Sahar Atif talks to Fashion Central

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Sahar Atif is a designer renowned for her unique focus on having created and sustained an affordable designer wear label, Saai.  A multifaceted personality, Sahar is an exciting manifestation of today’s modern woman as she encapsulates the spirit of entrepreneurship with her expanding brand Saai and academia through her work as a teacher within the realms of fashion. Today Fashion Central talks exclusively to Sahar Atif about her career as a designer, teacher and her responsibilities as a designer.

1. Your label Saai by Sahar Atif was launched in 2003: how would you describe the label in terms of philosophy and design and has your design philosophy evolved since you launched?

The business philosophy at Saai has remained consistent since in inception in 2003. At Saai, we aspire to produce designer clothing at affordable prices aiming at catering to a larger audience than just a selected niche.

However, the design philosophy over the years has gone through tremendous evolution. Bridal wear remains a forte of the brand. With the Pakistani fashion industry tilting towards ready-to-wear Saai has also decided to join in and ride the wave.

Regardless of the nature of the garment, be it prêt or couture, at Saai we strive to create unique, timeless pieces with impeccable quality of craftsmanship. Not every collection is about a profit making venture; most aspire to only keep the artistic signature alive.

2. You have a degree in fashion from Pakistan’s Institute of Fashion Design and later you further specialized your degree of study by reading Fashion Marketing, which is what you teach at your alma mater: To what extent do you feel an education in fashion helps one in their fashion career?

Education is not always about grades and degrees. It is about learning and a certain discipline that can be cultivated into an individual. A graduate of the first batch at PIFD, I consider myself amongst the fortunate few who where taught by the crème de la crème. Besides fashion being studied as a subject, a certain sense of commitment, responsibility and attention to detail was cultivated in us which has hugely paid off. To be the head of a team one has to encompass leadership qualities and a grip on the entire supply chain process, which only a professional degree can instill in an individual.

3. When designing a collection, are you inspired by local and/or international trends or is it entirely dependant on your personal choice/aesthetic?

One of the most frequently asked question is on inspirations. I realize there may be a lot of very organized designers out there who have their thought process together. However my feeling is that one cannot plan to be inspired. It is something that just hits you and sometimes takes you by storm. So I cannot really comment whether trends that are exciting me are western or eastern, it is more about the mood that I am in. Colour, texture, form and fabrics have always excited me and inspired me to create more.

4. In spring 2008, you introduced the socially conscious Saai Prêt a Porter line entitled ‘The Revival Collection’ in collaboration with Aik Hunar Ik Nagar [AHAN] which incorporated local art and craft into your fashion designing.  do tell us more about it.

The cooperate social responsibility program initiated by Saai in collaboration with AHAN ( Aik Hunar Aik Nagar), namely ‘The Revival Collection’ revolves around the restoration and revitalizing of dying crafts and incorporating them into more wearable clothing more in sync with the latest trends. The collection is retailed out of the prestigious fashion chain Bareeze. An effort on the part of the designer and the brand to create connectivity between the rural crafts and urban Pakistani fashion.

The collection is far from having achieved its objectives thus yet. The creative journey through the villages of rural Pakistan turning into a retail concept is not as rosy a picture as it sounds. The lack of a dependable supply chain and the essential quality control mandatory to produce garments for the highly competitive industry makes the job discouraging.

It should be every Pakistani’s effort to give back to our country in every way possible. By empowering women, reviving crafts and putting purpose to decaying skills and techniques, the Revival Collection is a manifestation of Saai’s attempts to give back to the country.

Personally my involvement in academia is also my way of paying back. Professional designers end up with their hands full with rapidly growing businesses. Hardly ever do any turn back and wish to share their practical experiences with the young blood which can gain enormously from it.

The setting up of the A’Level department of Design and Textile at the Lahore Grammar School on a lay plan given by the Cambridge University has been my contribution to the academic world. Only last year, two out of the three world distinction holders were from our program, putting Pakistani students on a high esteem at an international front. Such efforts contribute to the positive image building of the country and change the way the west views us. At the end of the day fashion is a non conventional subject very contradictory to Pakistan’s extremist image projection.

5. Would you say your label’s strength lies more in Prêt wear or Bridal couture?

Bridal wear remains the brand’s forte. Over the years the sub-continental embroideries have been experimented with and perfected in bridal garments at Saai. Through innovative cut and unconventional colour combinations, accents of modernization penetrate into each outfit. The bridal garments are meant to look timelessly beautiful not only when adorned but also individually as objects of art.

The recent tilt of the market towards Prêt has been extremely enticing for Sahar. Prêt has provided ample opportunity to the very creative designer to produce more rapidly and come up with frequent collections which is a delight for someone who aches to pour out her creativity on any canvas available be it Couture or Prêt, Western or Eastern.

6. What are the fashion trends for Autumn/Winter 2009 -2010?

Well to start off with shalwars are a big no-no. Churidar pajamas and loose flowing pants will be the trendier substitute. Voluminous and free flowing garments enhanced with panels pleats and pin tucks will accentuate the shape of the garment. Layering will make a come back.

7. What was the most defining point in your career thus far?

I wouldn’t say I came across one moment that changed everything for me or Saai overnight. To name a few, the heart warming response to Saai’s collection at Bridal Asia ’07 boosted my confidence not only in the brand which was still picking up pace but also gave birth to the concept of ‘The Revival Collection’. The mukesh, shadow work and tarkashi pieces were an instant hit, which made me realize the huge potential in indigenous Pakistani crafts.

The press conference held at The Boulevard, PFDC made me realize the vital role Prêt plays in the world of fashion and that the time had come to start thinking out of the box and take the leap from Bridal wear into other lucrative and challenging pastures such as prêt.

8. What do you believe is the biggest challenge faced by the fashion industry in Pakistan today?

I feel the industry is fearless and now, no challenge is big enough to hamper the growth of fashion. Forward is the only way to go! The prerequisites for development of any industry, not just fashion, are political and economic stability, which we can all hope and pray for. This will eventually lead to Pakistani designers and fashion making its mark internationally.

9. Where do you see Saai, ten years from now?

Where Saai is concerned the next ten years are a long time. Frankly, I cannot comment on the next ten weeks even. The brand and the industry are both evolving so rapidly. Truly, the sky is the limit for both. It is ‘The Revival Collection’ which is my baby. I aspire to take a product of rural Pakistan to an International platform, which will be my genuine achievement.

Sahar Atif is a designer renowned for her unique focus on having created and sustained an affordable designer wear label, Saai.

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