Hassan Iqbal Rizvi and Saad Shahid are currently the hottest young entrepreneurs in Lahore giving the city a jolly good dose of pop art and retro funk fashion. Their start-up, ‘9Lines,’ is a clothing and lifestyle brand fast gaining popularity among young Pakistanis who have an inclination towards alternative fashion that makes a loud, definitive style statement.
While Hassan, a graduate from the National College of Arts (NCA), holds the reigns for all things creative, Saad, an MBA grad from Cardiff (UK), directs the business and marketing aspect of ‘9Lines’. Having initiated their venture over Facebook, Rizvi and Shahid are part of a new generation of Pakistani entrepreneurs that are availing the goodness of social media to proudly launch their own companies, brands and services.
In an interview with The Friday Times, the boys talk about fads, their work process, and creating one’s own niche.
[quote]We wanted a label that had popular culture influences but did not ape trends[/quote]
Tell me a little about the birth of ‘9Lines?’
Hassan: ‘9Lines’ was a product of searching for the right partner to collaborate with to create a unique, fun, quirky fashion and lifestyle label that created original art for its merchandise; a label that had popular culture influences but did not ape trends. As an artist/graphic designer who has dabbled in art, photography and design, I was eager to experiment and push my creative boundaries. Saad, being my best friend, had his own forte: marketing, finance, operations and logistics. Who better could I have teamed up with? We planned to launch some quirky items for a one-off exhibition but that never happened. Instead we made a Facebook page as a test-run and put some of the products to sell online. But then we were hit by a mammoth response, and we had to pool in about half a lakh each for production so we could start supplying our products to people all across Pakistan!
[quote]If you want to be in the game, don’t play safe![/quote]
Funky pop-art merchandise and apparel has really taken off in Pakistan in a big way: do you think it stands as a short-lived fad?
Hassan: The other day, I put some real thought into how trends might develop in 2014. What geometric form will evolve with zeal? Do neon colors have any staying power? What about this rose-gold business? Experts and amateurs alike can passionately prognosticate but in the end, trends and fads have far too many variables to allow perfect accuracy. Seriously, who would have guessed a Korean pop song/dance craze (Gangnam Style) would dominate pop culture in 2012?
Saad: The only constant thing these days is ‘change.’ Consumers are shrewd in this era and that is what keeps all businesses on their toes. As long as funky pop-art merchandise and apparel evolves, it won’t be a fad. Generally, trends fade with time because consumers get used to the idea of seeing the same thing over and over again. If entrepreneurs keep adding incremental value to their creative endeavours, they will seal the deal! Caution: if you want to be in the game, don’t play safe!
[quote]The organized chaos that our country represents was a perfect theme to capture[/quote]
How do you guys decide on designs and themes?
Hassan: My inspiration for themes comes from pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Our first season collection was heavily based on popular culture based on Hollywood legends with retro/pop art treatment. But with the second season, Pakistan was an inspiration. The organized chaos that our country represents was a perfect theme to capture. This we mixed with Lollywood and Hollywood legends, pop art, the retro era, Pakistani truck and rickshaw art… the list kept growing. We wanted to include all these subjects, totally kitsch them out, repackage them, and present them through a medium that was both fun to work on, to sell and to buy, besides being affordable.
Saad: There is an oddity and a sense of innovation to our brand. This oddity, this quirkiness and this implicit need to be original and fun is our USP (unique selling point). We ideate on products together. Sometimes we do have eureka! moments and when we do, we hear each other out.
In the past (and currently) there have been quite a few apparel (mainly t-shirt) businesses that have been initiated by young Pakistanis, however their popularity soon fizzled out. Where do you think they failed, and how do you plan on giving your brand a healthy, long life?
Hassan: There are other similar labels each with their own design sensibility which probably became redundant over time. We have a strong understanding of design, fashion and trends; also, we consistently desire to create something original each time. We are not aping trends, even though our work has a very strong pop art essence, we are neither imitating designs, nor finding inspiration from style trends or ‘what’s popular now,’ we constantly strive to create innovative art that spells individuality.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Hassan: Having studied and lived in Lahore, South Asian art, artists and pop culture became strong influences in my design education. Graphic Design was definitely a dominant influence in my education. Pop art, Andy Warhol, the 60s era, vintage photographs and Pakistani truck and rickshaw art are my main inspirations for designs. Pakistan traditionally has a huge database for design, clothing, food, architecture, home decor, transport, festivals and weddings. One always sees a riot of colors, patterns, textures and kitsch elements. We also love Hindi/Urdu movies and Saad is a die-hard fan of Bollywood, whereas I’d prefer to focus on Lollywood/Hollywood in my designs. I often find inspiration in yesteryear silver screen icons, retro blockbusters, famous on-screen couples, cheeky dialogues and the extinct art of poster painting.
Saad: We create what we enjoy, what we find fun. Our biggest inspiration is our country. Having travelled all over Pakistan and abroad extensively helped us re-discover it. The very Pakistani-ness or desi-pann is immensely inspiring.
The number of young, self-employed Pakistanis initiating their own start-ups is insane! What important advice would you give to young people in Pakistan running online businesses?
Saad: If you think you’re different and you have it in you, don’t waste time and get started. But research the market first. Be prepared to face rejection but don’t give up. In a country with a population of around 200 million, there are many who’d like what you do and would want to buy your creations.
Hassan: I see a paradigm shift in design sensibilities and a larger international exposure for students who have had exposure to international design to contribute to the Pakistani design scene. Contemporary graphic and arts are still at a nascent stage in Pakistan and I am certain this will change in due course for the better. I think the key essence is not promotion but focusing on the work itself. I would like to believe that in a creative industry it is of foremost importance that designers, particularly the new breed, focus on creating their own space and niche, creating a visual identity of their own so they can bank on that as their USP. Once the works of art speak, promotion becomes a whole lot easier. Social media is a great platform.
Sonya Rehman is a writer/journalist based in Lahore. Write to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org