The Many Shades of The Fashion Industry – Pakistan

No one can deny the allure of fame. With it comes glitz and glamour, a chance to bask in the limelight – surely a dream come true for many.

An obvious choice for those who desire to attain all this is the media industry – a world of fashion, film, TV, modelling and photography. In Pakistan, where the industry is quite small, only a few people stand at the helm of the media empire.

The modelling industry has recently gained much popularity amongst the youth, but some would say that behind all the glamour also lies a darker world of secrets, lies, revenge, abuse and envy. The world like quicksand that dissolves once it is embraced. The complaints of many young people lead us to wonder why such a thriving industry is so thoroughly hated.

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We interviewed several newcomers as well as some established artists on their point of view on the industry.

Some enthusiastic female university students claimed that being in the spotlight would be like a dream come true, but if they were asked to take part in anything unethical they would refuse. Many were of the opinion that modelling is a career choice for those who are not educated, although some pointed out that educated models have now started entering the industry, which is a positive sign as it could lead to the rejuvenation of moral values. The new modelling, film and TV schools that have cropped up can play a vital part in developing Pakistan’s fledgeling industry.

And A level graduate said “I personally don’t like the profession of modelling. I really don’t think that any girl should be involved in it, and not for religious reasons, but because I don’t think she should be stared at by all sorts of people while she walks up and down the aisle for them, dressed in all sorts of clothes, just for the sake of promoting someone else’s ideas on her body.”

Another guy who has tried his luck in the industry said: “I think that modelling in Pakistan is much tougher for men. Women are allowed entry easily, while men have to struggle really hard as compared to the American, British and Indian modelling industries. Another reason for this is that often senior models don’t want junior models to join this industry”.

The majority of people who enter this profession belong to the 18-22 year age category, from both middle and upper-class families. And almost all of them are aware of the challenges that lie ahead for them in this field. Tariq Taqi – a model and actor who has been in the industry for the past 11 years, confirmed this when he recalled how he had to struggle through his teenage years to get to where he is today.

Newcomers also talk about how they have to pay agencies to get them good projects. Muhammad Usman (modelling for the past 2 years) said “Photographers often ask us to pay them just for the shoots until we get work, but even if you do some projects they claim they never got paid and so they can’t pay you. They keep doing this, and if you are finally tired and want to leave they will pay just to have you stay. They do need us, but they are very sharp in not making it obvious.”

The many problems faced by newcomers do not stop here. They are often given a rough time by being forced to indulge in indecent activities, not comfortable or suitable for most. “Compromise,” says Usman “is what many big names want from you in the industry”. Tariq Taqi also confirms this: “If a person is oriented the other way, to him his life and to me mine, but the pressure to be like them or to compromise with their needs is horrid. I am a man and I would like to stay that way, forcing me to fulfil their needs won’t work with me.”

Homosexuals dominate many areas of the industry. The problem does not arise from their being at the helm, but from the harassment, some straight people claim to have faced in order to be given a break.

“If they want you to compromise you have to, but that only happens in Pakistan. When I went to Bangkok a man approached me saying he is interested, and I told him I’m not. He behaved perfectly normally with me after that. However, if someone in Pakistan were to do the same and I refused, he would automatically develop enmity towards me.

“But the problem with today’s generation is that they are willing to do anything to get ahead in the industry. People should stand up and say no if they are asked to do unreasonable things. We all need to stand up and be united.” says an agonised Taqi.

A problem that we faced repeatedly while compiling data for this article was that female models were quite reluctant to speak openly. Perhaps many of them feared that taking a stance would have a negative impact on their careers. Some claimed that since the industry is currently run by people not interested in women they actually feel quite comfortable in their profession and are largely saved from harassment.

There has been a recent legislation against sexual harassment, but as Haseeb, a law student and fresh model said “there are a thousand and one cases currently pending in the courts, you would have to wait forever for your turn to come. It’s not like we don’t want to speak out but proving harassment isn’t easy.”

In addition to all of this, there is a great amount of peer pressure, which in many cases leads to an addiction to drugs and alcohol. The constant emphasis on maintaining a perfect figure drives many to extreme lifestyles that have led to an array of health issues. Although this is seldom highlighted in the media, behind the layers of makeup models routinely battle with bulimia, anorexia and hypertension.

And then there are the power games. Ailar Ershadi said in a 2010 interview “I wish people wouldn’t team up so much here. It’s too small an industry for people to create groups and indulge in so many personal attacks. They will all learn from each other if they stop making these cliques. They should also go to other countries and work under professionals abroad.”

Very little seems to have changed in the past two years; the game is the same, even though the names might have changed. The big bees of the industry have the power to make or break a newcomer’s career.

Jealousy drives many people too. Samina Azhhar said in an interview to a popular paper “The industry is filled with jealous and insecure people who backbite”. However, Tariq Taqi also mentions that “Some people are very professional; they are only concerned with work. Working with them is a treat and we need more people like them in the industry.”

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Mohsin Sayeed, a fashion journalist for more than 25 years, has a totally different take on these issues. “Sex, drugs, harassment etc. prevail in almost all professions in Pakistan. Fashion industry comes into limelight only because it is a soft target, earlier the same used to be said about other arts like painting, writing, and poetry.” Sayeed argues. When asked about complaints of the newcomers, he says, “These allegations are totally unfounded and mostly used to mask one’s incompetence. Like other fields of art, fashion industry demands creativity, hard work and consistency. When you look closely, you will find that fashion is a tough job and is not as glamorous as it is thought.”

Fashion is a way of expressing creativity, and the business of fashion is not only about great style and pretty models but a multi-dimensional enterprise involving many people, each making their contribution to the bigger picture.

The educated class needs to come forward and drive the industry in a way where true talent can be appreciated. The fashion industry showcases Pakistan the world over; it has played the role of developing a great image of our country as a stylish and creative one. If such problems prevail in this important sector, the image could be tarnished easily.

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