Popularity of Western fashion in Pakistan spurs mixed reactions

By Lubna Jerar Naqvi  |  July 24, 2013 at 1:54 PM
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KARACHI, Pakistan, July 24 (UPI Next) --

Western fashion is making inroads in Pakistan, sparking disapproval from conservatives who at the same time recognize the economic benefits of growing the industry.

Fashion fans and ramp models cut bright and shapely figures during January's Pakistan Fashion Week, no longer afraid to wear the bold designer outfits and strapless evening gowns denounced by Islamists and a conservative culture. Indeed, despite the threat of terrorist attack, red carpet events are held in major cities, and women increasingly mix Western clothes into their modest wardrobes.

Anila Shakeel, 29, has been to almost all the events in, Lahore, a symbol of the new mood.

"Women should enjoy their womanhood," she told UPI Next. "Women bring color and beauty to the world. The evolving fashion scene in Pakistan is a blessing for those of us who are into fashion and want to look good."

Although the homemaker often wears sleeveless tops, she always carries a dupatta (scarf) to cover her hair, and arms if necessary.

Shopping malls are opening in major cities carry branded goods that give Pakistani women the option of local or Western clothing, and women like Shakeel say they spend good money to stay on top of trends.

At the same time, while some women display Western clothes, many opt to keep their fashionable side indoors.

Pakistani extremists are increasingly protesting Western influences and have attacked targets seen as un-Islamic or immodest although, so far, threats against women because of fashionable clothing have been only verbal.

"There was a time when fashion shows got canceled because certain people in important political and administrative positions considered them to be against religious teaching," Lahore designer Shaiyanne Malik said.

"But we have come a long way since …and hope to move only ahead towards peace and creativity." she said.

Women who wear American jeans, European designer clothes and bright colors must get used to open disapproval, dark stares and pointed questions.

Abdul Rasheed runs a grocery store opposite a clothing shop. He said women should not waste too much money on clothes and concentrate on running their homes.

"Women should not make themselves prominent," he told UPI Next.

"They should dress modestly. It is the media that has brought the curse of fashion into our midst. Before, women used to be simple and beautiful and lead a pious life. Now they seem to be too busy with their looks and dress to tend to their families," Rasheed said.

Fozia Hammorabi, is a dress designer and co-owner of Karachi-based F&N Creations, which designs and manufactures women's formal wear, told UPI Next the garment industry has helped a wider range of people than couturiers and models.

Indeed, Pakistan's economy hinges on the garment industry, with textiles for export and domestic use accounting for 40 percent of the gross national product. The industry is adding jobs -- a powerful statement in a country where unemployment is more than 6 percent.

The nationwide increase in style-related events – fashion shows, launching of fashion outlets and fashion schools, for instance – creates jobs but also generates its own revenue and allows subsidiary industries, especially textile-related cottage industries such as needlework and dying to survive and grow.

Malik, for example, has a project to train rural women to earn a living by sewing and embroidering.

"Fortunately fashion is faring very well, it is a rapidly growing industry," Malik told UPI Next.

"Fashion weeks are happening on a regular basis. However, one does face the occasional problem of strikes and complete shut downs, especially in Karachi, but we are resilient," she said, referring to power cuts, for example.

Many Pakistani women still favor the traditional baggy trouser, flowing tunics and wide shawls for daily life.

Fatima Taqi, a fashion student at Karachi's Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, said many Pakistanis still have a "conservative mind" and the clothing industry needs to design differently for women of different social, ethnic and financial backgrounds.

"Sometimes designing within strict parameters is a challenge but very interesting," she told UPI Next.

"While one section of the youth is comfortable in western clothes – jeans, tops, formals and even skirts, they are equally comfortable wearing fusion of the two," fashion journalist Maria S. Hasan told UPI Next. She said local designers are increasingly popular abroad, especially in India where the style is very similar.

Hammorabi noted that even though society is becoming more conservative, fashion has even affected the most culturally conservative. She said the most concealing dress of all -- the body-long burqas and black cloaks called abayas -- are increasingly available in different colors and with decoration.

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