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Pakistan's first Raymond

Suit-able timing

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BRAND WAGON: In men's fashion, the name sells more than the quality, says Najmus Saqib (above, in his showroom), whose company acquired Raymond's franchising rights in Pakistan

A growing number of Pakistani men are choosing western wear for formal occasions, even as Raymond sets up its first store in Karachi.

That a man isn't complete without a Raymond suit is a belief that still holds true for Najmus Saqib, 24. The young director of NexSource has built an entire sales pitch around this idea to mark the launch of the popular Indian suiting brand in Pakistan. "Raymond has been raring to come to Pakistan for the past few years now, " Saqib says, revealing the company has been arranging textile exhibitions in the country for the last two to three years before the official launch of The Raymonds Shop, the first of which opened on June 21 in Clifton, Karachi. The response to the exhibits was encouraging enough for NexSource to acquire franchising rights for Pakistan.

The stylishly-stitched salwar-kurta with a dapper vest or sherwani has always been the preferred choice of formal wear for Pakistani men. But in recent years there has been a palpable shif towards western attire, especially among the country's fashion forward executives and designer junkies. In winters, men are seen in suits, with some even opting to wear a classic three-piece for their weddings, instead of customary attire. Respected local brands like Moosajee Sons, Amir Adnan and Munib Nawaz have been expanding operations, albeit at a slow pace, and Mens Store a multi-label fashion boutique set up in 1995 to bring international brands like Gucci and Armani to Pakistan, today has outlets in all major cities.

It is in this market that Raymond has launched, a month ahead of Eid, which kicks off the country's busiest shopping season. And given that Satya Paul, the last major Indian fashion brand to open a standalone store in the country in 2007 offering a large collection of printed saris, suits and ties closed a year into business, Saqib reveals that Raymond wants to proceed with caution. "The company does not want us to target elite clients;it has asked us to start with one small outlet and hold off on any plans of expansion for now, " Saqib says. Their concern is justified. India and Pakistan are both textile exporters, and there are sectors where the two compete internationally. "But in some categories, they complement one another and can find lucrative domestic markets on both sides of the border, " says businessman Amin Hashwani, who is involved in the peace initiative Aman Ki Asha. Trade pacts, and relations at large, haven't been smooth between both countries. As Saqib puts it, "If the relationship nosedives, our supply from India gets blocked. "

Local businessmen are looking forward to the competition. Anwar Moosajee, owner of Moosajee Sons, Karachi's best-known men's clothing store, says, "We have been a traditional choice for families for the last 45 years. Generations upon generations get their suits made from us. Raymond has the same reputation. " His brother Munawwar, who owns A Moosajee in Defense, Karachi, is slightly more sceptical. "Their fabrics are a lot coarser then the ones we make locally. And their prices are high. If I can get a nice suit made for, let's say, PKR 7, 000, why would I spend PKR 15, 000 or 30, 000 for that matter?" Moosajee, renowned for their pure wool, charges PKR 8, 000 for stitching while Raymond's stitched suits of pure Egyptian cotton fabric are priced between PKR 15, 000 and 30, 000.

Omer Farooq, a menswear fashion designer and CEO of his label Republic, also believes that Raymond will need to adjust prices for the Pakistani market. "Republic is considered highend. Indian brands that want to be affordable cannot charge these rates, " he says, revealing that his day suits, priced upwards PKR 14, 000 and evening wear PKR 30, 000 are at the top end of the local market.

But Saqib counters these claims, saying, "In men's fashion the name sells more than the quality. It is all about the brand and you cannot get bigger than Raymond. " He says he knows of customers who travel to Dubai to buy their Raymond suits. At the soft launch in Karachi last year, which was publicised with billboards and flyers, people wanted to know if this was the same Raymond brand whose TV commercials they watched on the Indian channels. Initial response to the store has been equally enthusiastic. "It has exceeded my expectations. People here are just as passionate about fashion as anywhere in the world, " he says, concluding by sharing his plans for two more retail outlets in Lahore and Islamabad.

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