The Pakistani fashion industry is a world of its own. This whirlwind of glitz and glamor can be equated to all the mind-boggling gold that glitters, with the sheen highlighting just how interconnected the industry truly is. In the world of fashion in Pakistan, everyone knows everyone, be it through contacts or collaborative means.
The industry functions like a newly developed machine, and three of the most powerful cogs within this machine are the designers, the models, and the PR companies, all of which combine to create the magic that we see come to fruition.
The holy trinity – designers, models, and PR agencies
Undoubtedly, marketing your product right holds immense importance, especially in this day and age of social media, that has enabled brands to go the extra mile with their campaigns. However, every brand needs a fool-proof PR plan, and to ensure that the PR work is airtight, one needs to reach out to or collaborate with the masters of the craft.
“PR is a form of marketing communications, just like advertising,” explains Samra Muslim, who runs the corporate PR agency, Walnut Communications.
“How extensive the use of PR is in an industry,” she continues, “is relative to the industry practices, brand marketing budgets, end-user and, of course, the brand’s own vision.
“While mega fashion/textile brands like Khaadi are very big on outdoor & digital advertising,” she continues, “Sapphire is very big on their influencer program (digital PR), Al-Karam is big on PR stunts mixed with conventional advertising (like print, outdoor and digital media). There are other fashion brands like Nomi Ansari, Elan & Faraz Mannan who rely heavily on word of mouth (aka PR) they generate from getting famous people to wear their clothes.”
“One of the biggest industries in Pakistan today that optimizes the use of PR to its best level is fashion,” adds Maida Azmat, the CEO of MINT PR and Image Consultancy.
“Bridging the gap between the public and the brands, fashion and PR have intertwined themselves to bring forward a product that represents our country globally. This is one of the most valuable intersections that is very deeply rooted.”
“PR and fashion are two different things,” states renowned PR mogul Frieha Altaf, “but fashion is a genre, and every genre – whether it’s film, fashion, or music – needs PR.”
This is all, of course, the perspective of three established PR mavens who have worked wonders behind the scenes, propelling brands and models to incredible heights as far as the functionality of PR is concerned. However, designers and models have their own perspectives on this extensively intertwined equation.
“The world of fashion is about creation, following a certain aesthetic through a collection and looking for a new trend,” explains Hassan Sheheryar Yasin, or HSY as he is referred to. An institution himself in the world of design, HSY too believes that PR plays an extensive role in marketing your brand.
“Without PR,” he continues, “and without the right arm or the right tool to get the word out, it’s pointless. Now, more so than ever, when so many different places have to be communicated to.”
HSY goes on to talk about how communication has changed drastically. “Initially, there were publications and magazines. Communication was very different. It was more about campaigns and advertising – finding a certain way to put your brand look and image forward. Now, it’s all Instagram and digital. All of this has changed, and therefore, PR, marketing and fashion have to work together.”
Designer Fahad Hussayn, however, has a slightly different outlook on things, maintaining that one’s craft can do the talking in place of a PR mechanism in place.
“If you have the right craft, you don’t need that PR,” he states. “You do need the right platform, and the right people to come and see it, and sadly, the world today has evolved into it, so PR is a necessary factor for the business of fashion. But, to create fashion, you don’t need it. If you have the right elements to be noticed, then your craft and capabilities become your PR.”
Fahad did, however, reiterate that PR plays a key role when it comes to the business side of fashion, to ensure that “you’re seen by the right people” and that “your name pops up regularly.”
Model Subhan Awan, who briefly went viral and won hearts at Fashion Pakistan Week while helping his fellow model get across the ramp after her shoe broke, also talked about how extensive and necessary the involvement of the PR machinery is.
“Without PR very few people would know about the world of fashion,” states Subhan. “I believe a successful model should have three qualities; patience, diligence, and a good educational background. These three qualities provide a strong foundation that PR then builds upon, adding strength and colors.”
Model Robina Khan also shared her insight regarding the same, highlighting how PR does, indeed, play a pivotal role in this triangular relationship between models, designers, and PR agencies.
“PR plays a very important role because the world of fashion is all about networking and connecting,” she states. “It’s a lot of socializing, helping each other out, working together, collaborating, sharing ideas, and being creative.
However, discussing the relationship between models and PR agencies, she states, “It’s a tricky combination. It can be constructive up to a certain point, but of course, everyone’s in it for their own interests, so we all need to look out for ourselves”
The role of merit within this triangular equation
While trying to fathom the extent of the interconnectedness of the world of PR, designers, and models – especially with the advent of social media where content can reign supreme, often superseding talent – the question begs to be asked: where does merit fit into this holy trinity?
“When it comes to fashion models,” Samra states, “there is nothing but who you know, whose favorite you are and how ‘it’ you are in the circles when it comes to you getting a project. There’s a herd mentality present, and breaking into it is tough.”
“Most of the modeling industry is favorites-driven” she continues. “Favorites of photographers, makeup artists, stylists or in some cases brands. To break into these cliques is usually very difficult, and that is why we don’t find many new models ‘making it’.”
“When it comes to modeling for TVCs, one can still sign up with talent sourcing agencies like Citrus or Genesis – who would put together a profile so that you can be pitched for commercials – and the rest is just luck. However, a bit of acting talent plays a role. Social media has given birth to influencers, which has actually helped kill the modeling industry more.”
However, Maida has a different perspective on the matter, and she believes that merit plays a sizable role within the industry.
“Social influence can only help you a little by, perhaps, giving you a platform,” she states, “but the journey from that platform to the next step is solely based on merit and hard work.”
“Social media has been a huge asset,” Maida continues. “It has given not only models but also many influencers and bloggers a platform to connect with their audiences. It has completely revolutionized how models retain work and it gives multiple opportunities for them to show their true selves.”
Frieha believes that social media has been a game-changer for models and designers as well, making it essential to keep up with the times. “If you’re not with the times,” she states, “you’re not going to succeed.”
Interestingly, from a designer’s perspective, Fahad Husayn shared what he holds important while searching for faces to represent his brand.
“I particularly don’t promote or like overly sexualized, improved versions that people now believe in,” he states. “I like simplicity and girls who are unique-looking. I prefer somebody with great skin, rather than somebody with great followership.
“I do have a particular profile that I look for in models,” Fahad continues. “I want their backgrounds and associations with other brands to be good. I don’t appreciate a lot of plasticities.”
Preferences aside, he also talks about whether or not a model’s social circle is of any importance to him as a designer.
“I actually don’t care about their social circle. I care about their portfolios and what kind of brands they’re associated with. Anyone who fits into the character is on.”
HSY, too, shared his insight regarding the same, stating that he must immediately like the individual’s look.
“The face, the body language are all very important to me,” he states. “Now, with social media again being a part and parcel of what you’re doing, you also want to pick people who resonate with the ethos of your brand.”
Subhan Awan also weighed in on this matter, sharing what he believes plays a pivotal role in models signing deals with brands.
“Although your social circle provides a better platform,” he states, “I believe that if one has the required talent and a charismatic personality, he can get better opportunities than those who have a stronger social circle or connections.”
Robina Khan believes merit and connections go hand in hand. However, she states that there’s possibly a limit to how far you can get without any real talent.
“Having the right connections will get you to the right places faster,” she explains. “However, that route will only take you so far. Ultimately people appreciate and remember you for your talent. Hard work and talent pay off in the end. And I say this with experience. I started with no connections – only a willingness to learn and grow, and look at me now. I’ve received recognition for my talent thus far.”
Robina does, however, believe that she has social media to thank to a great extent as well, for it empowered her enough to share her work without relying on others.
“It’s given me a lot more power over my work,” she states. “I can connect directly with my fans and even employers.”
No industry for old (or young) men?
While the argument around merit playing a greater role as opposed to one’s connections can go either way, one aspect that must be looked into is the fact that regardless of talent, male models tend to suffer within the industry.
Fashion is perhaps one of the few industries in which the gender wage gap is reversed, where male models have fewer opportunities and make less money, as compared to female models.
“Fashion is not male-centric,” says Samra, offering an explanation regarding this prevalent issue. “Men are just not frequent shoppers – especially in Pakistan where they generally buy on occasions, events or just keep repeating the same set of clothes till they are worn out.”
“Male fashion also doesn’t have many changes in trends, nor does it offer a wider variety – as compared to women’s fashion. The frequency of work is just lesser in comparison to women and in comparison to how many boys are ready to model. This demand and supply game is defining the gender wage differential as well.”
Maida, too, agrees that the gender wage gap exists, as male models have fewer opportunities.
“There are only a handful of designers that focus on men’s wear,” she states. “Work generally is limited for them. Thus, they might be willing to work at lower costs. It is a total demand and supply scenario, and even if PR agencies set higher quotations for their male clients, the work will be less as no client will be willing to work at that price.”
However, Frieha Altaf believes that this disparity exists simply because female models are harder to find, as opposed to male models who are, according to her, “a dime a dozen.” She believes that female models know their worth and they charge more accordingly.
From a designer’s perspective, HSY stated that it was unfortunate to even be having a conversation around the gender wage gap in this day and age, when countless movements have been spearheaded that demand equality in all spheres of life.
Fahad, however, places the onus of this gender wage gap on the choices people make within this country when it comes to fashion.
“Men in this country are not fashion-forward,” he states. “We just don’t have the client. There are no fashion-forward men, and the ones who are, don’t want to invest in things that we want to make. Then, the menswear industry doesn’t grow.”
Subhan believes that male buying power is lower than female buying power and he feels that eliminating the wage gap presently is a rather cumbersome task.
“Most of the male models aren’t aware of their worth,” he adds, agreeing with Frieha’s train of thought, “which leads them to start working for free or at minimal rates, just to avoid losing the project.”
Robina is of the belief that while the gender wage gap does exist, it’s simply because women tend to get more recognition for their efforts.
“In this particular industry,” she explains, “I feel women do get recognition for their efforts which ultimately leads to them being paid a lot more. But to be fair, this is only the case because there are a lot more women in this industry than men.”
Breaking the cycle
While the merit versus social circle debate has not been settled, the existence of the wage gap does swing the argument against the former, for even a meritorious male model may not be earning the same as his female counterpart, Can this pattern be broken? And if yes, what can be done to break it?
“Personally as a consultant,” Samra states, “I always tell people wanting to work in the industry (men or women) to multitask and not be locked to modeling only. That means finding more avenues to work – singing, hosting, acting, behind the camera work. Even within the industry, widen your scope – and that’s the best route to being less vulnerable to exploitation. When you are a new person – you should try all your luck.”
Perhaps wearing different hats, as Samra explains, does guarantee a certain level of safety and allows one to meritoriously earn more and have more outlets to showcase one’s talent.
However, Maida believes that PR agencies cannot play a huge role in this disparity, as change must be observed on a larger scale.
“There needs to be a mutual understanding between models,” Maida explains, “and a set wage that they collectively agree upon in order to avoid any sort of exploitation.”
Perhaps, there will come a time when these questions will have definitive answers – answers that vary greatly in a positive way. Regardless of when that point in time arrives, it can be assumed that the existing designers, models and PR agencies that constitute the aforementioned gold that glitters within our fashion industry have to play the biggest role in bringing about this change, ensuring that, when all is said and done, merit truly does reign supreme.