Khaadi’s Megastore has met with accolades but is the retail juggernaut going in the right direction?

Pakistani retail giant Khaadi recently opened their largest store in Pakistan, the Khaadi Megastore, at Dolmen Mall, Clifton: a massive 21,500 square meters of retail space. Is this one of Pakistan’s foremost retailers flexing its muscle or a belated attempt by Khaadi to regain its prime position?

Shamoon Sultan has created a retail juggernaut - but has Khaadi sacrificed too much in the name of expansion?
Shamoon Sultan has created a retail juggernaut – but has Khaadi sacrificed too much in the name of expansion?

Khaadi is one of Pakistan’s biggest retail success stories. From a single store in Zamzama focusing on hand-loom fabric, Khaadi now has over 60 stores across Pakistan along with stores in the UK, Malaysia and Dubai. Their lines include Prêt, Unstitched Fabric, Menswear, Khaadi Khaas (featuring exclusive and limited-edition pieces), Childrenswear, Accessories and Homewares.

Khaadi Megastore Karachi
Khaadi Megastore Karachi

Khaadi was arguably the pioneer of affordable pret in Pakistan. At one point, it was a brand that simply everyone wore – from teenagers to grannies. Such was its cachet that it was the “gift of choice” for many. Legions of people have worn their kurtas and embroidered tights, with the brand continuing to grow even when its success led to customers fearing that Khaadi designs were becoming too “common”. However, in recent years, Khaadi has lost ground to newcomers like Sapphire and to brands that have upped their game such as Ideas and Generation.

 

Generation, for example, is an old brand that has completely revamped its image.

Generation Pakistan

 

“I find myself pleasantly surprised each time I go to Generation. Their original brand image was a boring three-piece Lahori look but now they’re snazzy and fresh,” said one young working woman.

Generation’s turnaround is a combination of savvy marketing and a genuine focus on design. They stock a mix of silhouettes and fabrics, using both print and texture for effect. You will see shalwars and palazzos at the store, embroidered kurtas and digital pants. There’s even a harem jumpsuit in the latest collection. Their store is an engaging mix of the traditional and fashion-forward.

Harem jumpsuit by Generation
Harem jumpsuit by Generation

Meanwhile their marketing, particularly their digital marketing, is ground-breaking in many ways. One fan declared,

“Their Facebook page is fantastic – it’s an online tribute to women.”

Artwork by Shezil Malik posted by Generation on their Facebook page
Artwork by Shezil Malik posted by Generation on their Facebook page

 

As well as featuring their own campaigns, the page features art and cultural events and highlights the work of various inspirational women.

 

Shoppers at Sapphire
Shoppers at Sapphire

Sapphire, meanwhile, was a game-changer when it appeared on the scene. Their prints had a fresh appeal and they added a great deal to the market. Initial offerings included newspaper prints with colourful birds appliqued on and other quirky concepts. They put a lot of effort into detailing and won on both creativity and price point. The designs no longer look as novel as they once did but the brand has established itself.

Sapphire is a phenomenon of its own, quickly attaining cult status, but others have also been growing at phenomenal rates – ranging from 30-50% year-on-year. Some smaller brands even report doubling their sales but what is key is that most fashion-forward pret brands have seen major growth at a time when the economy has not grown (or maybe has even shrunk slightly). In other words the pie has not grown, so other labels must have been eating into Khaadi’s market share.

Customers have complained that there’s nothing exciting in store:

“There was a time when their price point and design element seemed too good to be true. Of late, however, the collections seem lackluster. I think there are so many more exciting options out there,” said one shopper.

A selection from Khaadi's online store
A selection from Khaadi’s online store

 

When asked about this, Khaadi’s response is that they are seeing healthy growth:

“We are striving to remain relevant to all consumers. The current pret launch should address the customer complaint as there is something for everyone given that we are constantly changing our design ethos.

Current sales are showing an upward trajectory and numbers are going up in a healthy manner. We are very excited about healthy competition because it forces us to question and challenge ourselves. It enables us to think of other design possibilities.”

 

The megastore launch certainly made quite a splash. It featured live performances by Sara Haider and Zoe Viccaji and was attended by some of the most powerful people in Pakistani fashion including a sizeable press contingent flown in from Lahore. Part of the success of the event was due to the goodwill that Khaadi and Shamoon Sultan have built over the years. It is a brand that has always trumpeted its pride in Pakistan and one that has led the pack in many ways over the years.

 

Zoe Viccaji, Shamoon Sultan & Sara Haider
Zoe Viccaji, Shamoon Sultan & Sara Haider at the store launch

 

Lately however, Khaadi seems to have lost its edge from a fashion perspective. In focusing on expansion rather than innovation, the product mix no longer looks fresh. Particularly it terms of pret, Khaadi seems to have lost its direction with a diffuse range of designs that have no signature and no emphasis on silhouette. Khaadi’s fabric is another success story that has suffered from an emphasis on quantity. Their recent unstitched collection featured around 100 designs, inevitably resulting in some repetition and compromise in design. In trying to cater to everyone, perhaps Khaadi has lost its soul.

 

These Khaadi Khaas silk pants are reminiscent of a Sapphire staple
These Khaadi Khaas silk pants are reminiscent of a Sapphire staple

 

Then there is the question of retail strategy. The spacious new megastore carries all Khaadi’s lines, from cushions to kurtas but is the new store too big? Some customers have mentioned being daunted by the sheer size of the store and have hesitated before venturing in. One rival retailer opined,

“There’s a herd mentality. People tend to spend more where they see others buying, but a crowd that may seem large in a small store will hardly make a mark in a store this size.”

Moreover, the pret range is almost the same as was available in the old store: there’s simply more stock rather than a better use of the space, which doesn’t tackle Khaadi’s current core issue of looking passé.

 

“Initially, when would go to their shop I would fall in love with their prints and I would always end up picking up something or another. Now when I go in, I really have to think and ponder what to buy,” said one customer.

I find their stitching of good quality taking the price into account. Having said that, I struggle to find designs that I like in-store these days whereas it used to be fairly easy a couple of years ago,” said another.

Market intelligence indicates that Khaadi have seen an actual dip in sales since the launch of the new store. This may partly be attributed to the change in location. The old store is in a more prominent location and some regular customers may simply have failed to venture further into the mall towards the new store. As consumers adjust to the new location, this may change. Anyone who has seen the crowds that Khaadi pulls in when there is a sale knows that the brand has not lost its relevance just yet.

 

“I have such a nostalgic fondness for Khaadi. Plus, it’s such a success story for Pakistan; I’m always proud of the brand and how it’s grown. However, I wish they would go a little easy on the bright colours, which are difficult to pull off in a professional environment,” said one fan.

“Even if I haven’t picked anything from Khaadi in a while, I will always check out their store when I’m at the mall – partly out of habit I suppose but also because I have worn many lovely outfits from Khaadi,” said another.

A Friday afternoon visit to the store showed plenty of customers who mentioned Khaadi’s quality and familiarity as reasons to shop there.

“Khaadi’s my comfort zone – I know I will always find something here,” said one shopper.

With the comfort of a loyal clientele, Khaadi has been focusing on backward integration and investing in state-of-the-art factories. Taking charge of production enables Khaadi to keep prices low, always a major plus, but the core product is as important as price and the shopping experience.

There are signs that Khaadi is innovating yet again. Shamoon Sultan has indicated that he has kept the old Khaadi store in Dolmen, which he will use to go back to Khaadi’s handloom roots. He is also showing a new Khaas collection at PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week that marries hand-woven fabrics with Swarovski crystals.

A sneak peek of the new Khaadi Khaas PSFW collection
A sneak peek of the new Khaadi Khaas PSFW collection

Hopefully their mass-market ranges will also see a resurgence in creativity and a streamlining of design. Khaadi still have a major share of the pret market but must counter the perception that they have peaked. Having a diverse range of lines and a wide network of stores is not enough. It is vital to ensure that your core business combines a distinct aesthetic, invention and that fashion-forward vibe that keeps customers coming back for more.

As little as three years ago Khaadi could afford to depend on brand loyalty but retail has changed. The advent of the mall culture and the pret revolution Khaadi themselves triggered has meant that shoppers today are pulled in a dozen different directions. If you don’t catch a mall-goers attention immediately, they will move on. With a creative team that has a strong background in textile and design, Khaadi definitely has the potential to regain their former pole position. Megastores are all very well but at the end of the day, it’s the product that matters.

Salima Feerasta
Author

Salima Feerasta is chief editor of Karachista.com and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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