“Being a sharia brand is the unique selling point of J.”

Ahmed Ali, Group Brand Manager J., talks about brand expansion and meeting consumer expectations

How did your journey in the marketing world start?
I was doing my graduation from University of Karachi back in 2004, when I received an offer from a local English daily. I worked there as an Advertisement Executive for almost two years before I moved to Jang Group as an Assistant Manager Marketing for corporate events. After working there for almost four years was a great experience and I learned a lot and made very good contacts in the media industry. In 2010, I joined Khaleej Times and worked there for almost five years. There was a media agency that was opening a new office in Abu Dhabi and I served there as head of Brand Communication and Business Development, as well. Finally, I moved back to Pakistan and joined Gul Ahmed as Brand Manager. Two years later, I joined Almirah and three months down the lane, the company realised my potential and handed over the complete portfolio of J. as well.

What made you switch to the fashion side of marketing?
Actually, I had coordinated with the fashion industry all along while working for Jang and Khaleej Times. For example, I was the one who initiated Dawn Wedding Extravaganza that was a complete fashion event with the participation of designers, jewellers and photographers. I had it in my blood from the start. I always knew that at some point I want to pursue my career in the fashion industry.

When you joined Almirah, how did you find the status in terms of sales?
When I joined Almirah, it was still a new brand. It was quite challenging for me since there was not much market penetration. There was no word of mouth, the fashion industry was not aware of the brand, there was no hype. I utilised all my resources and it has become a very profitable brand. We are expanding at a decent pace and have recently opened a new outlet in Centaurus, Islamabad that makes a total of 19 outlets at present.

How were you able to get things on the right track?
Proper branding was missing at the time. Because of the visuals, the way shoots were done, there was too much distraction in terms of marketing communication. Focused advertisement and precise relevant marketing were lacking. Now, I feel like we have done very well to achieve what we are looking for. We participated in important events like lawn festivals and fashion shows and introduced designs for the youth at very affordable prices. We launched Waseem Akram series that included very elegant and classy designs and colours for the high end menswear fabric. We believe creativity and innovation is an ongoing process.

What changes did you implement when you joined J.?
It was only when I started taking care of J., that I realised its true potential. The things I focused on was positioning of the brand, so I started to go after malls, radio channels, print advertising to get prime positions. I always believe whenever you advertise, don’t compromise on your position. We also did out of the box shoots; we came up with new themes, new tag lines targeting youth, new colours, and new commercials. Now we are focused towards the digital media and content that has the ability to go viral.

Talking about the same brand, what is your core aim?
Basically, J. is a brand that has very ethnic, traditional and cultural values associated with it as part of a sharia brand. People rely on our high-end fabric because it is of good quality. So we don’t just focus towards the sale figures. We have more than 22 outlets internationally as well and are getting a very good response at the global level as well. We are expanding in Canada, Europe, and UK, and have recently launched a menswear sandal collection and among other things, we have come up with new products, like jewellery and fragrances. We have recently launched cosmetics with the help of a Turkish brand, Note. A cosmetic workshop was conducted in Karachi to engage the audience directly with the relevant people who are also our customers. We are trying to conduct same workshops in Lahore and Islamabad. So basically, we do not just focus towards sales figures. We are trying to understand what exactly our consumers want and what the customers are looking for in the future.

When your aim is to maintain the quality above everything else, how do you make sure that the fine quality of the fabric remains standard throughout?
We have everything in house; we have a complete set up for the fabric, weaving and dyeing. We have a quality control department as well, we have an audit department to make sure the quality is good and meets international standards. So there is a proper procedure that we follow like most big textile brands.

So, J. started with apparel and moved on to fragrances and now make-up. Was expansion always part of the plan or did it just happen as you went along?
You are right. It started with the men’s apparel, then we moved on to women’s apparel and then kids’ because that is the requirement of the industry. Through customer feedback we got to know that they are expecting more from us, and when we realised that we have the potential, then why not go for it?

Does working as a sharia brand limit you in any way?
I personally believe that it is our unique selling point. We are the only brand of its kind to have this many outlets in Pakistan and internationally, and we are doing very good. We can compete with any high fashion brand in the country. In fact, most customers prefer us because we are a sharia brand. Yes, we don’t participate in fashion weeks, but we have other mediums to advertise. We are proud of our policies and don’t see them as hurdles.

What’s your 10-year plan?
As far as J. is concerned, you will see more customised fragrances that will be launched by celebrities very soon. Shoe and handbag lines are also under consideration. So you never know what might materialise. •