Popinjay is a socially conscious fashion label that produces accessories which are unique, handmade and recently extremely popular. The business aims to provide world class craftsmanship while maintaining ethical business practices. The brand used skilled local artisans in rural Pakistan and trains them to bring out the best possible workmanship. These women are offered fair wages that offer value for their work and allows them to become self-sufficient in providing for their families. According to the people behind the brand, ‘for every Popinjay product you buy, beautiful change is happening for the hands that created it’
How it began
Saba Gul, the brains behind the enterprise is an MIT graduate, left her lucrative job in the US to come back and work for social change by providing a source of income and education to young Pakistani women. Saba set up her pilot project by the name of Bliss in 2011 and by 2013, this has evolved into what it now Popinjay.
From Bliss to Popinjay
Saba’s venture Bliss was a nonprofit which worked with 40 women. Though fulfilling, it was not sustainable and struggled to attract funding. In 2013, Saba turned this into Popinjay and since then the business has thrived. Though Bliss was a non for profit and Popinjay the opposite, the core philosophy has remained unchanged and steady. The enterprise continues to focus on creating empowerment and opportunity for the craftswomen who create the beautiful products. These women are often highlighted in the brand’s social media presence as well. Saba says:
“When I started Popinjay, my goal was really to get women to sustain themselves, but what I realized over time is that it wasn’t just about the money. It was also about the fact that they gained so much dignity and pride in knowing that they were creating something with their own hands. They’re adding value to the world.”
The current product line is the La Mezquita collection which is an eclectic collection of handbags. La Mezquita or the Mosque began as a tribute to Lahore, which is the city where Saba grew up and where the 150 or so artisans that the brand employs are based. The brand draws on the heritage and culture of the historic city and its masterpieces of Islamic architecture. The architecture and artwork at places like QWazir Khan Mosque and the Badshahi Mosque have played a significant role in developing this particular fashion line. Along the design journey, further inspiration came from four important periods of Islamic architecture: Spanish, Ottoman, Middle Eastern and the Mughal Empire.
The upcoming line ‘Habana’ in inspired by early 20th century Cuban art movements and the designs are drawn from the city’s unique architectural styles.
The signature element of the Popinjay bags is hand embroidery using silk threads. The motifs are then set in high quality leather. Anywhere between 50 to a 100 hours of hand embroidery may go into each piece that is created. Almost all the materials are sourced locally and the bags remain 80 percent hand made.
Accolades and Recognition
The brand has been featured in both local and international forums. Interestingly these forums have ranged from those highlighting successful entrepreneurs, successful women in business, and enterprises affecting social change to fashion blogs and endorsements at major events such as the Emmys. Saba Gul has been featured by techjuice.pk in their list of top exceptional Pakistani women in business and technology. She has also been a speaker at the UN Global Accelerator event, where she spoke about the power that businesspeople across industries have to affect global change. Numerous local and international fashion blogs and publications have also done features on the brand. The brands sells through its online store as well as through the US retailor Anthropolgie.
The enterprise wants to continue to increase opportunities for work and training for skilled artisans in Pakistan and around the world, in a variety of areas beyond the current practice of hand embroidery. Product line diversifications may include apparel, tech accessories or even shoes. The ultimate goal is to become a global brand that stands for justice and gender equality while creating inspired fashion pieces.
Putting Pakistan on the Map
Saba Gul has managed to use her talent, training and experience to craft a successful global brand that showcases the best of what Pakistan has to offer. It showcases age old techniques and packages them in high quality finished products. The brand can serve as an inspiration and Saba as a mentor to the numerous budding entrepreneurs in the country.