Thursday, February 29, 2024

A marriage made in retail heaven – Sapphire brings a touch of Elan to the Pakistani High Street

Aiming to provide an affordable range of quality pret with designer flair, Sapphire is hoping to emulate the sort of fast fashion model that international retail giants Zara use.

The first Sapphire store opened its doors this Friday at Dolmen mall, at a media launch that turned into a shopping frenzy. Media and close friends were invited to shop, which they did with enthusiasm, but general mall goers also crashed the launch. They may have come to get a first look at the long-awaited store but once in, they stayed to shop.

The shopping frenzy at Sapphire on opening night
Happy shoppers at Sapphire

The store is a retail collaboration between the Sapphire Group and Khadijah Shah of Elan. Sapphire aims to offer designer pret and fabric at affordable prices and stocks everything from basic cotton kurtas to full-fledged embroidered formals in silks and chiffons.

Sapphire has the potential to be one of the giants of the Pakistani high street

Sapphire is, in a nutshell, high-street heaven. Khadijah Shah’s influence is palpable from the moment you step into the store. The interior is contemporary chic in wood and stone with oriental accents – a high street store with an upmarket feel. The clothes themselves have the sort of flair you would expect from Shah.

Newsprint kurta at Sapphire
Digitally printed silk tunics priced around Rs8000

Sapphire’s Director Nabeel Abdullah says,

“We chose Khadijah because she is simply the best. Her design aesthetic is unmatched and we have a similar vision for the store. Neither of us is prepared to compromise on quality or design. We want to build an extraordinary brand that offers high quality, chic clothing for everyone.”

Shah’s prints are creative and include quirky newsprint and shikari scenes as well as florals and abstract patterns. There is an extra-ordinary level of detailing, with even cotton kurtas having interesting twists. Inevitably a few of the colours and prints are reminiscent of other high street brands but where this happens, the detailing sets the outfits apart.

Models show of Sapphire’s cotton line

While the cotton kurtas and unstitched fabric are bound to become wardrobe staples for many women, it is Sapphire’s semi-formal line that is really reaching out to an untapped market. Their silk tunics and embroidered silk pants have real designer appeal and are attractively priced.

These silk pants are priced at Rs7,500
The digitally printed silk kurta and embroidered silk pants reach out to an untapped market for semi-formals

The price points are firmly mass market throughout, starting at just Rs2,200 for stitched cotton kurtas. Their semi-formal line includes digitally printed silk kurtas at around the Rs8,000 mark, as well as fabric for 3-piece suits at around Rs6,500.

Sapphire’s formal range is priced around Rs40,000

Their formal line is a little pricey – at Rs40,000 an outfit these are not for the average budget. When you look at the quality of the fabric, the intricate embroidery and the elaborate trimming, it’s possible to justify the pricing. The formals do have that Elan vibe – in pretty pastels with intricate silver and pearl embroidery, the ensembles were beautiful.

Gorgeous details on Sapphire’s formals
Intricate detailing by Khadijah Shah

However, there is a real need for great formals at around the Rs25,000 mark and it’s stores like Sapphire that should be giving options in this range. (I should point out that when I revisited the store the next day, quite a few of these formals had already been sold)

Sapphire is an incredibly exciting prospect for Pakistan’s high street. They have adopted a “fast fashion” model, like Zara, whereby they will introduce new designs every two weeks. Nabeel is confident that they can meet the manufacturing constraints.

Unstitched suits are also available at Sapphire

“The Sapphire Group has been exporting to buyers in the US and Europe for many years. These clients only accept the very highest quality and we have learned a lot over the years. We are now bringing this expertise to the local market.”

Sapphire is certainly one of those Pakistani mills that produces great quality fabric – local buyers will have seen this when Sapphire partnered with Sania Maskatiya for her award-winning lawn collection in 2013.

The Sapphire Group is not the first mill to open a retail outlet but it is the first one to do so with serious designer firepower.

The store has a contemporary chic

Gul Ahmed relies on their in-house designers while Al-Karam brings in top-name designers for certain lines – they have just announced a collaboration with Sania Maskatiya. Sapphire’s model is different. Shah is the Creative Director of Sapphire and has complete creative charge of Sapphire. She is responsible for all design decisions from the look of the store and the bags right down to the every outfit on the shop floor.

Shoppers browse at Sapphire

It’s an extraordinary task for any top-flight designer to take on, when they have their own design house to run. Shah’s signature brand Elan has bridal and pret ranges as well as a casual range, Elan Vital. Sapphire’s fast fashion model requires around 40 new designs a month. Taking on Sapphire is a huge commitment but Shah is confident that she is up to the challenge.

“Elan is very much a high-end, niche brand. The sort of luxury intricacy that is central to Elan could never be affordable for the mass market. I had a great response with my lawn and knew that there was scope for marketing my aesthetic to a wider audience.

The partnership with Sapphire group is ideal because of their manufacturing expertise. I can rely on them to produce large quantities without compromising on quality.

It all works because Elan has never been a one-horse outfit. I have a design team that I have hand-picked and trained. I monitor them continuously but a well-trained team frees me to concentrate on my forte, design.

I’ve extended the model to include the Sapphire design team. The entire creative operation is in-house under my eye. The Sapphire and Elan teams work side-by-side and that lets me keep a close rein on the entire design process. Of course it helps that I’m a complete workaholic.”

Khadijah Shah at work in her studio

Sapphire is planning to open two stores in Lahore by mid-January and then will look further afield. If they can maintain this level of quality and design, Sapphire is destined to become one of the most popular stores on the Pakistani high-street.

A version of this article by Chief Editor Salima Feerasta first appeared in the Express Tribune

Copyright 2015 Karachista. All rights reserved
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerasta is chief editor of and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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