The MNR flavor comes to Karachi!

By Maliha Rehman

At a time when Pakistani fashion has more or less relegated itself to the boundaries of social media and eschewed catwalks and creativity in favor of commercially viable bling, there are very few designers who are carving niches of their own. Mohsin Naveed Ranjha falls into this rare category. Just a cursory look at the designer’s decade-long career reveals a passion for making a mark and for doing things his way.

He was the designer who splurged out on a shoot with Bollywood celebrity Ranveer Singh, shortly after the actor’s high-profile marriage, and made the Pakistani fashion fraternity sit up and take notice. He put out an extensive showcase at a fashion week from long ago, organized by the Pakistan Fashion Design Council (PFDC), and the vivacious colors on the catwalk had the crowds cheering. He’s worked with a plethora of Bollywood celebrities and even tapped into Hollywood now and again and while, post-pandemic, designers across the country have been closing down their ateliers and downsizing, the eponymous MNR label has been blazing on with well thought-out, memorable shoots, a consistent slew of collections and investing into brick and mortar as well as online mileage.

There’s an MNR store in Mohsin’s hometown Gujranwala. Another, raking in business in close-by Lahore. And only this month, the brand’s crimson flags were unfurled out on Karachi’s ‘it’ Khyaban-e-Bukhari market. The Karachi MNR store is grand, elegantly furnished, with the racks lined with designs that whirl with color, glitter and bold patterns.

Mohsin tells me, “When I was contemplating opening my flagship store in Karachi, a lot of my friends advised me that there was a certain aesthetic that was appreciated by customers there. They meant well but I thought to myself that if I came up with designs particularly targeted towards what people thought the Karachi clientele would buy, would those clothes really be MNR? My band is associated with colors and loud embroideries. I couldn’t lose my essence just because I was expanding to another city. People who liked the MNR flavor would come to my store.”

This MNR flavor, in fact, could very well turn out to be the store’s USP. Perhaps something different from what is already available is exactly what the Karachi market needs.

Mohsin must be applauded for having realized this – he is one amongst very few Lahore-based designers who has even bothered to set up a retail space in another city. His peers and seniors in Punjab are usually satisfied with having studios in their home-ground, with clients flying in from other cities should they be interested in placing orders or simply purchasing online. At the most, they have sporadic exhibits in Karachi and Islamabad, bringing in their latest collections, showcasing them at a prime location and meeting potential clientele.

I am curious: what prompted Mohsin to take the plunge with a grandiloquent store in Karachi? “I somehow don’t feel comfortable with packing my designs in plastic bags, folding them in suitcases, bringing them to another city and then sitting at a shop, waiting for clients to walk in,” he says. “In my own store, even if my designs don’t sell, they are in a space dedicated just for them. People can walk in and see the designs the way I want them to be seen, in a setting especially envisioned by me.”

He continues, “Also, as a businessman, I looked upon expanding to Karachi as a personal challenge. I am from Punjab but I want to sell to all of Pakistan and beyond. I knew that I had clients in Karachi. Many would catch a flight to Lahore to visit my studio or place orders online. I wanted to now set up a store which they could visit whenever they liked.”

A store like his, however, required heavy duty investment. Why risk it at all? “A business can’t be successful without taking risks,” Mohsin says. “It’s better to take a risk and see what happens rather than sit at home and do nothing.”

“My team and I will be working very hard to make sure that our Karachi store functions efficiently, like our other outlets do. I plan to visit regularly, meet clients, find out what works and build a team that is so proficient that they are able to cater to customers even when I am not there.”

How have the initial weeks fared for the new store? “Very well, so far,” he says. “I have been visiting Karachi frequently. On the first working day following our launch, I was in the Karachi store and clients walked in wanting to see certain designs. The staff there is still new so I started taking out some of the designs myself. I spread out dupattas, took out shirts, folded them and it all made me very emotional. 10 years ago, when I had first started out, I would do all this. And today, in my own newly setup store, surrounded by staff, with the customers even taking seflies with me, I was back at square one.”

But Mohsin isn’t actually at square one – and he knows it. He’s made his mark in Pakistan’s clustered, very competitive fashion industry, he’s weathered the debilitating effects of the pandemic and he’s risen from it all, aiming for the stars! There is now a clientele that particularly wants to wear MNR. There are celebrities who are frequently seen wearing his designs, tagging him on their Instagram profiles.

His store launch in Karachi was testament to the goodwill that he has earned amongst the fashion strata. Journalists, bloggers and designers wound their way through his racks, taking pictures and staying for a bit longer than usual, sampling the hors d’oeuvres or having a coffee. A constant slew of celebrities added to the glitter. Mohsin’s family was attending in full-force, including his father, his wife and his brother Abubakar Ranjha, who handles the brand’s business end and is an integral part of the MNR brand.

“One day, I might retire,” says Mohsin. “Creating bridals and delivering them is tough work. I could get tired of it all someday but when I leave, I want people to remember me with respect. It made me so happy to see all the people that came to the opening of my Karachi store and how they were genuinely pleased for me. Yeh store, meray yaaron ke naam (I dedicate this store to my friends).”

That’s Mohsin Naveed Ranjha for you. In all the time that I have known him, he has always spoken sincerely, straight from the heart. It is, perhaps, this very emotional nature that makes him so passionate about his designs, investing into them and showcasing them beautifully. In an industry that is fast losing its verve, it’s so important for a few good men (and women) to keep the passion for fashion alive.

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