With a dash of sugar, spice and everything nice, children's ready-to-wear is slowly making a move into the local market. With Eid right around the corner, shalwar kameezes are the need of the hour and that's what designers are focusing on. And it's about time too. While there has always been plenty of Western clothing to choose from, Eastern wear options for children have usually been limited. Scared off by the grotesquely blingy, oft-uncomfortable shalwar kameezes produced by a handful of local brands, desperate mothers have so far had no other choice but to run to the tailor - and we all know what a huge hassle that can be. But with time, Pakistani fashion sensibilities are changing and people no longer want to waste their energies on multiple trips to tailors. With multi-labels popping up by the dozens and fashion weeks galore, ready-to-wear is the way to go for adults and, designers are beginning to realize, also for children.
The West caught on to the money-minting, selling power of children's clothing long, long ago. Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Burberry and Calvin Klein are only some of the brands that have branched out and built up a strong customer-base for their children's clothing lines. A few weeks before the UK-based department store Debenhams opened in Karachi, Yasin Paracha, the man orchestrating the project, told me that he expected children's clothing to sell the most at the store. Drawing from his experience as CEO of Team A Ventures, the company that is also behind children's clothing labels like Mothercare, Next and Monsoon, he explained, I've seen parents buy clothes that will fit their children in a few years just because they like the designs. That's the kind of pull that children's apparel and accessories has.
This 'pull', of course, increases manifold at Eid, when parents are more than happy to spend bucket loads on that one gorgeous shalwar kameez for their little girl or boy. The holy month of Ramazan culminates with some quite unholy, heavy-duty bouts of shopping and that's where our designers come in - Nomi Ansari with his whimsical Bubbles and retail brand Daaman with their Kids line, both created for fashion-savvy little girls. There's Eid stock available at Karma Princess which is Maheen Kardar Ali's clothing line for girls. Nida Azwer, who has also been creating children's clothing for some time now, similarly has a brand new collection for girls as well as oft-ignored little boys. Furthermore, Khaadi Kids is expected to launch soon after Eid, with clothing for both boys and girls.
The current options are adorable. Bubbles is a miniaturized version of Nomi Ansari's designs for older women, complete with delicate embroidery, sequins and bright splashes of color. Daaman, with its flair for cuts, prints and sophisticated minimalism, has created chic halters and strappy numbers in cotton for little girls. Both very pretty options but as different as chalk and cheese. Nomi, who has sporadically designed clothes for his clients' children in the past, has brought forth a formal collection, clothes that girls can wear on Eid and then repeat in the wedding season that follows thereafter. The prices, consequently, are high, rising to the giddy heights above Rs 10000 in some cases.
Daaman, on the other hand, keeps things simple and prices low. The options for kids are very limited - as Maleeha Chaudhry, the woman behind the brand, explains, the current line-up is just a dry run before they launch all out. These may not be clothes for a wedding but they're something better: very cool, utterly classy style statements for the fashion-conscious little girl. And with all the few designs in the shops priced at just Rs 1800, they're complete bargains. We do plan to design more formal clothing as wedding-wear but I am going to make sure that prices are reasonable, Maleeha professes. As a mother, I know just how fast children grow and it's impractical to charge exorbitant sums for clothes that won't even fit them by the next year.
A noble thought by Daaman, one that hasn't yet occurred to the other designers in the business who charge steep prices for their children's designs. This is basically because the focus is primarily on wedding wear: Karma Princess, with its embellished Karma-esque designs; Nida Azwer, who replicates her screen-prints and embroideries onto smaller sizes and Nomi Ansari's colorful chiffon and silk creations. These are certainly not clothes that a child can wear to a casual lunch or even comfortably wear on a hot Eid day. Daaman's collection of cotton clothing, however, is an easy breezy option for Eid and beyond.
And it makes sense. Why encumber little children with swathes of jamawar when they can look just as dressed up in beautifully designed cotton? Also, unless there's a big wedding in the family, a stylish Eid shalwar kameez that can later become day-wear is so much more practical than an exorbitant heavily formal suit that a child will only wear once or twice before growing out of it.
In this April's Fashion Pakistan Week, international brands Monsoon and Next showed their children's lines where cotton casuals dominated amidst the occasional ruffles and taffeta creations. Meanwhile, Karma Princess, on the ramps of the PFDC's Sunsilk Fashion Week Two, preferred to highlight its girly party wear; ghararas, lehngas, frilly dresses, etc. One also remembers Nida Azwer's Mughal-inspired children's line at last year's PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week. She had children from the SOS village walk the ramp for her and was heavily criticized for exposing them to a lifestyle and clothing that was far too expensive and that they may never have.
Too expensive, too formal
perhaps it's now time for designers to consider mixing in cost-effective casuals with their pricey formals. Once they manage this particular achievement, they need to focus on one of the main principles of retail: availability. Currently, Nomi's fledgling 'Bubbles' is only available at Ensemble in Karachi although he does eventually plan to stock it in other parts of the country. Ensemble, though, is an apt choice for 'Bubbles', considering that the stores' high-end clientele would find the prices far more within their means. Daaman Kids and Karma Princess are stocked at the stores' outlets as well as a few pieces in multi-labels like The Designers in the case of Karma. Nida Azwer's children's collection is available at her Karachi-based studio and also sells through online orders - hardly accessible to the masses.
The game will probably be upped by Khaadi. It's the ability to understand and cater extensively to a mass market that has made Khaadi the hugely popular label that it is today. With outlets sprinkled liberally all over the country, Khaadi's children's line will surely be more accessible to the public. According to Shamoon Sultan, the brand's CEO, the clothes will be constructed out of Khaadi's quintessential 100% cotton and priced well below Rs 2000 in most cases.
Khaadi, being the very business-savvy label that it is, has a history of taking hold of a trend and flying with it. Even while other labels take small tentative steps, creating exclusive designs, Shamoon Sultan's thinking extensive distribution. Although only time will tell how Khaadi Kids will fare, mass market is definitely the way to go. The trend for designer children's clothing has certainly arrived and this is the time when designers can mass-produce, price effectively and carve a niche in the market. Judging from the way fashion works in Pakistan - never one designer lawn, many; never one fashion week; many - we could very well be having many children's designer labels by next year. It had the editor of Xpoze, Andleeb Rana, postulating on Twitter if we should now expect a 'Children's fashion week'? You never know, of course - there's already a separate Men's Fashion Week scheduled to take place later this year - but while yet another fashion week, this time for children, is certainly a daunting thought, it's heartening to see this new sartorial market gain strength and open up a whole new avenue for fashion.