What does the Marvi Shabbir vs Zainab Salman dispute reveal about Pakistan's fashion industry?

Modelling has become a big business in Pakistan — and it’s high time designers and models begin to act business-like.
Updated 30 Jul, 2019

Like it or hate it, social media has been instrumental in laying bare issues that would often go unnoticed in the past — issues like those faced by young new models at the hands of designers.

It is only thanks to social media’s all-encompassing, easily accessible platform that an issue like model Marvi Shabbir claiming that she was mistreated by designer Zainab Salman has come to light.

What happened?

About a week ago, Marvi uploaded a video on her Facebook page where she talked about how she had been disrespected by Zainab Salman. In a subsequent Facebook post, she added in more details of her experience.

The model had been working on a photoshoot for Zainab when the designer also decided to have her featured in a fashion film. According to Marvi, she told Zainab that she could not be part of the video since she wasn’t being paid for it, at which point Zainab told her to leave.

When Marvi asked how she would be going back from the location, a farmhouse located on the outskirts of Lahore on Bedian Road, Zainab initially told her that she would not get her dropped home. It was only later, at Marvi’s insistence, that the videographer and another model present at the shoot agreed to drop her off at a location from where she could call for a ride for herself.

In her post, Marvi also speaks about having to deal with delays due to a novice photographer, not being offered anything to eat and delays in being paid for the work that she had done.

Marvi's original Facebook post, which she also shared on her Instagram account.
Marvi's original Facebook post, which she also shared on her Instagram account.

The Facebook post subsequently went viral in fashion circles, circulating across Whatsapp groups via screenshots. Many of Marvi’s peers — photographers, stylists and models — openly supported her on Facebook, criticising Zainab Salman’s callous behaviour.

The issue is, however, murky. Marvi is relatively new in the field and many within fashion’s credible upper tier were unaware of her. They could acknowledge that models are often treated unfairly and that Marvi was possibly speaking the truth, but they couldn’t vouch for her. It was basically Marvi’s word against Zainab Salman’s and as it turned out, the designer had quite a bit to say.

“I am being cyber-bullied”

Zainab Salman was quick to issue a long video statement via Instagram as well as present proof that Marvi was exaggerating.

This included images of the invoice made to Marvi, an image of her sitting against a table laid out with food and a video, possibly from the shoot’s location, where the videographer is being asked to drop her. There are also audio recordings where Marvi is conversing with Zainab and Zainab’s manager, discussing payments and ending the conversation saying that if payments are not made, she will go live on Facebook.

Communicating with Images, Zainab said, “I feel that the whole situation, and what followed, is very unfortunate. I run my brand in a very professional manner to the best of my ability and have previously worked with professionals and professional models on numerous occasions. Something like this has never happened before.”

“It has been subsequently revealed that Marvi had been working 36 hours. That is an immense amount of time without [a] break or sleep and had I known this previously, an alternate arrangement could have been made. It is natural to be irritable and stressed in such a state after working for that many hours.”

“As a relative newcomer and a woman myself, I understand the challenges faced by a working woman in the fashion industry and I empathise with the hard work Marvi and other models have to put in.”

“Since I am able to empathise with the uphill task a working woman faces, I have never and will never think of exploiting another woman," said Zainab.

“This unfortunate incident, though, cannot be undone, but can be used to improve the way the industry operates in so far that it has revealed the need to document the rights of both parties before entering a working relationship, something that is conspicuously lacking at the moment. Most of the commitments are oral and we would look to change that moving forwards.”

When there is no contract, your demands may not be met

While one may choose to believe — or not believe — Zainab, she makes a valid point. No contract had been signed between the designer and Marvi ensuring that she would be given food on the set or that transport would be arranged for her.

On a humane level, the model may have had expected that these courtesies will be extended, but Zainab was not legally bound to prioritise these requirements.

Speaking to Images, Marvi said, “Usually, there are no modelling contracts that are signed. Agreements are made on Whatsapp. It is a common practice that when we go to a far-off location, the designer arranges for our transport.”

“The evidence provided by Zainab has been manipulated,” Marvi continues. “The audio recordings just have the parts where I sound like I am threatening them. Zainab and I had actually had an earlier conversation which she had cut off. She then called me and asked me to give her the details all over again. I should have realised that she was recording my voice.”

She said that she had remained hungry throughout the shoot. How does she explain the image of herself posing behind a table laid out with food? “Everybody knows that such a pretty table isn’t laid out for the people working on the shoot,” Marvi points out. “The table and the food was obviously a prop for some of the pictures.”

Zainab’s PR team has also been negating other complaints made by Marvi. For instance, Marvi had claimed the shoot was delayed due to an amateur photographer but regardless, she had made a commitment to the designer for a day’s work. The delays were unfortunate, but part of her job.

According to the PR team, it was not Zainab’s fault that Marvi was exhausted because she had been working on another project the previous day. Marvi should have organised her schedule so that she could do justice to her job.

The photographer speaks out

Also corroborating Zainab Salman’s story is the photographer present at the shoot, Zahra Sarfraz, who took to Instagram to share what she saw that morning.

“Marvi speaks about how we were kept starving and no one had the courtesy to offer us breakfast. When I reached the studio, tea had already been served to the makeup artist and the model. Once we got to the location, yes we didn’t formally sit down and have breakfast together, but that doesn’t mean that none of us had access to snacks of water. This shoot involved a lot of food and due to the shortage of time, we had to nibble on whatever was there in between shots. Marvi sat right next to me with a packet of chips as we looked at the pictures together and discussed how we could make them better.”

“When a brand hires me I don’t rest till I am done photographing. Thus it’s my responsibility to turn up to my job well fed and high on energy. Yes, brands are expected to provide us with a meal, but I don’t expect them to prioritise that above their shoot.”

“If Marvi wanted to charge separately for a video, she could have communicated that respectfully. We were on the fourth outfit when she completely flipped and was the first one to raise her voice at the designer.”

“An argument broke out, but Marvi has completely exaggerated the designer’s response, censoring out her words and reaction. The fact that people kept banging on her door and she was asked to change in a room rather than a bathroom is a complete lie. Yes, Zainab asked Marvi to leave, but she was never pushed outside, nor was she abandoned.”

“Marvi wanted to leave early and since the rest of us had to pack up and wrap the shoot, the manager asked the videographer to drop her. She claims that all of us disappeared. Where would we disappear to? All of us were wrapping up the shoot production.”

Regarding Marvi’s complaints about late payments, Zahra continued in her statement, “Since I was on the chat group where payments were being discussed, her claims that the payment was not being made to her is an absolute lie. She claims that it’s not about the money for her but about self-respect. As soon as she left the venue, she messaged asking for her money (which is her absolute right) and this just doesn’t go with her ‘self-respect is more important than money’ statement.”

Another contentious point in the dispute is the number of outfits that Marvi completed shooting and, hence, eligible to be paid for. The model and designer had initially agreed to a set of six.

“[Marvi] was assured that the payment will be made. She was charging Rs12,000 per outfit. She shot for three and wrapped the shoot at the fourth one, leaving it incomplete. 3 x 12 = 36, which was paid to her. When asked to be paid for the fourth one, the brand didn’t argue and agreed to pay her immediately by authorising it.”

Zahra also claimed the shoot wasn’t as lengthy as Marvi alleged and confirmed that the model appeared drained and tired on set. “[Marvi] claims that I kept on photographing her for four hours. However, the first shot that I took was at 8:24am and the last one I took was at 11:05am. Two hours and 40 minutes really isn’t much for four outfits.”

But an eyewitness says that Marvi’s allegations are true

“Some of the statements coming from Zainab’s team are entirely contradictory,” says Marvi. “They are saying that they paid me Rs36,000 and when I asked for remuneration for the fourth outfit, it was given to me. This is not true. I have only been paid for three outfits and the invoice that they are circulating on social media is for Rs36,000. If what they are saying is true, where is the invoice for the additional Rs12,000 that they are claiming to have paid?”

“If you look at the pictures from the shoot, I have been featured in four different outfits.”

The sensibly-stated reasoning by Zainab Salman and co. does seem to indicate that Marvi may have chosen to exaggerate her story. However, the stylist at the shoot, freelance artist Nauman Paul, has just come out, claiming to be an eyewitness to the entire episode.

In a post, he wrote:

Nauman Paul's take on the incident.
Nauman Paul's take on the incident.

Speaking to Images, Nauman further added, “I was there when Zainab’s team told Marvi to go out on to the road because the designer didn’t want to see her any more. They were very callous. Before the shoot began, Marvi and I even had to wait for 45 minutes outside the venue until the rest of the team arrived. They didn’t even respect us enough to have the studio opened up for us so that we could sit inside.”

“I don’t have anything to gain from speaking out,” he continues, “but I couldn’t stay quiet while Marvi continued to be attacked.”

Similarly, Marvi — a fledgling model banking on mostly small-scale brands for work — also doesn’t have much to gain by speaking out. By boldly speaking out against a designer, she may have even alienated other brands, who may coin her a troublemaker and choose not to work with her in the future.

But who’s to blame?

Possibly Zainab Salman who, despite her claims otherwise, probably did flare up at the new model. Also, possibly Marvi Shabbir, for not having signed a contract and then assuming that her requirements would be fulfilled.

With its heartfelt online testimonials, evidence and eyewitnesses, the curious case of Zainab Salman vs Marvi Shabbir pinpoints a major flaw in the business agreements made between designers and models in Pakistan. Established local models make sure that contracts are duly signed, confirming how much they will be paid and outlining any requirements that they may have during the shoot.

Marvi Shabbir didn’t sign any such contract but she was, however, smart enough to realise that she was being asked to be part of a video for which she was not being paid. Again, had she insisted on a contract, the designer would have had no choice but to list all the various nuances of her job officially, on paper.

And while Marvi’s complaint about being tired has its flaws, why did she book back to back shoots if she wasn’t able to cope with such a hectic schedule?

Was Marvi given a tough time? Probably. But it’s a tough world with big money involved. With modelling becoming recognised as a lucrative career option, Pakistan’s models need to realise that a mere Whatsapp chat does not ensure that their rights are granted to them.

Modelling has become a big business — it’s high time designers and models begin to act business-like.

Have you faced exploitation in Pakistan's fashion industry? Share your experience with us at


Jawad Jul 30, 2019 01:33pm
We don't care period!
Bilal Sarfraz Jul 30, 2019 02:39pm
After reading this story, one thing is clear that IT TAKES ALOT OF COURAGE for a woman to speak for her rights. Marvi knows she could be isolated by so many brands & fashion designers but still she came out and spoke about the issues. I hope other designers would not isolate her and treat every model with care. It is really frustrated, that how can Zainab & team tell her to go out and find on your own way back to home. Being a woman herself, how can she treat another woman like this. I used to live in Lahore (now an overseas), I know what could happen to a woman in those remote areas of Lahore who would be alone there. Even Uber, Careem drivers don't go that far for a single ride. Now coming back to food, one simple question to Zainab, how much it costs to feed a women and that too being a model. So Kudus to Marvi and more power to you and other women. Zainab should make a public apology, it will increase her respect in the eyes of her mates and common people of Pakistan, like me.
FArrukh Jul 30, 2019 02:46pm
All the story leads up to the fact that the model has suffered, although the scale of suffering is always open to debate. If you analyze the statement of Zainab, it is very carefully drafted trying to be feminist while saying that they are not legally bound to provide food or transport facility. It is obvious that whatever the model is claiming about the events is not far from reality while the fancy PR team are trying to save their employer. Sense should prevail and Zainab should apologize while paying some sort of penalty for her actions on that day.
Imran Khan Jul 31, 2019 05:59am
I support Marvi and as an outisder and the culture of rich and powerful i can say Zainab was selfish and mean to Marvi, if she would haev just comeone and apaolgised to her,things would be differetn and Zainab would have got applause and credit for it...but unfortunately Zainab acted in a childish manner....Thise around her her making her saying things which will hurt her in future...Zainab should now act accoding to her mind
Dija Jul 31, 2019 09:29am
@Jawad As a human and civilized nation we should care! We cannot ignore the sufferings of people and let few immoral people play dirty and hurt ego and self respect of others like this!
Hanna Jul 31, 2019 08:14pm
@Jawad maybe you don't care about the common issues faced by a significant number of the working class but not everybody is as self centered as you buddy,get over yourself
Jugat Jul 31, 2019 09:53pm
Moral of the story: Write everything down. Verbal agreements don't mean anything in the court of law.
na Aug 05, 2019 09:25pm
Looks like the designer was on a power trip. The long winded explanation referencing her motherhood is suspect.