Launched in December 2004 by entrepreneur Adil Moosajee, Ego is a clothing line that caters to the stylish, independent consumer. When he arrived in Karachi over three years ago, Adil instantly recognised the dearth of good-quality, well-designed, local comfort wear. Eager to fill the gap, he set to work researching and designing a line that, he says, would be comparable to Gap or Banana Republic, in terms of quality and style. The line, Ego, has recently taken off, and its soaring success has inspired him to both expand, and to begin work on other projects. Adil talks to Blue Chip about Ego, his future projects and the textile industry in Pakistan.
When did you decide to launch Ego?
Adil Moosajee: “About three and a half years ago. I had just returned from the US. I’ve been in clothing for many years now, and wanted to get into retail. I actually came for a consulting job, but I decided to venture into something different. Given my family’s background of 160 years in clothing, I had decided clothing but just hadn’t figured out what. So I went to some social events, met up with friends and in general conversation I’d tell them I’m trying to get into the clothing business. They’d tell me we need good clothes here, and I’d think, can’t we come up with a line like Gap? So I took it up as a challenge, to create a brand equivalent to GAP in Karachi, and that’s where Ego started.”
When did you start this?
AM: “The process started about three and a half years ago. We started with a small room where I hired one master, one designer, one karigar and myself, and we’d sit down and try to come up with designs. It took us about six months to come up with a line that made sense, and about ten months from the point where we actually started working, we started our store. We probably took the longest to come up with our product, because the easiest thing to say is, ‘Oh, Khaadi is working really well, let’s create something like that.’ We wanted a completely different look. So, we were looking at design ideas, colour ideas, fabric ideas, coming up with psychological profiles to see what sort of clothes would/wouldn’t work etc., so we took a really long route. Since I was teaching at the Fashion Institute and TIP, I took kids from there for fitting runs. It was a very long journey.”
Has the success surpassed your expectations?
AM: “That’s a tricky question. We started off thinking we’ll take off fast. It was a very slow process trying to penetrate the market. When we came up with this line of casual clothing, people would come into our store saying “I love this, but I can’t wear it.” The reason was that a lot of our designs were kind of bold. The second thing was that a lot of our things were designed so that you can wear it without a dupatta, so it had collars, higher necks, not see-through. It was comfort wear, but people weren’t ready to shed their dupatta yet. We thought that a younger generation would pick us up, but it was the other way around. It was actually a 30-something clientele that picked us up. What I learned was that the risk-takers are actually more independent, mature working women who are now in control of their lives, who have decided who they have wanted to be. Then, the younger clientele followed. At that time, the people who would take the risk to wear us was a very small niche. So, for about eight months, I only had a clientele of about twenty-five people. Then a year later, the word-of-mouth really picked up, and a lot more people started coming to us. Recently, when we started a store in The Forum, traffic was so much higher that suddenly hundreds of different pockets of people were exposed to us. Suddenly, the new crowd had found us and was also aware of us. So, we’ve suddenly really taken off.”
Now you have a store in Zamzama at the Forum in Karachi, and Melange in Islamabad.
AM: “We are working on three more projects; one more store in Karachi, and hopefully two stores in Lahore. We’re also looking at launching one more brand, specifically for work-wear. We want to define what women’s corporate wear should be, and developing a line that follows that. I’m in the process of interviewing my working friends, trying to see what would work. I’m working with a couple of banks as well, because since I’m doing the men’s workshop called “Packaging You”, which is defining how you want people to see you. And then, your body language, your wardrobe and your behaviour should fit that profile. I did this for men, and the wardrobe part was much easier. For women, I knew what they wanted but the clothes are not available. A lot of women that came to these workshops would be wearing lawn and fidget with their dupattas, trying to cover their neckline, or whatever. Plus, some of their clothes would be so transparent and a guy’s attention would go there. The idea is to have a wardrobe which includes the men’s suit and tie and blazer. For example, the men’s jacket is there to basically not take the person’s attention to the physique. Anything that you wear tells you your attitude as well. For example, if you wear a power suit, you’re there to close a deal, to impress. So what women wear, how you carry yourself, defines a certain personality as well.”
Can you tell me a bit more about yourself and your family?
AM: “My family has been in the textile business since 1858. My great-great grandfather, Moosajee, before setting up his business, was trading in fabric. How the legend goes is the rest of his family would live in Kutch but Mr. Moosajee would take the merchandise and travel back and forth. Eventually he decided to stay in Karachi to trade. Later, he started his own company called Moosajee, Luqman Jee and Sons, which is still operational in Bohri Bazaar (Karachi), where it initially was. It’s a beautiful building; part of my family still live upstairs. The whole legend is still there, maybe not in its old glory, but we have come a long way. Since then, the family business has split a couple of times. My immediate family owns and runs the nine-storey grand store in Clifton. I own Ego, and I’ve been running this for a while. I’m about to launch a new business called Uniforms Unlimited.
While being with Moosajee and with Ego, a whole bunch of corporates have approached us to do uniforms for them. Moosajee has done uniforms for PIA, Habib Bank and so on. There are plenty of people out there to supply the uniforms, but their understanding of quality clothing is limited. The limitation that Moosajee and Ego has is that we cannot step away from our quality level, because all the things that we provide come with our stamp. I’m launching Uniforms Unlimited to include a huge variety of products that we couldn’t include under our stamp. We’ve just done t-shirts for a nursery school, for three- and four-year-old kids. The game in uniforms is that you must be able to supply immediately. Eventually, we’re going to have blanks at various fabric manufacturers ready, and whatever order comes in they can be embroidered and printed and ready to deliver.
I’m also currently working with a celebrity. She and I are working together to define the women’s corporate wear and we’ll be launching another line, powered by Ego, to deal with women’s corporate wear.”
What do you think about the textile industry in Pakistan?
AM: “I think to generalise the textile industry is a big mistake. There are many segments and once you divide it into segments, I can tell you which is doing well. For companies catering to European and American markets, those catering to the staple market are being gravely affected by the politics between nations.
A huge problem that we can solve, that’s completely in our hands, is the political situation within our country. One thing I’ve never understood is that when people say you’re doing something wrong here or there, they bring in a standstill. They’re actually affecting the industry long-term. What we need to keep in mind is that no matter what happens, business should never get affected, because every person in this country gets affected by even one day of closure.
Currently, the export market on the whole, because the larger part of the industry caters to the staple wear, is constantly affected by the politics of various countries including our own. The local market, on the other hand, is doing phenomenally well. When you look at retail, there are various examples of people who have recently started, and almost nobody that I know has failed. For example, there’s Junaid Jamshaid, Crossroads, Chen One, Cambridge, etc. You can see that there is really good potential in the retail sector. Obviously, this is because the market is becoming more quality aware as well.”
Ego is in the process of launching more outlets which will bring the total number of Ego stores up to 16 including one in Dhaka. Since November 2009, Ego has held 15 exhibitions in the USA with 75 exhibitions planned starting August 2010.
Ego has also started a training and business development programme where employees can start their own business through microfinance collaboration and become vendors for Ego.