December Issue 2008
Interview: Amir Adnan
I always think that when I have conquered one area or stage, then it’s a sign to get to the bottom of another heap and rise gradually
– Amir Adnan
Amir Adnan has long been not just a name but a brand. The designer has become a mogul in the Pakistani fashion scene for about two decades now and his labels have similarly gained popularity. Amir Adnan stores have also landed in the hub of activity of the Middle East, Dubai, where he has placed his feet just as assuredly as at home. How does the fashion tycoon stay on top of his work?
Q: You are now selling not just one but a few labels and clothing lines. What are the ideas behind these labels?
A: We have the original Amir Adnan label selling eastern wear for men, which includes embroidered kurtas and sherwanis, using semi-precious stones and delicate hand embroidery that is most associated with Amir Adnan. Then, there is FNKAsia for women, which includes casual and semi-formal wear, along with a host of accessories. We also now have Amir Adnan (in Urdu) which showcases more formal wear for women, with heavier embroidery and embellishment. This label is being expanded into more of a lifestyle house. It also offers two other labels for men by Amir Adnan — moving away from groomswear, we produce clothes that men will wear after office hours. Suppose there is a party right after work, you won’t go in the same business clothes but dress a little more casually. And then there is also a line that is of more intimate wear for men;clothes that they will wear only at home, to relax in, like nightwear or very casual shirts made from very comfortable materials.
We have also started making our own jewellery. Handmade jewellery is an art that is dying in Pakistan. I contacted a family in Karachi whose family profession for years and years has been making jewellery by hand, but now they were out of business. The thing with all of our products is that they need to be produced in Pakistan. So we have silver jewellery, set with precious stones mined in Pakistan — rubies, topaz, sapphires — and then some that will be set with diamonds.
Q: Was your wife, Huma, involved in the creation of the Amir Adnan label from the very beginning?
A: Absolutely. We got married in ’93 and in ’94 we opened our first outlet in Zamzama. We opened it together and we worked at it, we slogged at it. I was only selling ties to certain stores then (before launching our own store). Huma and I both worked hard to create an entire menswear label from there. She used to sit at the Zamzama store and manage it while I went around, running back and forth, to factories and tailors. etc. We both have very similar interests and also, similar backgrounds.
Q: How do you and Huma work as a team?
A: My wife is extremely good at putting things together. She is very much interested in the creative look and design of things, whereas I am more and more involved in the business and finance side of things. She handles FNKAsia on her own – it’s more her thing. And I think FNKAsia has really established its own sense of style which you can blindly trust, just like Amir Adnan sherwanis and kurtas.
Even for the magazine, High, I look after the editorial part and my wife looks after the visual part, which includes the creative design.
Q: How did the idea of High come about?
A: In 2004, I wanted to set up a store in a shopping mall in Dubai which was, I think, owned by an Australian. Now, over here it was very easy to get a shop in Park Towers or any other mall because my label is recognised. But when I requested to meet the mall owner in Dubai, he thought I was joking. He gave me an appointment just to humour me because he didn’t think I would sell there at all. He asked me bluntly why I thought I would sell as a designer in Dubai since he did not believe a Pakistani could have a fashion background. So I had to convince him that my franchise is market-worthy and that it has the potential to grow.
So, High magazine was a result of that conversation. It made me realise that even if I give someone a portfolio of my own, they wanted to know where the products were coming from, how it was all done. Basically, they were trying to figure out if I would be able to sustain the label. So more than just a portfolio, I came out with a magazine called High.
Q: Is it another fashion magazine or do you have some different aims and objectives?
A: Basically, it’s meant to highlight the higher or the positive side of Pakistan, me included in it. So that is the dedication for the magazine. Everything covered in the magazine talks about anything positive coming out of Pakistan which we can be proud of. Be it a Pakistani sport, I glorify it. Be it a Pakistani event, I glorify it, and the same goes for legends, personalities, food, culture, etc – and in fashion, I have me in it. It is meant to act as a catalogue for Pakistan. It constantly reminds me of where I come from and I’m proud of it. This doesn’t compete with any other publication because it simply is about the positive side of Pakistan and nothing more.
Q: When did you launch the magazine?
A: We launched it in April 2005. We’ve done two years of it and the ninth issue has just come out.
Q: What makes a brand successful?
A: Money is the first thing. To me, the success of the product lies in how well it sells in the market. Do people find it worth buying? At the end of the day, it’s the sales figures that tell me if my business is doing well. Selling is the thing — it’s not enough if people just look at them and like them. They have to like them enough to want them.
The other thing is maintenance. The brand has to do consistently well and do better and better every year. It should acquire a reputation which the customers can trust blindly. Your quality should come out as the best, anywhere you go.
Q: How do you measure your success?
A: Something my sister once said has stuck with me ever since. She told me, ask yourself everyday: Am I better off today than the place I was at the same time exactly a year from now? If your answer to that question is an honest “yes,” then you are on your way up. You should not compare yourself to your neighbours in judging yourself. But only keep in mind your own standards and goals for what you want to be.
Q: Do you have stores in the US also?
A: No. Previously some stores in the US used to represent my label but I found it important for me to be there in order to represent myself best. So I don’t send my creations there anymore. That’s the reason why my family has now moved to Dubai. You can’t stay here and look after a business that is growing elsewhere, you have to give it your absolute best.
Q: Do you adapt your designs for your customers abroad?
A:Everybody wants authentic Amir Adnan, not custom-made designs. Foreigners look for the signature Amir Adnan clothes, not westernised in any way. They want beautifully embroidered sherwanis and kurtas, when they see my collection. Recently, a Turkish couple had ordered clothes for their wedding recently because they loved my designs. An Irani couple attending the wedding told me that they had only seen the Shah of Iran wearingclothes as beautiful as mine.
Q: What products are you looking at marketing next?
A: The jewellery that we are producing is very beautiful and reasonably priced, since it is in silver. It has an eastern touch and detail that you will not find anywhere else in the world. A pair of earrings, for example, will have a Mumluk-inspired filigree, which I love. The jewellery design is also my own; western-styled jewellery will not have the attention to detail as I add — I find perhaps an eastern touch makes something more feminine. The newly-launched jewellery collection is available in Amir Adnan (Urdu) women stores.
Q: What are your goals for the label and what sets it apart from any other in Pakistan?
A: It takes long and hard work to reach where brands like Cartier, Merc or Lexus are now. Maybe that is where I can take my brand. It won’t happen today, or maybe not in another 20 years either. Maybe my son will take over. I always think that when I have conquered one area or stage, then it’s a sign to get to the bottom of another heap and rise gradually, till I conquer that too.And the process goes on. This way, you keep growing.
Q: Where else would you like to open your stores, after you have conquered Dubai?
A: I am considering taking my business to India.