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Q&A with Shezray Husain

Shezray Husain is the head of Business at Ensemble, the brand which has in a short span of time has grown to encompass two flagship stores in Karachi and Lahore respectively along with the Ensemble Salon and most recently their separate pret store ONE by Ensemble at Dolmen Mall in Karachi with all items priced under PKR 10,000. With 2 years of IBD experience at leading investment banks with strong technical financial knowledge and company/equity valuation expertise Shezray Husain along with her Mother/Founder of Ensemble Zeba Husain and sister Shehrnaz Husain – Creative Director of Ensemble have engaged Pakistan retail business through bringing in international concepts to Pakistan.With a Bachelors in Law from the King’s College London; Shezray is currently pursuing her MBA with qualification expected in July 2013 from London Business School. In reflection of her education and experience Shezray has proven to have the ability to increase sales, enhance business efficiency and drive profits as currently Ensemble has grown from a multi brand designer boutique to a Lifestyle brand hosting designer collections from designers HSY, Nida Azwer, Sania Maskatiya, Ritu Kumar, Umar Sayeed just to name a few within 5 years.


What prompted your family to initiate the luxury lifestyle brand, Ensemble?

Shezray Husain: “Well my sister was always inclined towards creating a fashion start up; the idea of a 9 to 5 job horrified her! Being avid travelers, we spotted the trend of multi-brand stores in peer countries such as India and felt it would do well here. Most designers in Pakistan did not have retail outlets and you could not always wait for 2 months for a designer outfit, hence Ensemble was born. We stock everything from bridals to shoes so it’s a one stop shop for all your pret wear needs.”

Ensemble has transitioned from a multi brand store to introducing its own fashion line and opening a salon – how did these transitions come about?

SH: “Once you are in the trade, so to speak, ideas do come about, we are constantly looking to innovate to add on to our product offering. I think it is extremely important for all businesses to keep on re-inventing. Our clothing line has been there since we started Ensemble it is its more elusive sibling and honestly we have been publicity shy with it because our business is to promote our designers. But in the past couple of years it has been noticed owing to regular collection launches, the brand’s participation in TDAP’s lifestyle Pakistan and the export market so it is developing a distinct brand identity of being extremely affordable and wearable.

Ensemble Salon was an overnight decision when our friend and hair stylist decided to pack his bags and leave for England. He had a great team working with him which otherwise would have been scattered so we made an extremely emotional decision to adopt the salon. But it is great synergy with our flagship store after all any great outfit deserves fabulous hair and makeup!”

 What is the concept behind ONE by Ensemble and Shehrnaz by Ensemble?

SH: “Given the current macroeconomic situation, a rising trend of female participation in the work place and the continuing elusiveness of tailors, we felt an affordable cotton daily wear clothing line is essential. Also in our climate that is what you end up wearing 9 months of the year, hence One by Ensemble our cotton casuals were born in early 2011. A year later Dolmen Mall, which is the first of its kind retail premises, beckoned and after having done customer profiling we felt affordable Pret would do very well there. Rs. 10,000 is a major psychological barrier for most consumers – we actually spoke to a few young professionals who confessed to having never spent more than that on themselves (95% were men!!) and hence an affordable multi-brand store concept was conceived. 

Shehrnaz by Ensemble is the anchor brand for our Ensemble stores – its present at all our locations, we can control the supply and pricing (though most of our designers do try and comply most of the time!) and it is the truest testament to our business philosophy – beautiful products at a great price!”


With the ever growing fashion industry of Pakistan with new designers appearing each day how has that effected retail in the industry?

SH: “There has been a massive boom in the fashion retail sector which is very natural – in the past 5 years we have seen almost a dozen multi-brand stores mushrooming all over the major cities which is great as it gives all designers an opportunity to display and retail their locations – though I do not know how feasible they all are. But the biggest evolution has come about in the so called high street brands. From Khaadi to Generation and Sheep, they have given the upper middle class women options she never had before. And this trend will filter like everything else as we are already seeing it with the readymade lawn outfits.”

What has been Ensemble’s business philosophy that has ensured such high growth for the brand?

SH: “We give everything back to the business – all our profits are re-invested. As directors we draw a strict salary and the rest is all allocated towards new projects, products and anything that will make us better!” 

How has your background in finance helped you in drafting a successful business philosophy for Ensemble? 

SH: “Working in finance teaches you discipline. As an investment banker I picked up certain management skills which I think have led us to be more proactive and goal focused. I feel it is extremely important for any aspiring entrepreneur to work for someone else for a couple of years before going solo since it hones your communication skills for one. But overall it allows me to evaluate projects more effectively, and the excel short cuts really help while monitoring 50 labels every month!”

What drives, motivates and inspires Ensemble’s design philosophy?

SH: “I work with my two best friends – my mother and my sister and we have this tremendous energy amongst us which is our biggest inspiration pool – we come up with ideas at 3am and are up at 8 am trying feverishly to implement them. Our working style is a bit made but we believe in doing things the classy way, treating our designers and consumer well and giving a final product that you will wear again and again because it looks good, makes you feel good and that is what will keep you connected to us.”

With various multi brand stores operational within the country how does Ensemble differentiate itself from the rest?

SH: “Our designer line up, our stores, shopping at Ensemble, I have been told is an experience in itself and you walk out happier because you are holding our bag. Since we are a small business we have 100% management control because we do not franchise as yet and that helps in controlling quality and customer service.”

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