We can’t limit ourselves to one market and we certainly can’t rely on people to travel to Pakistan anymore,” he elaborated. “Times are tough and Pakistan’s fashion needs to step out.”

Why London, when the natural course of expansion may be Dubai and the Middle East?

“My customers in Dubai have no problem buying a ticket and coming to Pakistan, so I was never looking to open in Dubai,” he responds. “We also have retail space in Long Island NY but it’s a home operation and not a commercial place. Moving to a commercial place in New York is next on the agenda.

“I always think beyond my range. I aim and dream for the best and then we make it work. A lot of people suggested I go to Southhall, Manchester or other relatively affordable places where there’s a desi community but I wanted to open in Central London. If I’m not going to challenge myself now, at this age, then when?”

It was indeed a challenge to open in London, with the logistics and legalities all being an uphill task. The MNR team had four weeks to put the store together and open in time, all of which was done with the support of Asad Malik, CEO Cresset.

“The London store couldn’t have been possible without Abu Bakr and Asad Malik,” Mohsin is quick to credit his ‘brothers’ for being the backbone of his success.

“People now take me seriously because they see me taking the brand somewhere new every two to three years. We have even bigger things coming up in the next few years.”

Mohsin Naveed Ranjha has proven himself and has big plans for his brand. He does, however feel the need for camaraderie within the industry and is vocal about it.

“I’m all for competition; professional rivalry is good and gives you drive; paichay lagaye hain hum ne sari umar (we’ve crossed wires while flying kites all our lives),” he smiles, “but what we need to control is jealousy. There’s too much of that and it’s eating the fashion industry alive.

“I’m a simple man and now that I have a studio and office here (London), I give an open invitation to anyone who needs to use my office to please come and use it. I want to help people and be here for them. There are people who called me to congratulate me – like HSY and Rana Noman – and I get very emotional about it. But those engrossed in negativity, we can do without.”

MNR dhol-rolls into London