The recent launch of the Style360LABELS e-Store represents yet another milestone for two of Pakistan’s leading names in fashion and media.The iconic LABELS store founded in 1996 by fashion retail visionary Zahir Rahimtoola has an entrenched position in Pakistan’s dynamic fashion industry as the definitive platform showcasing the best of Pakistani fashion. The pioneering collaboration of LABELS with HUM Network to create Pakistan’s first ever online retail store has ushered in a new era of retail for Pakistan. Leading the way in fashion retail innovation, CEO LABELS Zahir Rahimtoola talks to Blue Chip about the momentous launch of the Style360LABELS e-Store in Pakistan.
Following the success of LABELS, Zahir had wanted to enter the online retail space for a long time. His extensive experience in fashion retail led him to identify a gap in the market for an interactive, online platform for fashion designers and consumers both in Pakistan and abroad. “If you look at what is happening all over the world, including Pakistan, there is a big shift towards digital,” says Zahir. “Today multinationals have digital budgets, companies like Net-a-Porter and Amazon have turnovers of close to $1 billion. These glorious examples were always in my mind to create an e-commerce business out of Pakistan. In the case of Pakistan, it is very important simply because we lack a transient population and so we need to reach out to people as opposed to people reaching out to us.”
However, to ensure the success of the e-store, Zahir waited until he found that his requirements for a seamless online e-store could be met, “A lot companies gave me very good presentations and wireframes but my major concern was always the after-sales and that is what prompted me to look out for somebody who could partner with me, have a sense of responsibility to ensure continuity of process,” says Zahir. “As luck would have it, a 26-year-old man called Athar ul Islam came to my office with the designer Khadija Karim and we got talking. He told me he was in the software business. I threw him a curveball and asked him if could design an e-store; I showed him a few examples of what I was looking for. A month later he came back with the wireframe for the e-store and I couldn’t believe it. That is when we decided to go into partnership. Athar is a child prodigy who started developing software at 11-years-old.”
On February 1st 2013 Sultana Siddiqui President HUM Network Ltd. and Zahir Rahimtoola CEO LABELS announced that the two companies have entered into a strategic partnership agreement to promote Pakistani fashion online retail. Consequently with effect from Feb 1st 2013 www.labelsestore.com will be renamed as www.style360labels.com. Through this strategic partnership it is the endeavor of HUM TV and LABELS to use their respective brand strengths to provide a global platform for Pakistani designers to showcase their collection worldwide and offer buyers with an easy online shopping access for latest Pakistani fashion. “It is truly a memorable occasion for me as a dream comes to fruition by connecting fashion retail to media.” said Zahir Rahimtoola. “I am thankful to Sultana Siddiqui and HUM TV for joining hands with LABELS e-Store to build a retail platform which will not only benefit our organizations but, bring a revolutionary and dynamic change for fashion retail in Pakistan.” According to Sultana Siddiqui, “It has always been my mission and passion to promote fashion industry, either it is through HUM Network, GLAM Magazine, Bridal Contour Week events or through our fashion brand Style 360. Through online fashion retail Store we plan to create an ultimate platform for young and seasoned fashion designers to proliferate their products throughout the world.”
The runaway success of the e-store can be gauged from the fact that just a few days after the launch of LABELS’ online retail presence, several leading Indian media channels and publications interviewed Zahir on this pioneering project. “We launched the e-store on 1st August 2012. On 11th August I received a questionnaire from the Indian Asian News Service, India’s largest independent news service, wanting to know more about the e-store. We were in the Times of India, Yahoo India, Zee News – it spread like wildfire.”
With a seamless operating system set up and superlative quality control standards implemented, the e-store was deluged with customers from Pakistan and across the globe. “The best part is that we are selling clothing online at the same price as we sell locally. In addition we paired up with DHL ensuring three days delivery,” says Zahir.
His vision and strategy was embraced by Pakistan’s leading entertainment group, the HUM Network, resulting in the formation of the Style360LABELS e-Store. Led by the inspiring Sultana Siddiqui, the HUM Network was launched in January 2005 with its flagship channel, HUM TV. In just eight years, HUM Network’s channels have generated outstanding content covering entertainment, fashion, food and lifestyle in Pakistan with television dramas which have gained unprecedented popularity. The international success of several HUM TV dramas has led to far more awareness about latest fashion trends among Pakistani women at home and abroad and LABELS was inundated by huge orders spurred by the clothes worn in HUM TV’s popular television dramas. Zahir explains the impact that HUM TV has had in shaping an increasingly sophisticated consumer market particularly in North America, “The conversion from the US and Canada is because of the HUM TV plays that people watch. I can put down two HUM TV plays as being critical our success: Sheherzaat where Sania Maskatiya did the line and Humsafar where Feeha Jamshed designed the line.”
Zahir also credits social media for the success of the online store, “The other thing we focused on was social media. Blogging, Facebook and Twitter have also played a vital role. People in Pakistan still do not realise what a powerhouse social media can be.”
“The demand within the country itself is overwhelming,” says Zahir. With orders being placed from across the country including Chichawatni, Mirpur, Sahiwal, Multan and Sialkot, these secondary and tertiary cities of Pakistan have money but no shops. “We are bringing the product to the consumer and we are giving access to the designers to reach the remotest corners of the country because we deliver to every city and town. We have a cash on delivery facility for people who don’t have credit cards. We have tried to simplify the process as much as possible to maximise ease and convenience,” says Zahir.
The Style360LABELS e-Store has won recognition for revolutionising fashion retail, allowing women, no matter where they live, to immediately access the latest and most cutting-edge design trends. Speaking about his optimism for the future of Pakistan Zahir says, “A lot of people think Pakistan is a dead country with no prospects, I look at it the reverse way: I always believe that we should look at opportunities even in the most negative of times. Look at it this way, the majority of our 200 million population is under the age of 35, that is a lucrative market for anyone.”