Rastah will be the first Pakistani brand to showcase at London Fashion Week
On the official online schedule of London Fashion Week (LFW), which takes place this month, the lineup listed for February 17 has a slot for Rastah SS23 Collection Showcase, Evening Event, Menswear & Womenswear.
For us in Pakistan — especially those of us with a penchant for Pakistani fashion — this particular part of the schedule is cause for excitement. Rastah, homegrown, homespun, merely in its fledgling years, is going to be touching the lofty heights of one of the most illustrious events on the international fashion calendar. It’s a first for a Pakistani brand.
Of course, we’ve had other brands take part in international fashion weeks; putting out capsule lines in collective showcases or being part of special initiatives dedicated towards highlighting South Asian craft. Some crafty brands have even tried to mislead Pakistani media into believing that they are showcasing in Paris, Milan and the like when they have simply paid to be part of subsidiary shows taking place in the cities around the same time as the main fashion weeks — a claim that can easily be refuted through a quick Google search.
To be part of one of the world’s biggest bi-annual fashion weeks and to be listed in its official schedule is a very different kind of achievement altogether. It speaks volumes for Rastah’s credibility, quality control and also, the vision propelling the brand. While other Pakistani streetwear labels may have been thinking about opening a new store in a major mall in Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad, the creative heads at Rastah were dreaming about London.
“It’s taken a lot of planning,” says Zain Ahmed, creative director at Rastah. “We worked for a long time on creating the kind of collection that would be the right pitch for LFW. Once we did get selected, we were required to pay a hefty participation fee. Luckily, they liked our collection so much that they gave us a concession.”
Quality control was top priority, given that the collection was going to be scrutinised by the LFW authorities. “At Rastah, we work with a team of craftspeople and this time, we couldn’t just send the fabric to them. All the artisans were gathered in our studio, from the weaver to the hand embroiderer to the tailor. Quality control is always a concern but this time we had to be even more stringent,” says Ahmed.
Rastah’s always been a cool brand, the sort that makes you sit up and take notice, but the LFW line had to push boundaries in risky new ways. The very edgy, off the wall ‘Volume IX’ was designed with this in mind. Images of the collection are up on Instagram and it definitely walks off the beaten track; from colour to the mix of textures and embroideries to the unexpected silhouettes this isn’t fashion for the faint-hearted. It also isn’t fashion that most conventional customers in Pakistan would buy.
“We might have sacrificed commercial concerns with this collection,” observes Ahmed. “In terms of craft, it is very, very detailed. Eighty per cent of the collection has been created with hand-woven fabric and the traditional embroideries indigenous to our region are there, translated to the narrative of the brand’s particular signature. You’ll see dabka, zari, gota, stone and bead-work but it might be on a leather jacket in a contemporary abstract composition. We also always employ a lot of hand-printing in our collections.”
The collection will be showcased in an exclusive exhibit at LFW on the 17th of this month and then will be part of a pop-up, open to public viewing, till Feb 21. What does Ahmed think being part of LFW could achieve for his brand?
“I think it will be amazing in terms of building the brand’s credibility. Hopefully, it will lead to us showcasing on the LFW runway or perhaps, at New York Fashion Week. One day, we hope to have pop-up stores in cities like New York or London and then, open up a flagship store in Pakistan,” he says.
“It is important for us to set Rastah apart as a Pakistani brand which functions outside of the enclosed echo-chamber that encompasses Pakistani fashion. There are many brands within Pakistan that are happy with the profits that they are earning from the local market. The world, however, is changing. Fashion has become globalised and if brands don’t think beyond immediate gains, eventually they will end up in hot water.”
Following this train of thought, while most local brands were investing into expanding within Pakistan, Rastah poured its budget into gaining international mileage. The brand has been worn frequently by Academy Award winning actor Riz Ahmed, was spotted last year in Disney Hotstar’s Ms. Marvel series and has also been endorsed by major Bollywood names like Karan Johar and Anil Kapoor. Within Pakistan, a select ‘it’ crowd of celebrities and social media influencers are frequently seen wearing Rastah — among them, Sheheryar Munawar, Asim Azhar, Hasan Raheem and Khaqan Shahnawaz come to mind. Local media may have praised the brand’s upward spiral but so have major international publications like Vogue and Forbes.
Strategically, Rastah has been redefining ‘cool’ streetwear for Pakistan and beyond.
The marketing seems to have had worked. Ahmed tells me that at present, about 45 per cent of their total sales are from the Pakistani market. “Honestly, we hadn’t expected this. We knew that eyeballs were drawn to us locally but we weren’t sure that paying customers within Pakistan would be attracted towards streetwear that comes at a high price tag. It turns out that all we needed to do was convince them that the brand was worth their money. The same customers who buy designer formal-wear are very willing to invest into a Rastah hoodie or a jacket if they are convinced that they like the brand.”
It’s true that more and more frequently, Rastah merchandise is spotted at ‘it’ events, worn by a young crowd that enjoys making fashion statements. Rastah, with its laidback vibe, snazzy details, mix of texture, colour and pattern, is their choice, bought at a considerable price and then saved away for occasions that matter.
It is this crowd that forms Rastah’s primary market, a diaspora that may not make a beeline for the heavy embroidered creations favoured by their mothers, who may appreciate a design that has details innate to Pakistan but an ethos that is very global.
The world’s getting smaller and fashion aesthetics are overlapping and merging. Rastah’s placed itself right in the midst of this design revolution. LFW may make it emerge even stronger.