SASSY: A Change of Art
I sit down with Sophiya Salim Khan of The SASSY Store, a spanking new boutique that has taken Lahore by storm. We talk about consumer psychology, periods, and making big ripples in a small pond, in the afterglow of a launch event so daring we can’t believe it worked. We get down to business over multiple cups of chai.
I find myself wondering what I’m doing here. I haven’t the slightest inkling about fashion design or global trends, about curation and changing buying patterns. I’m out of my element here, but I put my editor’s hat on and cling to the Charcoal + Gravel ethos: working with people who go against all that they have been taught. As I begin to ease into conversation, I find myself catching my stride. It’s not rocket science after all.
A graduate of the London School of Fashion, Khan is a social media influencer in her own right, and her Instagram handle @keepingupwithkhan draws followers from the UK and Pakistan simultaneously. I have a tough time Keeping Up With Khan, so I ask her what she’s all about. She’s mild and mellow, and my initial queries are met with a half-smile. “I started with photography and videography, and a bit of fashion blogging,” she offers.
This mix-and-match approach to social media comes with its own quirks, a true summation of all the individual parts that go into constructing Khan. “My Instagram is the amalgamation of my life, a platform that extends my voice beyond my immediate social circle,” she continues, “Keeping Up With Khan is an integral part of who I am and will exist till the day I stop working.”
And this seems to be the case; in half-pinned dungarees, an upside-down, white-on-black SASSY ribbon around her neck, a grey t-shirt that reads “WARNING YOU MUST FALL IN LOVE WITH ME”, and white Ralph Lauren sneakers, she looks straight out of her own social media postings. She hands out pin badges and pens to my team. They are impressed with her gusto. I too, am already sold.
I ask her about what her average customer looks like, and the answer seems to come quite naturally to her. “Not sheep.”
SASSY (Sensible, Attractive, Secure, Sensitive, Young), Khan’s new venture with Mashal Mustafa, is partly an extension of her Instagram persona; an initiative that fosters individualism in a duplicitously homogeneous crowd. I ask her about what her average customer looks like, and the answer seems to come quite naturally to her. “Not sheep.”
Through SASSY, Khan and Mustafa want to redefine urban couture. Khan tells me that working with Mustafa is nothing short of “amazing.” She tells me that they encourage each other to take risks, and their support for each other ensures that they are always on the same page. It’s a dynamic duo, and with a brand this bold, it can be easy to get caught up in matters of the ego.
Khan envisions a relatable, raw, and natural brand
that can bring something as simple as white dress shirts
back in demand.
The SASSY philosophy is simple: western wear, styled the way you want. Khan and I talk about her bestselling products, and she tells me that t-shirts seem to be all the hype. “Burn them, cut them up, tie them. You choose how you make each item work for you.” I can’t help (and don’t sue me) but think how the SASSY lifestyle mirrors Supreme culture.
“The Pakistani consumer is ready to learn new consumer behaviors. We need to get rid of the ‘try before you
It’s evident through the launch event that SASSY is not your average retail outlet. Much like its customers, Khan and Mustafa go to extremes ensure that they’re not labelled as ‘sheep’. For starters, Khan claims that no paparazzi was invited to the event for hype purposes; whoever came, came for the culture and lifestyle associated with SASSY. There’s a strict no formalities policy here. And it pays off. The brand does not have any physical stores, concept or otherwise; all sales are e-commerce sales. I find this puzzling, in the context of how fashion works and has historically worked as a brick and mortar industry within Pakistan. Khan tries to subdue my concerns, stating that “The Pakistani consumer is ready to learn new consumer behaviors. We need to get rid of the ‘try before you buy’ expectation.” I hold back on any additional comments to avoid a straight up argument, and she picks up on that too.
“People don’t take simplicity seriously anymore.”
The co-founder believes existing Pakistani brands have spoilt the consumer by giving them what they want, when they want it. “People say they like pink, or diamontes. And before you can blink, the next product line coming out of mainstream brands is all pink, dipped in diamontes.” I find it hard not to agree, despite my inexperience. “People don’t take simplicity seriously anymore,” she says. Khan sells her concept well.
I am told that there is no marketing or PR team to lead advertising campaigns. Everything is done as a collective, and it shows. The marketing is risque, primarily organic, and oh, SO against the grain. I dig that. It’s also inclusive; of the 11 women featured on the website to display the product line, which includes everything minus shoes (for now), only 2 are professional models. For SASSY’s ambassadors, there are no maximum waistlines, height requirements, or facial features’ prerequisite. Photo-shoots on iPhones? Check. Personal follow-ups on orders? Check.
In the days leading up to the launch, Khan says she encountered several hiccups that served as downers. Since they do not stock a lot of the same design, they encountered some sizing issues at the launch. Khan regrets this, as she finds it hard to reconcile her ethos of inclusivity without being able to cater to all physical shapes and sizes. Smaller instances included clothing racks falling over during the launch, and technical issues that led to a minor delay in the launch of the website.
“Dealing with hormones when you need to get shit done was tough. If problem solving wasn’t hard enough already, this just made it exponentially harder”
Khan tells me that the most significant hindrance to making the launch successful was her period, which dawned on her two days before the event. Already working round-the-clock, task to task, she was sleep deprived. “Dealing with hormones when you need to get shit done was tough. If problem solving wasn’t hard enough already, this just made it exponentially harder,” Khan sighs. It’s an overlooked factor, the natural processes of someone’s body and how they impact day-to-day decision making and physical comfort. On the face of it, however, she seems to have dealt with it like a champ. “I sent someone to get me a change of clothes, but obviously there was work to be done so we kept going.”
There were also upsides. Notably, Khan tells us that her month was made when she received overwhelmingly positive feedback and genuine validation from her support staff. “They worked overtime to ensure the launch went off without a hitch, cleaning, steaming, labeling, and representing.” This ownership of the product felt within the organization is Khan’s fuel, and she is keen not to forget the backbone of her operation; honest, hard-working people who believe in SASSY.
The launch was fabulous by the way. Reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, the event pulsed with music and deep blue light. There were no display racks on the ground floor: an image first, product second kinda deal. I had no reason to be there, as a male who dislikes shopping in the first place. But I went because I just couldn’t miss it. After choreographed performances by models, a quick and easy Polaroid service, and an overflowing terrace where people could shoot the shit, I was happy to be there.
Complete with an entourage of supportive family and edgy friends for the heavy lifting, the brand seems destined for success. I have to say I’m slightly jealous.
SASSY is not just a brand, it’s an immersive experience. It creates a market out of thin air, and with limited designs and low volumes, it’s hard to get. Prior to SASSY’s launch there was a ‘formula’ for fashion, and a willingness to be swallowed whole by mainstream fashion trends. Khan and Mustafa have taken a conventional model and turned it on its head. Complete with an entourage of supportive family and edgy friends for the heavy lifting, the brand seems destined for success. I have to say I’m slightly jealous.
Khan has been showered with validation from the moment SASSY launched. “Models tell me that they finally have something to wear and style according to their preferences.” Khan does not believe in imposing her own vision onto the brand. She crowd-sources her direction, relying on others to represent and rethink what fashion really is capable of.
The duo have ambitious plans to take SASSY to great heights. “Our shoes line will be droppin’ soon,” Khan says. I can tell that she’s holding back on more, so I inquire further. She gives little away but can confirm that a wider range of accessories is in the mix, along with a menswear line, and ‘reinventing exhibitions,’ whatever that means. What I do understand, is that SASSY will grow, through versatility and accessibility, but more importantly, by truly, and I mean TRULY going against the grain.
“Models are artists. Photographers are artists. Stylists are artists.”
In a few words, Khan has been able to sell me the concept of bringing street smart, ahead of the curve western wear to Pakistan while keeping it digital. After bringing SASSY to life in a fleeting six months, her professional compass is heavily influenced by the kinds of people she works with. “You have to accept that everyone you work with is an artist. Models are artists. Photographers are artists. Stylists are artists. My job as a curator is to enable artists. To let them do what they do best and be themselves. If this empowers the consumer, that works too.”
So what is a food and travel enthusiast doing interviewing a fashion curator and brand manager? Beats me. All I know is some of the major quirks of getting into this business come in the form of the people you meet. Especially the ones who want to switch up the game. Khan does just that, and that warrants mad respect.