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Life & Style

‘Natural fit’: Pakistan’s fashion industry makes presence felt in Dubai

  • CEO and co-founder of Sania Maskatiya, Umair Tabani, says company scaling up both at home and in Dubai
Published February 5, 2024

The gulf’s glitziest city with its cosmopolitan push is becoming more diverse, and attracting different industries from Pakistan – including fashion – as brands look to grow their businesses and expand their international footprint.

Solo fashion exhibits and collectives have become more common in Dubai in recent years, as their synergistic quality provides an exciting neutral ground for people of all nationalities to come together and experience exchange of ideas and wares.

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Describing Dubai as a “melting pot” of cultures and nationalities, CEO and co-founder of Sania Maskatiya, Umair Tabani, said that while sales at their brand in Pakistan have recovered from the downturn of 2022/2023, the company has since been scaling up both at home and in Dubai.

Having begun exhibiting in Dubai around ten years ago with a series of both Indian and Pakistani fashion collectives, the brand has been able to scale slowly while building a roster of clientele.

For the last two years, they have been holding solo exhibits in Dubai.

“The MENA region is quite diverse, with so much opportunity,” Tabani told Business Recorder. “Between the Pakistani, Indian and Arab diaspora, there is a lot of potential. It’s also transient with many people passing through there so the possibilities are really endless.”

Among those exhibiting in Dubai this season include Afra, The Vibe, Curated by Zahraa along with solo exhibits by Pakistani designers Nida Azwer and Misha Lakhani.

One of those collectives is SoPritti, founded by Pritti Nanda in 2011, who originates from Bombay, but has been living in Dubai for 40 years. It regularly features a variety of designers from India, Pakistan, UAE and Hong Kong.

“The decision to unite Indian and Pakistani designers was an obvious one,” she told Business Recorder.

Their upcoming exhibit will be held on February 10.

“Dubai, a melting pot of diverse nationalities and backgrounds, has been a hub where we not only co-exist harmoniously but also admire each other’s cultures and fashion.”

“The collaboration is truly a win-win scenario. Indian and Pakistani shoppers gain access to a broader spectrum of designs, creating a cultural exchange.

“Simultaneously, designers enjoy the opportunity to explore new markets and expand their reach,” she added.

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Nanda further highlighted the camaraderie formed by the regular cultural exchange between the regions.

“One of the most heartwarming outcomes of our initiatives are the deepened connections among our regular exhibitors.

“Designers from Ludhiana or Mumbai eagerly anticipate reunions with their now-cherished friends from Karachi or Lahore, formed through years of participating in events together,” she added.

Tenuous relations between the two countries means that cross-border events have become less frequent, but Dubai is seen as a way to bring artists and brands together. The recently-held Jashn-e-Rekhta festival, aimed at highlighting and promoting the importance of the Urdu language, was another example.

Interestingly, the two nationalities also have common ground when it comes to buying property in Dubai. Indians emerged as the top buyers of Dubai real estate in 2023, while Pakistanis were placed seventh and also surpassed purchases from last year.

Tabani also spoke about the multi-dimensional clientele the city offers.

“It snowballs each time we exhibit. We have regular clients as well as new ones.

“It’s also easily accessible for our Indian clients who cannot travel to Pakistan, including Pakistani expats who do not necessarily visit Pakistan.

“70-80% of our customers are Indian, who are looking to buy specifically Pakistani fashion and silhouettes,” he added.

Whether that influences the brand’s design ethos, Tabani says they stay true to their DNA, with slight modifications for Indian and Arab clients.

“If we can continue to evolve our product, we can further target the Arab diaspora as well.”

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The brand first began exhibiting with the multi-brand stores in Dubai which eventually led to them participating in several exhibits through the years.

Sasha, a Pakistani expat now living in Dubai, regularly attends curated selection of exhibits especially prior to a festive season.

“Because of the huge Indian and Pakistani diaspora, festivals like Eid and Diwali are widely celebrated here,” she told Business Recorder.

“While we do have options for Indian and Pakistani fabric and clothing at Meena Bazaar, we miss popular contemporary designs straight out of designer ateliers,” she added.

“Until they set up independent storefronts in the gulf region, this is the best way to pick up ready-to-wear, and order custom couture. The personal service some of the solo exhibits offer is outstanding, so I do return regularly to a few of my favourites when they are in town.”

While Tabani states increased sales and visibility is great, the exhibits also work well for branding and marketing purposes. The practice is holistically strategic for business success and further entrenchment in the market.

Holding solo exhibits also has additional benefits. The brand is able to better cater to their clients by providing a larger variety of products, take a larger space and provide a larger team of sales associates, thus enhancing customer service experience.

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Another integral part of the business is social media marketing which Tabani says they are investing more in, which follows through in the form of sales returns.

Their campaign, in anticipation of the exhibit and the festive season, saw them tap into influencers based in the UAE for further brand recognition and awareness. “We are consciously trying to target the Middle East and international markets, in order to get more visibility.”

“We ran an aggressive campaign last year and followed up with this one again, which provides a fresh perspective also.”

Speaking about future plans, Tabani said that they would like to eventually set up a flagship retail presence in the UAE, when the time is right, citing Dubai as a “natural fit” for their very first international retail footprint.

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