By Maliha Rehman
“Retail today has to go beyond clothes. It has to deliver experiences,” Shamoon Sultan, founder of Khaadi tells me.
I am standing with him inside a four-storied, extensive, swanky space which encompasses the brand new ‘Khaadi Experience Square’. There is an artistic installation emulating the pattern of the weave suspended through the length of the four floors, eye-popping colorful walls, a very cool mini catwalk and columns with digital images zipping down their length. Pops of green are supplied by scattered plants, there are fancy spotlights on the ceiling and everything, from the glass display windows to the elevator doors in fluorescent colors, is signature Khaadi. It’s an experience that customers are bound to love, especially Khaadi’s loyal regular clientele.
However, this certainly isn’t the first colossal Khaadi store that I have walked into. The Experience Square, located in Lahore’s Y-Block DHA, may be in a league of its own but generally, there are many other Khaadi stores that go on and on. They wind through the many multiple lines that come under the brand’s umbrella, the interiors resonating with the Khaadi ethos.
Why, then, did Shamoon feel the need to invest into a standalone, glass and brick and mortar veritable Khaadi mini-mall? He tells me a story that I know well – having heard it last when he opened his previous retail ‘experience’, the ‘Experience Hub’ in Dolmen City Mall Karachi. “Before the pandemic, I once walked into Karachi’s Lucky One Mall while talking on the phone,” he says. “Without thinking, I walked into a store only realizing later that while the interiors were very similar to Khaadi’s, this was some other brand’s store.”
“I personally feel that we have pioneered retail in Pakistan and we have to keep innovating. Lahore is a very important market for Khaadi, centrally located in the Punjab province. I felt that we were falling behind in Lahore and had to make a few very necessary changes,” he says.
Unlike Karachi, where malls have more or less taken center stage, Lahore’s high-street for fashion is still dotted with standalone stores. Lined all along the M.M. Alam Gulberg shopping area, are multi-storied buildings dedicated to different ready-to-wear brands. It made sense for Khaadi to shake up the market with a standalone retail space of its own, bigger than the others, glossier, glitzier, with every corner emulating the Khaadi signature.
There’s Khaadi West taking up the ground floor, along with a corner dedicated to fragrances and a wrapping station. The basement is primarily dedicated to unstitched fabric, the first floor to casual ready-to-wear and a gorgeous range of wedding formals, competitively priced, available in myriad sizes, ready to be purchased off-the-rack when you need shaadi-wear in a hurry. One half of the second floor is dedicated to embroidered ready-to-wear and the other half to Chapter 2, Khaadi’s fashion-forward, minimal, hand-woven sister brand. Lined up along the walls are totes, shoes and jewelry. The avid Khaadi aficionado could come here and spend a happy hour or two.
Being an avid Khaadi aficionado myself, there are still some things that I miss. Where, for instance, is the Khaadi Home range, that I have splurged out in the past and can be credited for some of the most colorful corners in my home? When will Khaadi launch children’s wear again, so essential for a large majority of its customers who are mothers in the search for appealing Eastern-wear for their children? Similarly, when will the stitched menswear range return? I remember Khaadi’s colorful cotton kurtas for men being such a hit at weddings and on Eid.
Also – perhaps this is not very relevant – the Experience Hub in Karachi’s Dolmen City Mall includes a little café. Since the store is situated in a mall, a lot of times customers skip out on the Khaadi café, going instead to some of the other restaurants and kiosks that are in the building. The Experience Square, however, is a standalone building. A chaye corner would be a great addition.
These are but minor cribs, though. It is true that, at this point in time, Khaadi has discontinued some of its lines but in a market for womenswear that is increasingly competitive, I wonder if this is because the brand doesn’t want to spread itself too thin. The exciting new changes in designs for womenswear are very evident. The casual ready-to-wear, for instance, consists of separates and co-ord sets that eschew embroideries altogether, relying on prints and cuts instead. Khaadi Khaas may just create a furor in the wedding-wear market, offering some very heavily embellished designs at a fraction of what they would be priced at a designer store and also, allowing customers to buy within their budgets by giving the option to buy a pant, a shirt or a dupatta separately instead of the full suit. Chapter 2 has a buzzing Technicolor canvas with stripes, gold thread and tassels amping up the designs.
The unstiched fabric floor offers a lesson in fashion retail of its own. Positioned right next to the shelves stacked with unstitched fabrics are mannequins, wearing the stitched versions of many of these fabrics. For one, these mannequins allow customers to immediately see what the stitched version of the suit will look like. Secondly, the women who don’t want to bother getting loose fabric stitched but still enjoy wearing three-pieces will be tempted to buy the stitched options which hang on a nearby rack.
It’s ingenious and makes so much sense that you wonder why no one ever thought of it before. Then again, in all the years that I have known Shamoon Sultan, he has always been a dreamer; extremely astute, constantly studying consumer behavior and utilizing his learnings to improve Khaadi constantly. My conversations with Shamoon have often been a study in Pakistani fashion retail 101 – his experiences and his intuition for what works is unparalleled.
As I ‘experience’ the Experience Square, my mind goes back to 2016, when Shamoon had opened a mega-store in Karachi’s Dolmen City Mall. Back then, even the most popular ready-to-wear brands operated through relatively compact stores. Shamoon, however, had gone ahead and opened a gargantuan 22,000 square store dedicated to all things Khaadi. Even back then, I had asked him the question that I had asked him today: what was the need when business was doing well enough through smaller stores? Why invest money, time and effort into such a huge space? He had told me that it was important for the brand image and in order to keep customers excited. All the other stores were beginning to look like Khaadi and so, Khaadi needed to reinvent the wheel.
Many more years later, Khaadi’s still reinventing and reloading the retail experience. It’s shaking up the market and setting new benchmarks. It’s drawing customers in with glossy glass-windows in a funky, massive Experience Square and then, holding them there with a well-curated range of apparel and accessories.
That’s Retail 101, courtesy Shamoon Sultan, courtesy Khaadi.
What do you think?