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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

12 March 2017

Pakistan to London - Bumpy Road to Catwalk

Contributor Safia Minney

Fashion DNA Pakistan 2

In the summer of 2016 six Pakistani fashion labels embarked on a journey that would culminate in them showcasing their collections on a Fashion Scout catwalk show.

A blast of colour and artisan skill hit London Fashion Week in February 2017.

In the summer of 2016 six Pakistani fashion labels embarked on a journey that would culminate in them showcasing their collections on a Fashion Scout catwalk show.

The designers were selected to be part of a British Council mentoring programme, FashionDNA, aimed at helping them develop the skills needed to work internationally. In collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Forum, the 2016-17 programme focussed on sustainable and ethical approaches to fashion.

Here, SOURCE Associate Safia Minney, who mentored the designers on business and sustainability, reflects on the experience.

“Having worked in establishing some of the first fair trade and organic supply chains and collections for People Tree over the last 25 years, I was delighted to help talented Pakistani designers bring ethics and sustainability into their collections and to London Fashion Week.

Over eight months I made two trips to Pakistan, alongside other mentors, to help the designers put the collections together, find sustainable fabrics and discuss fashion marketing —then hours of Skype meetings brought fellow SOURCE Associate Sury Bagenal, who was their Design Mentor, and I close together in mentoring the six designers to produce their collections.

Each of the designers already had traditional textiles and craft at the centre of their production and brand DNA and each was passionate in their own way about sustainability. Some worked already with hand weavers and natural dyes and all worked with hand embellishment.

Visiting a workshop and watching the amazing artisans #hamzabokhari #jeem with the #britishcouncil

A post shared by Sury Bagenal (@suryb) on

But despite all this, we hit a number of challenges:


Unlike Bangladesh where I have worked with fair trade groups for decades, Pakistan has no Fair Trade movement or strong NGO community. We had to start at the beginning with the designers to research on minimum and living wages.

There are too few players in this space so we have to create a network and strengthen this fledgling community/ ecosystem. I believe that with the continued support of the British Council and other key specialists in fair trade & ethical fashion that we could do this.

The amazing local designers from this programme can also help build a powerful new movement for sustainability. Local and vocal with a pull from the international community.


Pakistan has a feudal society and security can be an issue. Like other developing countries the gap between rich and poor is huge and corruption is rife. Sustainable fashion has the power to help women economically and help deliver social advancement for their daughters and other poor people however this will require patience and huge dedication. We need the network of highlighted above to make this happen. It would be helpful to have a local office of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) in Pakistan.


Sourcing sustainable materials can be challenging, however there are huge factories in Pakistan that can help to provide sustainable fabrics to the designers and artisanal brands of Pakistan. We know some big brands are beginning to get involved in organic cotton and we need to broaden the supply of organic and sustainable fabrics and fibres. And accessories. Collaboration is key.

So what did I enjoy most in the hugeness of the task?

It’s the way the macro shapes the micro and vice versa and how the team’s passion helped to achieve significant breakthroughs.

We have the power as dedicated designers/ brands, movers and shakers to create an ethical fashion movement. Sury Bagenal, design mentor, and I talked with each other and with the designers about colour, fabric, price, hand stitch work and what people are paid. Design and sustainability go hand-in-hand.

At the same time I had some some of the richest philosophical conversations I’ve ever had. With talented menswear designer Munib Nawaz on the new gentleman and how responsibility and sensitivity is what fashion is about. With Moshin of Pink Tree with his joy of colour and silk and traditional hand embroidered finery. There was sound sense from Sonya Battla about cotton hand weaves and indigo dyes and how challenging it is to manage production.

Lovely munibnawaz - innovator and designer with great ethics ethicalfashionforum

A post shared by Safia Minney (@safia_minney) on

And then there was an incredible engineering approach to fashion business to reduce waste by bespoke dressmakers Zuria Dor. And the brilliance and warmth of Maheen of Gulabo who uses truck art print, working out how to make the clothes flow on organic fabrics, and Hamza of JEEM who just rocks hand stitch work and the feminine silhouette. I want to wear his dresses forever.

After eight hardworking months we handed over to talented stylists Carri Munden and Rebecca Roy. Watch the video and you would believe that it was an easy task to create a show with a nod to sustainability and fair trade. I am truly proud to be part of the designers’ support team and the British Council Pakistan DNA initiative.”

#FashionDNAPakistan finale #lfw british_design mbfw

A post shared by Ethical Fashion Forum (@ethicalfashionforum) on

About the Mentors

Safia Minney founded fair trade fashion label People Tree and ran it for 25 years. She is currently Managing Director of sustainable footwear brand Pozu.

SOURCE Associate Sury Bagenal is a fashion designer and design consultant with more than 20 years of experience. She has designed womenswear collections for luxury brands such as ME+EM and mainstream brands including Monsoon, House of Fraser and Debenhams.

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