It’s 2005. The world is reeling from the horrors of the earthquake in Kashmir where 86,000 people died and millions were displaced. It was called the deadliest earthquake in South Asia.
In Lahore, a group of friends sat together in the basement of their host’s home. Educated, glamourous and glitzy they sit uneasily in their surroundings. There is a need do something, something that goes beyond donations.
But they also wanted to go beyond doing just another fund raiser or a fashion show or just Another Event To Raise Funds. “At that time I was working for Care foundation and I know how much you have to spend to do events and it seems like you’re spending quite a lot of money and what does it translate into?” said Nuria Iqbal, a founding member of The Fundraisers and BBS.
So, what could they do? Inspiration came in the form of another fundraiser.
“It was Jemima Khan in London and she had gotten Gucci and different brands to give an item to sell and the proceeds would go to the earthquake. So at the next meeting I said let’s ask every designer to give items and we sell at 50% and we could give all the money to charity. Mahin had a huge basement and we thought lets have the sale,” said Nuria. Hence the Bargain Basement Sale (BBS) came into being.
Post the first BBS, there was the realisation that something utterly profound had taken place. Calling themselves ‘The Fundraisers’ they set off to conduct a yearly BBS. The idea was simple – living in Pakistan, constantly asking for money is draining for the giver but also as a fundraiser. “People give without knowing they’re giving for charity, so there’s some fun in it,” explains Nuria.
The community oriented BBS has multiple angles to it. The first and foremost angle is one of community. Donating money is perhaps the easiest but also the most limiting in terms of resources and impact.
At that point, there was the recognition that the situation was so dire that there was a need to connect Lahore with Kashmir on a human basis, where a community could be created to cultivate empathy across the city, if not the country. No small feat given the mosaic like nature of Pakistani society.
Post 2005, with a charity model that worked in engaging Pakistanis in a constructive manner and raised funds without the use of unnecessary pressure tactics to get people to give money, the Fundraisers began to build relationships with charities across the country.
Every year end of August the Fundraisers begin to put in place who the sponsors are, what brands are donating items and what charities to support.
“We try to include different organisations associated with education with Rising Stars Foundation. We have supported Pink Ribbon because Pakistan has the highest case for breast cancer for women and it is because women do not get access to screening or treatment. They have opened the first hospital for breast cancer and BBS has a plaque there,” said Nuria. “BBS for me now is a platform for community to give back, everybody is welcome in it to give back and anybody involved in the BBS whatever it is they are involved in, they are giving 100% as they’re not getting any money.”
Another angle is what BBS offers to businesses. BBS is an open platform consisting of big companies, small companies and entrepreneurs. This has meant that many new brands have been able to get publicity and gain clients through BBS. From a brand perspective it is a a hassle free means especially for small businesses to find a means of catapulting themselves onto the market. To think that BBS started with 30-40 designers and today there are 200 different brands, just goes to show the impact it has had for businesses in tapping into a wider variety of clients.
And BBS’ recognition of how important its platform is for other businesses comes from how it is managed. Purely organised and run by women, BBS is a well-oiled machine. From digitisation and product barcoding, to stock management to photography of all items, BBS is akin to a luxury department store in terms of management. This is why there is such a good working relationships with the brands that donate from all over Pakistan as they are valued as clients as well and not just seen as donors.
“We run on goodwill, so for us as an organisation we need to be transparent with everything that we do and people trust us to sell their items and give all that money for charity so for me it is really important that inventory is meticulous. Everything is coded, every brand has its own code, every item is put in a system called Nimbus given to us by Lumensoft. All the data is there,” explained Nuria.
Ethics clearly matter very much which is why absolutely nothing is sold before the sale. No one is allowed to buy anything before the sale. In fact the need to uphold equality of access to enable an all-inclusive shopping experience is so embedded, no volunteer is allowed to shop for the first few hours. But what volunteers are given is a special discount simply because they’ve given so much of their time and put in so much effort it is only fair to offer a lower discount especially when they shop after everyone else had shopped.
“It is an amazing platform. We offer an internship programme and they learn about marketing and organisational skills. They get to interview charities, they get to make posters, put up stuff on Instagram. We have student helpers from different schools in Lahore and they’re very good. Giving back is a habit and if children learn this early on, it becomes a habit,” noted Nuria. Working at BBS gives you the skills to be meticulous and efficient with a heavy lesson in due diligence.
BBS remains very much an integral part of Lahore since its inception in 2005. Today with hundreds of women and children as volunteers, with hundreds of brands trusting them, it is a force for change. A whole community comes together to cultivate empathy and connection with those who need help. It is precisely this act of giving that makes one believe that in the midst of all the chaos and turmoil that defines Pakistan, there is a soul of pureness that somehow makes life all that more beautiful.
BBS will be have its 2022 Sale this Sunday 4th December at the Grand Luxus Hotel in Lahore from 11am to 5pm