There were no spring/summer fashion weeks in Pakistan this year. A whopping four major events had been planned out, divided between Karachi and Lahore, and a few more were likely to crawl out of the woodworks.

But merely a few weeks before the first three-day event of the season, Hum Showcase, was about to take place, the coronavirus reared its head in Pakistan. The country went into lockdown and focus shifted entirely to health concerns and the downsliding economy.

And fashion, an industry which thrives on glamour and festivity, took a backseat.

Bridal couturiers despaired over embellished wedding-wear lying uselessly in their studios. Weddings were getting delayed and customers had stopped coming in. Orders that had already been placed were getting cancelled because many of their clientele no longer had the cash liquidity to invest millions into couture.

Fast fashion retailers, on the other hand, wrung their hands over the extensive inventory lying in their warehouses – lawn suits for the spring/summer season, festive wear for Ramazan and then, more festive wear for Eid. Their stores were now closed and online sales could only generate limited income.

With the pandemic still threatening the country, there has been talk of stores that are likely to go closed, of couturiers making a return to their earlier days by taking orders from their homes, of thousands of employees working in the fashion industry getting laid off.

It is a sad time for an industry that has constantly overcome obstacles in order to grow stronger. But, perhaps, it is just a time that it will reinvent itself. And choreographer and event organizer Frieha Altaf has come up with a plan that may chalk out a new direction for fashion.

With London Fashion Week: Men’s, scheduled for this June, opting to go online, it is clear that the future is going to be predominantly digital. Bringing the concept home, Frieha is planning a ‘Virtual Fashion Week’.

The show will be called ‘Catwalk Cares’ and a lineup of 16 to 20 designers will be showcasing about two to three outfits each.

“It has been a time to slow down and reflect,” she says. “Like many other businesses, the fashion and retail industry has suffered. I see that the future is digital and at this time, Pakistani fashion needs to be united, come back stronger and be more creative. Virtual fashions weeks are going to be the new norm and my plan is to set the wheels in motion in Pakistan.”

The event will entirely take place online before the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr and according to Frieha, all precautions will be taken to ensure that participants remain isolated. Designers will be providing outfits and official partner Studio by TCS will be delivering these clothes to models’ homes.

They will then style themselves with the help of Nabila, the show’s official style partner, who will guide them virtually. Videos and images of the clothes, made by the models themselves, will be merged and the show will then be streamed live.

“This digital showroom will encourage industries to invest and generate resources in the e-commerce business,” says Frieha.

“It is also a great way to keep the fashion industry alive and relevant to the current times and to form a global showcase for the future. Most importantly, this show will be an effort to give back to the frontliners that are battling against the coronavirus pandemic."

Interestingly, this lineup includes major names from both Karachi and Lahore. Under normal circumstances, many of these designers opt to fly solo or show within their hometowns, with a fashion council that they are more comfortable with. Apparently it’s taken a pandemic for fashion to get united.

For now, Frieha has asked designers to donate an outfit or an accessory to the frontliners for Eid. She is also hoping that sponsors come on board so that cash donations can be organized.

“The heroism, dedication and selflessness of medical staff, police, grocery stores and welfare organizations allow the rest of us a degree of reassurance that we will overcome this pandemic. We must do our very best to extend our support to these workers.”

The show will be called ‘Catwalk Cares’ and a lineup of 16 to 20 designers will be showcasing about two to three outfits each. The designers confirmed so far include some major power players: Faraz Manan, Shehla Chatoor, Chapter 2 by Khaadi, Maheen Karim, Elan, Generation, Nomi Ansari, Ali Xeeshan, Ismail Farid, Shamaeel Ansari, Asim Jofa, Sonya Battla, Huma Adnan and Amir Adnan.

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Interestingly, this lineup includes major names from both Karachi and Lahore. Under normal circumstances, many of these designers opt to fly solo or show within their hometowns, with a fashion council that they are more comfortable with.

Apparently it’s taken a pandemic for fashion to get united. Perhaps the camaraderie can continue once all this over? Is that too much to ask for?

Nabila is similarly planning out the process of styling the models virtually. “The world is at a new crossroads and it’s important to adapt with it,” she says. “Since the implementation of the lockdown, I have enjoyed telling people how to do their hair, via FaceTime."

In the meantime, a virtual fashion week does sound like a great idea, acknowledging and encouraging an industry that is now a major player in Pakistan’s economy and also endeavoring to support frontliners.

However, will Frieha manage to bring this very new concept to the country? “It’s not going to be easy. The models are already asking me how they will be going about it and so, I will be preparing video tutorials in order to guide them.”

Nabila is similarly planning out the process of styling the models virtually. “The world is at a new crossroads and it’s important to adapt with it,” she says.

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“Since the implementation of the lockdown, I have enjoyed telling people how to do their hair, via FaceTime. I guess doing hair and makeup for a virtual fashion show will be the same. We work with a certain process for styling every show. I assume that the process will remain the same although the execution will now be digital. I am looking forward to the new experience.”

Frieha adds, “Even organizing everything will be difficult with me and my team in self isolation, working virtually from our homes. But it’s also going to be exciting. I wouldn’t have decided to risk my reputation with this event if I didn’t believe in it. And all these models and designers who have now come on board with me also believe that they can make it happen.”

“And we will make it happen.” A reinvention of fashion weeks in a virtual world – the coronavirus pandemic seems to be leading us towards new beginnings.

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