The shop stocks a wide range of formal and dinner wear in silks and chiffons, featuring the designer’s signature anchor work and fluid fusion silhouettes. The store will eventually also showcase Ayesha Farook Hashwani accessories, which are set to launch soon. Hashwani was also able to give a preview of some of the necklaces which she reveals will be made abroad. They are chunky elegant pieces of costume jewellery that echo her brand of style.
Ayesha Farook Hashwani currently has one studio in DHA Karachi, and also stocks at Ensemble and Labels in Lahore and Melange in Islamabad. She has a retail outlet in the pipeline but was keen to give precedence to her e-store. Online demand is skyrocketing. Overseas customers, in particular, have gotten used to buying clothing online and are comfortable with the concept. Shrewd resellers have been selling both designer originals and copies online for several years now. Customers in wider Pakistan, too, are realising that it’s better to buy something you have seen online rather than trust friends and relatives to shop for you on visits to Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad. Designers have come to appreciate that it’s vital to have an online sales presence. While many have signed up for high profile multi-label e-stores such as Style360 Labels e-store, a few are now starting to look at dedicated e-stores.
Ayesha Farook Hashwani also stocks at the Labels e-store and is very happy with the service. “I will certainly continue to stock at Labels e-store which is Pakistan’s premium multi-label e-store and a wonderful showcase for the Pakistan fashion industry.”
Nevertheless, she felt it’s important for the brand to have its own online retail space – one that showcases only the AFH brand and allows the brand to have a distinct online identity.
The AFH e-store is beautifully done. An elegant, simple interface showcases a range of formal, luxury pret and casual wear. Crucially, every outfit is photographed on a model rather than on a dummy. “I tend to focus on cut and silhouette when I design and so it’s important for customers to be able to see how the clothes will look when worn,” she explains. “It’s impossible for people to see exactly how an outfit will hang if they have only seen it on a dummy.”
The site shows how each outfit looks from the front and back as well as incorporating the facility to zoom in on details. And this very net-a-porter approach gives the site a very international feel.
One of the main barriers to e-commerce in Pakistan is the lack of an online clearing system or any trusted system for online payments such as PayPal. Like Labels e-store, the AFH site has worked around this. It accepts credit cards, and, for deliveries within Pakistan, cash on delivery. The site is currently working on accepting PayPal and Western Union.
However, unlike international sites, the refunds and returns policy is quite stringent. Forget generous Western policies that pay the shipping when you return goods you don’t like; AFH, like most Pakistani and Indian sites such as Pernia’s Pop-up Shop, has a no refunds-no exchanges policy unless the goods are faulty.
According to Hashwani, “Huge operations like Net-a-Porter have the resources to cope with customers who will wear clothes without removing the tag and then return them. It’s not something we have the means to deal with and so we have to keep a stringent returns policy.”
Retail experience has helped AFH develop standard sizes and stringent quality control, which leaves Hashwani confident of a good response from customers. A lot of outfits are also free size, which takes the problem of fitting out of the picture. The refund policy may put off some potential buyers, but all the top e-stores in the subcontinent have a similar policy and it seems to have done them little harm in terms of sales.
It’s great to see Pakistani designers venturing into e-commerce and taking their online presence beyond Facebook and sites that are mere showcases of their work. E-commerce offers brands an ideal opportunity for sales growth and bright young designers like Hashwani are tech-savvy enough to seize the moment.