The Pink Tree Stands Alone As It Preserves Ancient Crafts And Offers A Modern Pakistani Look

The Pink Tree Stands Alone As It Preserves Ancient Crafts And Offers A Modern Pakistani Look
A big part of Pakistan’s decolonisation process began with fashion. It was in the 1950s when the country’s first couturier established herself with a distinct ‘Pakistani’ means of dressing which was very different from ‘Indian’ style and a step away from ‘colonial’ fashion. Interestingly, while men were quick to adopt British fashion, women generally stuck to their local fabrics and style more so out of cultural norms and perhaps, the climate as well.

Sughra Kazmi established herself via the various local fabrics and embellishments as a couturier. This kickstarted the further decolonisation of local fashion. By the time the 1960 and 1970s rolled around the country had experimented plenty with Western fashion thanks to influences that came in from Iran a la Farah Diba and the infamous ‘Hippie Trail’ that made its way to Karachi from Afghanistan. Street style remained very much western till the 1980s.

This is when the decolonisation seeds began to be sowed. From Tanveer Jamshed who took the Pakistani silhouette of the long tunic and baggy trousers – shalwar kameez – global via his brand Teejays with outlets in London and Paris. Locally, this was also a means of empowering women who were fighting for their rights in Pakistan and what better way than to take an item of clothing and give it an androgynous cut? If women were expected to dress conservatively or ensure the female figure was invisible, they most certainly could but they’d also make their presence felt physically in public spaces. It was a stroke of genius. No one could question them over their clothes but yet their remained feminine in the most powerful way, through fashion.

And then there were the craft revivalists – all of them women. In Lahore, there was Sehyr Saigol who started the first original, screen printed designs and took them global via her luxury pret brand Libas. Sehyr Saigol’s impact on decolonising fashion cannot be stated enough. Prior to this, celebrating South Asian fashion, Zaineb Alam in London was the first to introduce high fashion rooted in South Asia in London via her brand ZeeZees. When Sehyr Saigol and Zaineb Alam joined forces there was no stopping them. They changed the market for London and for the first time, Pakistani fashion was seen as couture and could boast of clients such as British royalty and global celebrities worldwide.

In Pakistan the revivalists continued their work. Maheen Khan, Faiza Samee, Nur Jehan Bilgrami, Bunto Kazmi and Nilofer Shahid all went out into the ‘unknown’ in what was still a relatively new country that was attracting personalities including Pierre Cardin and Jackie Kennedy. The impact of the revivalists is still felt today – from ancient stitches, to block printing techniques, to vegetable dyed fabric, to weaving to cuts, these women built an industry based very much on what is referred to as ‘indigenous’ culture.

Starting from the grassroots level and creating a nationwide industry that went global, Pakistani craft has always been at the forefront of opening up markets for South Asian fashion. It was this industry that birthed local fashion publications and pop culture, today which has gone global too.

However, somewhere along the line, whether it was the misguided process of ‘modernisation’ or the misunderstanding of ‘innovation’, we saw Pakistani fashion drift further and further away from indigenous craft and move towards a more borrowed elements. From Arab influence in the form of abayas, to the gharara slowly fading with the popular rise of an Indian silhouette to fashion campaigns located outside of Pakistan.

In the midst of all this, there is one brand that is committed to craft and honouring the artisan. So dedicated is their commitment their recent line consists of an endangered fabric that is fast fading from our part of the world despite it being as old as time itself – muslin.

Starting in 2011, The Pink Tree company comprises of three friends, Mohsin Sayeed, Sheena Rizvi and Hadia Khan. While one could be forgiven for thinking Yet Another Fashion Brand, one glance and immediately you realise this is something different. But at a closer glance there is a deeper realisation – from the fabric to the patterns to the embellishments to the production of each collection, it is much more than just a ‘brand’. This is the best of Pakistani culture, packaged with the now fast fading knowledge of respecting ancient craftsmanship without compromising on its authenticity in the name of ‘fashion’.

it is no wonder then The Pink Tree is a much sought after brand where Pakistanis want to own their fashion but also pay homage to the craftsmanship of our artisans who are most at risk of being forgotten or left behind as Pakistan faces economic turbulence and climate change.

As the fashion industry became the root for what is known as pop culture today and was also the seed from which print media in the form of glossies and magazines stemmed from, The Pink Tree seeks to merge Pakistan’s culture with clothing to actually offer a ‘wearable’ identity.

In one of its posts it is captioned: “We must remain connected to our history, roots and tradition. Nothing forms a stronger thread than hand created crafts”

While many might talk the talk, The Pink Tree certainly walks the walk. For example, this jacket suit for Nimra for the premiere of Marvel is made of hand crafted jacquard brocade.

Another case in Sania Saeed in a Balochi chheent kaftan with Sindhi panni hand work worn at Joyland premiere at Cannes. Sania is seen again wearing what is the brand’s signature cotton kalidaar, block printed by Hala artisans in Cannes.

Designs being embroidered by women artisans of Sindh:

Along with preservation and application of craft, there is also a recognition of how much of our craft remains unexplored and consequently lost. This is shown in the banarsi pure silk doshalas that were woven with metal zari, a result of 8 months of research and development.

Sounds like a short amount of time, but to fully delve into the richness of a craft requires countless hours, mental and emotional engagement and a huge amount of risk which no business may want to take.

It would do well for Pakistani designers to look within and understand that an identity of the country is best defined by the overt definition, the most obvious being clothing. As icons such as the late Benazir Bhutto and Malala continue to be celebrated for their substance and style it is interesting to note that they are always seen in the traditional shalwar kameez. With Jemima Khan's film 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' going global, the wardrobe was created by The Pink Tree.

No country can ever begin to understand itself till it takes ownership of the cultural identity that holds the history of the land that precedes modern borders and lines.