How Pakistan’s fashion industry became a battlefield: Power dressing

The religious right is furious at the revival of Pakistani fashion. It is a sign that women are becoming more independent.

A parade of slim

A parade of slim, glamorous women, all impossibly thin, walk down the catwalk in the luxury setting of a high-end hotel. The show’s stars are bare-chested in golden, intricately embroidered fabrics. There is not a veil. This is Pakistan Fashion Week. It’s the crown jewel of Pakistan’s haute couture crown. One thing is missing: Pakistan Fashion Week does not take place in Karachi or Islamabad, but in London.

Pakistani Fashion Shows

“The cultural identity precedes the religious identity that is given our country to a certain extent.” Fahad Hussain, a fashion designer, says that many things that are important in our culture are sometimes suppressed or not highlighted to their full extent. “There is a clash of the religious right with the cosmopolitan young,” says Fahad Hussain, a fashion designer. They are also subject to tight security measures. 

This industry has become a battlefield between the religious right who wants to retain its power and the rising strength of young people, especially the burgeoning middle class, with women at forefront of the fight for Pakistan’s cultural identity. Ready to wear Pakistani dresses online now a days are the biggest contributor in the economy of Pakistan.

“All we hear is about the political turmoil, and the religious issues. Adnan Ansari, a celebrity make-up artist who founded Pakistan Fashion Week eight years ago (actually, it was just a weekend held at the London Hilton Park Lane).

People’s Choice

It’s not about projecting an image of positivity, but rather a projecting the real picture of who we are.

In Pakistan, the renaissance in fashion over the past five years is due to a cultural shift. Women are becoming more independent and educated with greater access to work opportunities. Many are using fashion as a way to express their newfound socio-cultural freedom. The boom in social media has contributed to a lot of this, much to the dismay of religious conservatives who feel that they are being influenced by the Kardashians more than the Qur’an.

Nearly 20% of Pakistan’s exports are in fashion. Social media influencers are hungry for new trends and western models are looking east to find inspiration. In August, Gigi Hadid posted an Instagram picture showing herself wearing a traditional Pakistani designer dresses online by Guzarish.

Ansari says

Ansari says that Pakistan’s young women are more educated and well-traveled than ever beforeThis liberal attitude has spread from the catwalk to colleges via Instagram. Many young women have chosen to ditch the traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez, which consists of tunic and loose trousers, in favor of jeans and western styles. This has led to the criticism of religious conservatives who view the fashion industry as a threat.

People want the change because religious extremists make it difficult to feel safe. It’s very frightening and difficult, and there is a real division. Hira Shah (25), a model, said that everyone is sick of it. “Pakistan is changing, but we must be strong if we want to change mindsets.”

The media and sharia law

Part of a larger trend is a shift towards more cosmopolitan fashion. “Pakistani fashion was quite liberal in the 1960s and early 1970s, but General Zia made it a crime to harass women, who gave Pakistan an Islamic-focused identity. The media and sharia law were used to police women’s bodies. Although this changed in the 1990s, there was still tension between religious conservatives as well as the image of women,” stated Amina Yaqin (a senior lecturer in postcolonial studies at SOAS).

“The tension that you see is that women take a stance and want to be free to wear whatever they like, but this is not possible for all women due to a complex network including class, economic mobility, and honour issues.

“The middle class is fed up, and they don’t want to be limited. As they become more visible, it becomes important to them. It is not clear if this power is real, or if it is being provided for consumption by fashion.

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