Pakistan woos the West with fashion week

Daring denims and micro miniskirts are not typical on Pakistan catwalks, but at the capital's first ever fashion week, designers have turned to risque Western styles to lure foreign buyers back.

With the national economy hit by crippling debts and a torrid political scene, fashion industry insiders hope the modern designs can capitalise on the country's long-standing reputation as a global textile capital.

Islambad's glitterati, a niche group of fashion-forward entrepreneurs in the largely poor nation, held a four-day design showcase to encourage international business - scared off by the threat of Taliban bombs - to return.

"One reason for doing this is to bring the buying power of the world back to Pakistan," said organiser Tariq Amin, the country's best known stylist.

"Because of the current situation and the political situation, it's difficult for them (buyers) to want to come to Lahore and Karachi, so Islamabad... the embassies are here, there's a lot more security."

Security was indeed tight at Islamabad's luxury Serena Hotel, as models picked from the streets of Pakistan's main cities sashayed down the runway, showcasing the country's talent for colourful ornate and sheer fabrics.

Edgy and bold off-the-shoulder cuts hit the runway alongside more familiar long floating dresses, less likely to offend sensibilities in the devout Muslim nation.

Designers hope that by slashing hemlines they can maximise foreign profits.

"You can't sell shalwar kameez in the West," said Amin, referring to the plain cotton tunic most commonly worn by men in Pakistan.

Pakistan's textile and clothing industry brings in 60 percent of the country's export revenues, according to official data, making it critical to reviving economic fortunes, made worse by devastating floods last year.

While other Pakistani cities such as Karachi are used to holding fashion shows, Islamabad is new to the scene. A total of 32 designers put on catwalk shows from Thursday to Sunday.

But the audience was largely Pakistani, with few foreign buyers seen milling around outside the hotel's large conference hall where new and more established designers staged their shows.

One buyer, Iranian Soheil Mazinani, of fashion house Asmaneh, said the event's success would be judged by future business, not by its popularity this time around.

Likening the show now to a "baby", Mazinani said: "I think after one or two years it can grow and you will see a lot of buyers."

But he admitted he would not be making any purchases on this trip, and that the Western styles would be equally out of place on the streets of Iran.

"We are just getting familiar with the different designers and manufacturers," he said, adding: "Ladies can wear them for celebrations, in parties or private events - underground."

Fashion is a key engine for growth for countries such as Pakistan, said Paco De Jaimes, founder of the not-for-profit World Fashion Association, which aims to foster poor nations' participation in the lucrative fashion business.

"(Fashion is) one of the main sectors (in Pakistan) and this helps very much countries to recover their economies," said De Jaimes.

"People don't realise how fashion industries contribute to the eradication of poverty, to social integration, to empowerment of women," he said.

"Any kind of initiative that can promote that foreign step is always good."

Zohra Khokhar, a 25-year-old designer who works with her mother for their label Deeba & Zoe, said they came to Pakistan from Scotland six years ago to capitalise on the availability of good materials.

"You can do everything here from start to finish, from the dyeing of the material to the finishing of the beads and everything," she said.

But breaking into the market is now harder than ever because of global inflation pushing up manufacturing costs, she added.

"What people need to understand is that Pakistan's not as cheap as they think. All over the world prices have gone up... so materials are dearer, labour's dearer, you can't expect to get a massive profit out of it."

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