It’s not every day that one comes across a young lady, just out of college, stepping out of her comfort zone to enter into the rough and tumble of the business world, and that too in a country like Bangladesh.
Tracing her roots to a business family, and having strong knowledge in textile and apparel manufacturing and exports (Experience Group), Zainab Maqsood decided it was time for her to try her hands out at establishing a brand that would cater to all classes of society in the yet nascent but fast emerging fashion retail sector of Bangladesh rather than join her family business.
Apparel Resources (AR) caught up with Zainab to know more about AMIRÁ, one of the most happening brands in Bangladesh currently and understand her scheme of things as to how she wants to position AMIRÁ to make it a name to reckon with in Bangladesh fashion retail sector.
Here are the excerpts.
AR: How did AMIRÁ happen and how did you decide on such a catchy name?
Zainab: I was born and brought up in Dhaka and know well the country’s unmatched prowess in apparel manufacturing and exports, as I also belong to a family of garment makers.
After schooling, I went to London to do my graduation from Coventry University and when I came back, I felt notwithstanding Bangladesh’s reputation as a garment-making behemoth, fashion retail was somewhat missing the flair and there was no excitement at all. Whatever local brands were there in the market, somehow lacked in terms of innovation and design parameters and that is when I thought of coming up with a brand that would cater to the people’s requirements, while also being fashionable and affordable. And thus was born AMIRÁ.
My father (Chairman of Experience Group) has been very considerate by providing me with an opportunity like this. I got a shot to start a new project for the group, to represent our company’s diversity and skills in a new sector. Experience Group has been serving European and US brands for years, but now taking its first step to establishing a brand of its own was a very big and valuable achievement for the Group. Given that we have our own apparel manufacturing facilities was a definite plus as I only had to put things together.
AMIRÁ is an Arabic word meaning princess or high born. Actually, it was a lot of struggle to decide on the name as I always wanted a brand name that is completely different yet short and simple from the local ones even as it carried deep meaning. I want my customers, when they step into our stores, to feel like royalty even as we offer products that are exclusive in nature but affordable nonetheless.
AR: Unlike many other brands (which are into westernwear), AMIRÁ’s focus is on ethnicwear it seems; any reason?
Zainab: In Bangladesh, ethnicwear is very popular, especially the style culture that we have in south-east Asia like in Pakistan and India but unluckily there aren’t too many options available in the local market currently.
This is one of the principal reasons for choosing ethnicwear over westernwear.
But slowly and steadily, we are also getting into fusionwear (combination of western and eastern) now as I see a huge demand for it in the country.
AR: How are AMIRÁ’s offerings priced?
Zainab: Our products (ethnicwear) are very reasonably priced if you compare to westernwear. You can get a three-piece set or a two-piece set from AMIRÁ for the price of a pair of denim jeans from abroad.
We have kept the price tags reasonable as we want to reach all classes of consumers including the upper and middle class, as we want to create a mass customer base rather than catering to any particular class as such.
AR: In the men’s category, are your products restricted only to ethnicwear?
Zainab: No, here we have a mix of both and there are reasons for it. A large chunk of our male customers on a usual day prefer westernwear over ethnic. However, during festivals like Eid and Durga Puja, ethnicwear is in massive demand otherwise westernwear, be it casuals or formals like shirts, polo shirts, knit items and denims, etc., is the preferred product category.
Even though our production takes place in-house and we also have our own team of designers, the fabric is sourced from overseas mostly from countries like India, Pakistan and China. For good polyester and viscose, China is the preferred choice while India and Pakistan are ideal for innovative fabrics where a lot of R&D and value-addition takes place for ethnicwear.
AR: With so many global and local players in the market already, how does AMIRÁ plan to distinguish itself from the rest?
Zainab: I think we have already managed to differentiate ourselves from others.
There are a lot of new and interesting elements that add a different dimension to AMIRÁ. We are still very young compared to many brands and that spirit and vibrancy is very much visible in most of our creations.
We are now two-years old and it has been a wonderful journey so far. We already have four outlets in Dhaka, one outlet in Mymensingh and more to come soon.
In Dhaka, we initially started with our first store at Probal Tower in Mohammadpur area of old Dhaka, which was launched on 4th December 2020. On the very same day, our second store was inaugurated in Wari. Now we are expanding into other Tier-2 cities in the country including Chittagong, Sylhet and Cumilla.
I did not want to rush into things early and I chose to rather wait for the feedback and the kind of response that we get before expanding further. My intention was to up my game in terms of quality, designing and other aspects before scaling things up even as my ultimate goal is to become like Zara one day and move beyond garments, growing our business in different product categories like home textiles, accessories, footwear and so on.
AR: Are you present only in physical format?
Zainab: We were initially present only in bricks-and-mortar stores but during the Covid-19 pandemic period, we decided to launch our own website. In hindsight, I think it was a very wise move as it helped us to expand our reach beyond the capital city Dhaka to other cities as well as far-flung districts.
Today, we have a lot of customers from almost every nook and corner of Bangladesh, even the so-called remote areas, which otherwise would not have been possible had we not gone online.
Despite the rising popularity of e-commerce, the scams that hit the sector in the recent past have impacted the online business in Bangladesh as customers are apprehensive of buying stuff online.
AR: Having established in such a short time and rather strongly, what are your plans for AMIRÁ going forward?
Zainab: I am looking to continue adding value to our products and services while also going for innovative experimentation.
To start with, we are experimenting with fusionwear as customers are now showing keen interest in it even as we slowly and steadily get into westernwear in the ladies’ segment.
While in ethnicwear, I am thinking of how we can modernise the print work, embroidery that can help increase the product as well as the brand value.
My ultimate goal is to be able to position AMIRÁ in the lines of Zara and make our products stand out from others so that by having one look, a person is able to identify that this piece is from AMIRÁ and I am hoping one day we will be able to do that; AMIRÁ needs to stand out from the rest at the end of the day and customers need to be well-satisfied with what they receive.