A slim, soft spoken woman with a relaxed, down to earth vibe, Naz Mansha at first glance does not appear to be the consummate business woman who helped build an empire. But you spend five minutes talking to her one-on-one and you realize she has a formidable work ethic. While multitasking and arranging play dates for her five grandchildren, Naz shares with Mahlia Lone the story of how she built Nishat Linen (NL) from the ground up.
â€œTo use a hackneyed phrase, Mansha is a workaholic. Earlier on in our marriage, our three boys would be in bed by 8:00 p.m. and I would be waiting for him to return home. I realized I had started nagging him about coming home from the office late. Up till now I had dabbled in a few home grown businesses, but nothing seriously. One evening, in 1985, I decided I had to do something seriously myself, a business that would be full time to which I would be forced to commit. We already had a textile mill in Faisalabad and I decided to take up this division.
First, I contacted the architect Wasif to design a purpose built state-of-the art factory on Ferozepur Road, Lahore. It would have cost roughly the same to get a contractor to put up sheds as a lot of other mills had done, but I wanted to be more organized and professional about it. When the NL factory was completed in 1989, because I lacked experience we hired a mature man as a manager to guide me. Now, I have textile in my blood, coming from the Saigol family, so I started noticing small details that didnâ€™t look right to me. For example, the tables on which the bed sheets were being stitched were too small and parts of the sheet would be brushing the floor and getting dirty. I pointed this out to the manager who dismissed it, by saying â€˜But this is how itâ€™s always been done.â€™ He wasnâ€™t willing to change. My common sense told me otherwise.
I realized that I needed to hire a younger man who would be open and flexible to change and we could grow and learn together. I gave the ultimatum to my husband that either the manager stays or I stay. Obviously, the manager was fired and I hired a young man from a pharmaceutical background with whom I had a ready rapport.
â€œâ€˜I have made you a Taj Mahal,â€™ Mansha said to me at that time. I took that up as a challenge and had to prove myself to him. That was my driving force. Â Since then, from time to time, I remind him of his words,â€Said Naz chuckling
I introduced a shoeless policy in the premises, frequent hand washing and piped in music for a conducive work environment. I started receiving numerous calls from curious people wanting to visit the mill as I had introduced some fresh ideas into the way business was conducted.
â€˜I have made you a Taj Mahal,â€™ Mansha said to me at that time. I took that up as a challenge and had to prove myself to him. That was my driving force.Â Since then, from time to time, I remind him of his words. (SheÂ chuckles.)
Soon, my friends started dropping in to the factory to buy bed sheets, so I decided to open the first NL store in 1994. NL is totally integrated. We spin our own yarn, manufacture the fabric, design and print it right up to the finished product. In 1994, I started making lawn as well. I hired a female textile designer. Up till this point, we were totally geared towards the export market. In this niche, we clicked quickly because there were hardly any players at that time, except for a few mills like Gul Ahmed, Al Karam, Sitara, etc.
With every breath we take, there is a new lawn brand out there. If I didn’t have my own production house, I would shut up my lawn shop. That is why I have branched out and brought Inglot, makeup brand, and Swarovski to Pakistan. I frankly don’t know how people who outsource their production to other mills are making money and what kind of business plan they have. They come in for a season, print fabric, set up a shop and then many of them disappear. Many of these startup brands will filter out, I feel.
Today, it has become the survival of the fittest. With every breath we take, there is a new lawn brand out there. If I didnâ€™t have my own production house, I would shut up my lawn shop. That is why I have branched outÂ and have brought Inglot, makeup brand, and Swarovski to Pakistan. I frankly donâ€™t know how people who outsource their production to other mills are making money and what kind of business plan they have. They come in for a season, print fabric, set up a shop and then many of them disappear. Many of these startup brands will filter out, I feel.
What do they even do with their leftover stock? Even big designer brands such as Gucci have leftover stock from past seasons that they sell through their outlets. We have thought this through and have outlet shops attached to the mill, as well as in middle class localities. Behind the scene factors such as these have to be addressed.
At NL, we shuffle designs between Karachi and Lahore according to where each design is selling better.Â We also have total control over our production, regarding not only quality but also cost. Each division keeps its own accounts, is responsible for its own profitability and everyone shows their own performance. At the end of every month, the group balance sheet goes to the big boss Mansha who inspects it.
Today, NL operates more than 70 stores in 29 cities here and abroad as well as an online store, selling a hundred different designs of unstitched fabric and ready to wear collections. The different types of fabric available range from crinkle lawn, cambric, voile, bemberg, chiffon, raw silk, etc. NL lawn has a special American finish and this season has even introduced a scented lawn with a Chamomile fresh fragrance that lasts for about fifteen washes. A customer is not forced to buy a three piece suit of a standard 2 Â½ meter shirt length. A heavier woman may want more fabric, or less fabric may be required to make a dress for a little girl. This flexibility and saving to the customer gives NL its wow factor! Catering to a mass market, the price of the product is extremely competitive, a stitched shirt at only Rs. 1800 and unstitched as low as Rs. 500.
A woman selects her outfit to suit her mood. One day, she may choose a vibrant colour, another day a pastel and a third a neutral. NL gives her this choice through the wide range it offers. Additionally, the NL Gold range offers exclusivity with a limited edition semi-formal range with embroidery and embellishments at a higher price point. The future of the market is in ready to wear. NLâ€™s womenswear business currently consists of half unstitched and half is ready to wear.â€