Talking to the lawn movers

February 22, 2015

Safinaz Muneer weighs in on the lawn homogeneity that will hit the market in the coming weeks

Talking to the lawn movers

For a weather report in urban Pakistan, one need not consult an app. Or look to nature, for that matter. Far from fresh foliage or budding flowers, city dwellers register the change in season when billboards sprout up all over our respective hometowns. For the average person, the advent of summer translates to ‘lawn ka season agaya hai’, and before we know it, women have done their famed flocking to exhibitions and amassed their haul from the first volumes of their favoured collections. We know summer has truly arrived when we spot a trail of familiar prints wherever we go, from the mall to the tailor shops to our evening soirees. Unfortunately, the summer bloom of fashion isn’t as varied as seasonal produce.

"It’s a very Pakistani phenomenon," opines Safinaz Muneer of the Sana Safinaz duo, "Anywhere in the West, if two people wear the same outfits, they cringe. But women in Pakistan have a kind of comfort zone. Whole baradaris tend to favour one designer; when one of the bolder girls jump ship and try something else and look great, then there’s be a huge herd following her. Very few Pakistani women want to stand out and have a strong individualistic taste."

Given that homogeneity is the antithesis of being fashionable, how does Safinaz propose a break in the swathes of sartorial sameness? As the creative force behind one of the most sought after lawn collections, Sana Safinaz are de facto contributors to this trend. There’s a limit to the variety that Pakistani designers can provide to the lawn-wearing majority, so how does one encourage the Pakistani woman to switch it up a bit? The answer, of course, is one that we’ve known for years (but seems to fall on deaf ears): "Individualistic women will tailor their joras differently," says Safinaz simply. Sure enough, they provide enough pieces in their lawn packet for buyers to create their own mosaic.

This year, the Sana Safinaz packet will include their most recent innovations in the lawn business. "Last year, we introduced crystals and beaded necks and net dupattas, which did phenomenally well," Safinaz reminds us, "So we’re going to continue with that. There’s no point doing a collection that does very well and then quickly moving on to another idea. It’s better to keep it for another two years."

A smart business decision, given that people are prone to stick to their favourite choices. When Sana Safinaz brought back the short shirts two years ago, they were met with a lot of resistance. "Everyone was crying ‘Kyun banaya? Kyun banaya?’" shares Safinaz with a laugh, "But we stuck to our guns and now  everyone is wearing short shirts. Long silhouettes are still in for evening wear, but the trail and the 19,000 kalis we have managed to eliminate."

With their continual envelope-pushing, they manage to bring some diversity in the market. Some are quick to jump on the bandwagon of latest fashions, but others, like Safinaz said, take their time to adjust. This too breaks up the homogeneity, but the onus of being the expected trailblazers is a heavy one on Sana Safinaz.

"We were the first in lawn in so many different ways, that it’s unfortunately like a burden on our shoulders to have to come up with new ideas every year," Safinaz shares, "In one way, that’s a driving force; it keeps us on our innovative toes. But at the same time, it’s a lot of pressure. Once you’ve done embroidery, what do you do next?"

Having introduced embroidery in lawn, Sana Safinaz has upped the lawn business from daywear to eveningwear. Safinaz has even gone on record, saying that lawn can be worn at weddings. She reiterates the thought when she shares that women have come up to thank her for making lawn that they’ve worn to dholkis and shaadis. The idea has some takers, she insists, but whether it will emerge as a full-fledged trend is another thing. "We’re dealing with a culture," she explains, "And Pakistani women want to look like a dulhan at someone else’s wedding!" (Sure enough, minutes before her interview, a customer picked out a pink crystal-encrusted bridal ensemble with a PKR 315,000 price tag for her daughter to wear to not her wedding.)

For these very cultural differences, Safinaz feels that local designers can not follow international trends. Keeping to the subject of weddingwear, she says, "For the last 1000 years, people are wearing red to their shaadi and they’re not going to change. At the most, I can do hues of pinks and magentas. So if someone says olives are really in, I can’t do a whole collection in just that colour. Because your culture does not dictate you to follow a colour palette: a Pakistani woman wants 19 colours in her cupboard!"

That’s the mantra of Sana Safinaz: they’re Pakistani women designer for Pakistani women. With their aspiration to clothe every Pakistani woman, they strike a balance between the demand for the conventional and the expectation for something new.

Talking to the lawn movers