Four to five years ago, when fashion was either restricted to unaffordable, elitist studios or unstylish, mass retailers, one brand emerged with an understanding of both style and the need to be affordable as well as accessible on the high street. Sheep took the industry by storm through its innovative interpretation of the ‘shalwar kameez’. Spearheaded by the creative mind of Aalia Jafar, the high street brand initiated with a bang, successfully capitalising – through reasonable pricing and a smart aesthetic – on a target market of working women.
Though other brands like Daaman also emerged around the same time, Sheep had an edge over its competitors as it offered smart casuals with a hint of hand embroidery, which was well-appreciated by consumers. From having one line of casual clothing, Sheep has grown into five different product lines including menswear. Now, four years into production, the competition surrounding the label has undoubtedly intensified. While Daaman and Ego continue to be direct competitors that are pretty much sailing in the same boat, game players like Khaadi and even designers like Sana Safinaz, have clearly surpassed the mark in creative development.
Instep spoke to Aalia Jafar about the brand’s future and possible evolution.
"We do realise that we have remained slightly more tuned towards the commercial aspect and our sales figures," Jafar shared with us. "However, we are trying to get back to our initial design philosophy as is evident this year with the development of ‘Black Sheep’ and in our latest collections. We are still learning as a brand. The real challenge lies in striking a balance between commercial value and aesthetics, which we are trying our best to do."
While competing brands have become bolder and funkier in approach with time, Sheep has remained true to its sleek minimalist style. It is safe to say that Sheep has surely carved a niche for itself, however we wonder how long it can succeed on its ‘tried and tested’ design philosophy because every brand has to eventually revamp itself for a newer generation of buyers.
"There are already 50,000 options in the market for print but hardly any for plain, structured outfits. Sticking to a basic, minimal philosophy adds some value to our designs and gives us a competitive edge in the market," Jafar clarified. "Our consumers want what we are offering them, which is a mix of structured and flowy garments. If there is a demand for it, then we will obviously meet it."
Sheep stepped out of its comfort zone by making its debut at Fashion Pakistan Week (FPW) this year. The digital print collection on a summer-appropriate, breezy colour palette received mixed reviews from the critics. While the efforts were appreciated and the designs were very wearable, the fact that the brand hasn’t managed to move away from its signature drapes and appliqué embellishing was a cause of concern. Nonetheless, their debut received a warm welcome from the industry and it was refreshing to see them explore different horizons.
"Considering that we have never participated in a fashion week, it was an exciting experience for us. We wanted to mature as a high street brand and then venture into this domain because fashion weeks are not necessarily for sale purposes but to expand the depth of design and creativity," says Jafar. "We wanted to first get the right business model in place, have a sustainable supply backend and then enter fashion weeks."
How was the experience of making an FPW debut; did she experience any of the infamous politics? Not really, but Jafar feels that a certain level of politics does exist. "Politics is part of life… both personal and professional and across all industries, so yes, there is politics in the fashion industry as well. However one has the choice to take it either positively or negatively. Bottom line, it’s important to invest time and energy in building relationships and focus on adding value to the industry as a whole, which in turn helps get the best of the industry politics," she asserted.
As much as we want Sheep to experiment with designs, we can appreciate the fact that the brand is sincere to its ethos. Moreover, it is one of the few labels to have a prominent corporate social responsibility facet. The quirky-named brand initiated the ‘Donate a Book’ campaign last year which has now transformed into a full-fledged mobile library promoting reading habits amongst disadvantaged children. It is also one of the pioneers in having a pronounced online presence, though the number of ‘likes’ on their page still lag behind those of competing brands. That’s probably because their website doesn’t offer the online payment option for international customers, Jafar clarified.
Inspired by the Japanese high street brand Uniqlo, Sheep promises to offer an interesting blend of quality and style within an affordable price range. One thing that it needs to be given due credit for, is its warm and soothing visual displays. The pretty floral decorations against a calming blue and white backdrop are always a welcome elixir. However, whether Sheep will manage to break the barriers of its own innovative limitations and evolve into something more current and fresh, only time will tell…