Establishing and sustaining a business in the Pakistani fashion industry is a lot like survival of the fittest.
Your brand’s image, consistency in delivering top-quality products and ultimate sartorial cred will help it thrive in the market. But how lucrative can the business be when originality is running low?
The world of knock-off fashion
Razzaq is one of the many retailers who profits from the piracy of lawn prints and remains unfazed by the ethically questionable nature of his business.
In the blistering heat of Karachi he slides open the shutters of his shop tucked away in one corner of the Aashiana Market at 4pm. His shop is stocked with folds of thick and fine quality fabric. With tasteful tailoring these fabrics will resemble any A-list designer lawn.
Razzaq has a wide range of prints with extravagant embellishments to match. From tunics with fine thread-work to crisp cottons with sequin bead-work, he has it all.
“The best-selling outfits so far are the ones that come from big known-designers like Faraz Manan, Élan, Sana Safinaz and Maria B,” he says as he reaches for a couple of designs to spread on the table for display.
Razzaq is not the only one who keeps the wheels of piracy turning in Pakistan. The ease of copyright infringement keeps low-price retailers like him well in business. Razzaq attracts buyers for various reasons ranging from easy accessibility to affordability that targets consumers who want the latest but without the hefty price tag.
“The knock-offs simply dilute the market,” says Safinaz Muneer, creative head at Sana Safinaz.
How piracy takes place
Safinaz explains that retailers get access to the designer lawn immediately after its launch and that allows them to replicate the designs on an inferior quality fabric. The knock-off lawn features similar patterns and softer construction. These replicas combine lawn shirts, cotton shalwars and an array of chiffon and silk dupattas with such finesse that one finds it hard to differentiate the original from the copy.
The practice of lawn-imitators jumping onto a collection immediately upon its release does have its repercussions.
Taking legal action
Designers that are blatantly copied by others are now making sure their designs are copyrighted prior to their release. Most of them have a copyright registration with law firms like Ali & Associates that seek for action regarding copyright infringement.
“We have done almost 10-12 raids a year. This is simply because we can’t let these knock-offs go. We have to keep the pressure up and let them know we’re not okay with it,” says Safinaz
According to advocate Hanya Haroon, legal action is taken according to criminal and civil law. Here, either the police are sent on a raid to illegal retailers and manufacturers or the matter is taken to court where non-disclosed settlement between designers and imitators is signed.
What makes the detection of piracy harder is that there are plenty of cases where the printers that lawn brands work with themselves are leaking information. The blueprints of designs are sold under the table to piracy manufacturers during the production of the originals.
However, because the designers are actively making an attempt to copyright their designs, they take it upon themselves to alert the firm about the violation and have a raid action carried out against printers, embroideries and retailers, consistently.
Once the designer informs their law firm, Ali & Associates in Sana Safinaz’s case, the legal team contacts the local police team and accompanies them at raids against the imitators.
“I don’t see piracy as a threat though, only because it doesn’t affect us much. Clients who want quality product will buy our lawn in any case. Our sales don’t really decrease,” says Faraz Manan
“We have done almost 10-12 raids a year. This is simply because we can’t let these knock-offs go. We have to keep the pressure up and let them know we’re not okay with it,” says Safinaz.
The action against imitators is usually taken under three main provisions: Section 74 of the Copyright Ordinance, on the powers of the police to raid and search premises; Section 60 of the Ordinance speaks of civil remedies for infringement of copyright; and the latest Cyber Crime Bill 2015.
“Time is of the essence in these cases because raid teams usually need to catch piracy in the act. The replica production usually takes place during early hours of morning or night,” Hanya explains.
Once caught, there is no going back for these imitators. They are penalised and can no longer sell pirated lawn.
Other routes to fight piracy
Seeking assistance from the law is one way of fighting the fashion pirate. But barring a legal route, designers do try to make their products unique enough so imitators won’t be able to successfully copy their designs.
“One way to make it difficult for the imitators to copy though, is by adding silk, sequins and chiffon to our lawn collection,” explains designer Faraz Manan, whose name is synonymous with trendy, modern designs.
“I don’t see piracy as a threat though, only because it doesn’t affect us much. Clients who want quality product will buy our lawn in any case. Our sales don’t really decrease,” adds Faraz.
In this way, designers are using their brand’s persona, consistency to deliver top-quality products to thrive. They are trying to remain unfazed by the competition and imitators by letting the consumers understand their brand philosophy which primarily surrounds around glamour, luxury and versatility.
“I have always said that Sana Safinaz is a value added brand. You can buy a lawn suit and transform it in 20 ways to wear it. You can separate the silk patti from the daman, or use the embellished neck on another plain suit,” explains Safinaz. “There’s a reason Sana Safinaz is the most sought after lawn till date.”
Designers are also understanding that there are many who cannot afford their high-end lawn. They are coming out with casual ready-to- wear lines for consumers who desire ‘quality workmanship and finesse’ while on a limited budget. Running a ready-to-wear line alongside luxury lawn, under the same brand label is done in attempts to appeal to a wider market of consumers.
Trying to tackle this piracy, designers remain hopeful to regain full control of their creative work. They can live without the fear of cheaper knock-off versions floating by if they have their creations at an affordable price range for customers.
“If we bring in variety of outfits ranging at all prices, there will come a time that these knock-off prints won’t be left with a market to sell,” assures Faraz.