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04-2346-2006-1

MARIA B. DESIGNS (PVT) LTD


On a sultry June morning of 2003, Maria Belal sat in her Lahore office, evaluating options
to respond to growing competition especially from the informal sector comprising tailors
and karigars1. Added to this were the concerns raised by a recent research study conducted
by students of a local business school and sponsored by Maria B. Designs (Pvt) Ltd. Her
most urgent concern related to the diluting brand image of Maria B. Other issues of
concern were:

• The product line currently offered by Maria B. was confusing for the consumers; what
should Maria B. do to remove this confusion?
• Some consumers thought that Maria B. was too expensive; should Maria B. bring
about any changes in its pricing policy or should it try to maintain its premium image
by modifying the perception of these consumers?
• Bridal wear, the flagship product of Maria B., was being offered at the same outlet
along with other product lines; what should the company do to avoid any spillover
effect of casual and formal lines on bridal wear?

The Fashion Industry of Pakistan

The fashion clothes industry in Pakistan traced its roots to a handful of designers in the big
cities who had a natural flair for creativity. They designed as a hobby, primarily for their
friends and relatives. A major change occurred in the 1990s as young people started taking
up this field as a profession. The media started focusing on this industry and numerous
make-up artists, fashion photographers, and professional models emerged. Fashion shows
also became a norm both as a must have for designers and as a source of revenues.

Fashion in Pakistan reached a point where there seemed to be no rules anymore and
anything looked possible. Fashion designers claimed that they were opening the mind and
imagination of the consumers towards a sense of freedom. Experimentation reigned
supreme and fashion got bolder and more daring with an ultra modern attitude.

The fashion industry in Pakistan consisted of two distinct sectors: the formal and informal
sector. Both these sectors catered to different segments and operated in markedly different
manners. Over the years the two sectors continued to adapt to the changing trends and
together shaped the fashion scene in the country.

1
Craftsmen usually operating in t he informal cottage industry sector
This case was written by Shariq Mustafa, Atia Mujib, and Mehmood Ahmed under the supervision of
Professor Jawaid A Ghani to serve as a basis of class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or
ineffective handling of an administrative situation. This material may not be quoted, photocopied or
reproduced in any form without the written consent of the Lahore U niversity Of Management Sciences.

© 2006 Lahore University Of Management Sciences


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The informal sector 2 had been the main source for fulfilling the fashion apparel needs of
women in Pakistan and continued to give the formal sector a tough time. The sector
consisted of individual tailoring shops, which were able to provide customized outfits for a
minimal price. This gave consumers tremendous flexibility in terms of getting an outfit
stitched and designed to their personal taste. Consequently it continued to be the preferred
source for apparels among Pakistani women. The informal sector generally imitated
designs introduced in the formal sector and sold them at lower prices. This sector, thus,
catered to the price-sensitive customer who was willing to sacrifice brand image, design,
quality and uniqueness.

The formal sector consisted of boutiques and professional designers who catered to a small
but growing market for designer fashion apparels. This sector catered to the needs of the
upper and upper-middle income classes of the society. The designer outlets introduced
innovative designs and were able to charge huge price premiums because of strong brand
names associated with their products. Customers felt proud in associating themselves with
these expensive and stylish brand names. The outlets were engaged in designing, tailoring
and marketing chic female apparels which were heavily embroidered with traditional
embellishments. These outfits were worn by women on special occasions, mostly
weddings.

Apart from the unique design philosophy, the designers also brought modern marketing
techniques into the fashion industry in Pakistan. This was because the outlets that these
designers operated from were run as properly organized small-to-medium-scale businesses.
Techniques such as fashion shows, coverage in fashion magazines and promotional tools
like sales and special discounts were often employed by them.

Prominent names in the formal sector included Maria B., Nilofer Shahid of Meeras,
Taufeeq, Sana & Safinaz, and Niki & Nina. All these players were mainly known for their
bridal line of apparels. In the formal line of apparels, Maria B. competed with Muddhouse
and Hassan Shehryar, while Generation and Nee Punhal were known mainly for their
casual line of apparels.

Typical price ranges of the major product lines in each sector are presented in Table A
below.

Table A: Price Ranges (in Rs) for fashion apparels

Formal sector Informal sector


Casual 1,200 – 2,500 500 – 1,500
Formal 5,000 – 25,000 2,000 – 8,000
Bridal 60,000 and above 30,000 – 60,000

Company Background

Maria B. was one of the most prominent players in designing fashion apparels for women
in Pakistan. Believing fashion to be an “art that is harnessed by creativity which elevates

2
The informal sector (also known as cottage industry) consists of firms with less than 10 employees. These
firms benefit from reduced tax rates and government regulations.

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the woman, envelops her – conveys her every mood, her every whim to the rest of the
world”. Maria B. was responsible for creating a successful and professional fashion house
in the country with dreams of making Maria B. the first international brand name
originating from Pakistan. Its global vision was:

To make a company that could compete internationally with other global


brands in terms of designing, production, and marketing capabilities and to
make Maria B. a prestigious and synonymous br and in the world of fashion.

With this global vision, Maria B. Designs was founded in 1999 in Lahore. Initially, it was
a small-scale operation in a rented premise. However, the company grew fast and managed
to establish a full fledged vertically integrated facility in Lahore, doing everything except
cloth production under one roof. Three more retail outlets were opened in different cities
of Pakistan within four years of its inception.

Maria B.’s domestic operations covered four outlets in elitist locations, one each in Lahore
and Islamabad, and two in Karachi; they provided apparels to a diverse group of people in
terms of tastes and life styles. Maria B. did not have a retail outlet abroad, yet it had a very
loyal customer base outside Pakistan as well. The company reached its foreign customers
primarily through fashion shows held abroad.

With a customer base of around 10,000, both local and international, Maria B. kept pace
with the everyday changing styles and trends locally as well as internationally. In the fiscal
year 2002-03, the combined revenues from its domestic and international operations came
to approximately Rs 30.6 million (30 million from local operations and 0.6 million from
foreign). This represented an increase of 9% over the previous fiscal year, and a twenty-
fold increase since 1999, when sales were only around Rs 1.3 million. In 2003 the casual
line generated sales of roughly Rs 6 million, formal wear generated Rs 12.2 million and
bridal wear had sales of Rs 12.4 million, and thus they contributed 20per cent, 40per cent ,
and 40 per cent, respectively, to total revenues.

Maria B. faced fierce competition in its casual and bridal lines but managed to maintain its
image and reputation as a visionary designer in the minds of all related, directly or
indirectly, to the field of fashion designing. Maria B. stimulated demand of its line of
clothing by advertising in the print media, spending approximately Rs 0.7 million; opening
up new outlets; and arranging fashion shows locally and overseas. In order to achieve the
goal of making Maria B. an international brand, the company planned to expa nd
internationally in the years to come.

Maria B’s customer base belonged to the upper class of society. This included working
women, teenagers, students, housewives and brides , who were modern, informed,
confident, and stylish, and could, wear a modern, trendy dress with as much ease and
comfort as a traditional one, depending upon the occasion.

Product Line

In all, there were five product lines offered by Maria B. These were: casual, semi-formal,
formal, semi-bridal and bridal. Semi-formals and semi-bridals were merely a variation of
the formals and bridals, respectively, hence for the purpose of simplicity only the three
basic product lines will be discussed.

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The production process for casuals started with an analysis of market trends (see Exhibit
1). The designing was followed by fabric purchase. A reliable and trustworthy supplier
base provided Maria B. with the required type of fabric on a timely basis, making the
availability of finished apparels in the market possible. Maria B. had her own dyeing
facility to experiment with different colours and to ensure the quality of dyeing in terms of
colour fastness. Maria B. strove to develop something that would be liked by everyone,
and she did this with her basic cuts, crazy screen prints, and accurate stitching. The
company’s distribution network replenished stock every two to three days, making it
available at all outlets in Pakistan throughout the year. Maria B. outlets were designed to
be appealing enough to attract customers because of their stylish décor and layout. Finally,
Maria B. used print advertising and fashion shows.

The production process for formals and bridals was the same as for casuals, except that the
design was more customized and the screen printing and embroidery stages were
performed at the adda. The adda was an in-house unit with highly skilled craftsmen.
Maria B.’s formals were famous for their handwork and her bridals were known for their
designs, handwork, and finishing. Casuals were generally kept in stock, while formals and
bridals were custom made (made-to-order).

Research Study

The initial phase of the research study conducted for Maria B. consisted of about a dozen
in-depth interviews and four focus groups. The objective of the study was to generate
insights and hypotheses regarding apparel purchase for each product category.

A key decision was whether separate focus groups should discuss each of the three
product lines, or whether all three lines should be discussed in the same focus group. The
former option was selecte d since it would give individual attention to each product line.
As a result two of the focus groups were on bridal wear, and one each on casual and
formal wear. The participants of these focus groups were typically about five women.

Another issue was that of the target market. Would it be appropriate to have relatively
older women discussing casuals and teenagers doing discussions on bridals or would it be
advisable to reverse the order? It was believed that the demographics for the respondents
of the three product lines were different, and the participant profile for each focus group
was selected after considerable debate. Profiles of selected participants in the in-depth
interviews and focus groups are provided in Exhibit 2.

The casual line of clothing was discussed primarily with teenagers and women in their
early twenties (18-24 years). These consisted mainly of students from institutions such as
Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), National College of Arts (NCA),
and Kinnaird College. The household income for these women ranged from Rs 30,000 to
Rs 50,000 per month. While casuals are worn by everyone, younger women were
preferred because they were often more fashion conscious , and more aware of the fact that
designers were increasingly offering casuals as part of their product line. Those
participants were identified who seemed to be more fashion conscious and believed in
wearing trendy clothes.

For formals, participants included a wide range in terms of age (20 years and above), and
consisted of working women, newly-weds and mothers. They resided in posh areas of
Lahore such as Defence, Model Town and Gulberg. Their monthly household income was

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Rs 70,000 and above. They were generally women who had an eye for intricate
embroidery and an appreciation for unconventional couture. They believed in spending on
designer clothes, bags, jewelry, shoes, and sunglasses, and closely followed the latest
fashion trends.

For bridals, recently married women were the ideal group because of their personal
knowledge about the various issues involved in the selection and purchase of bridals.
However, it was clear that younger women, even if not married, had at some time in their
lives gone through the experience of a bridal selection or purchase because of the marriage
of a sister or other relative. Participants thus included a wide cross-section of newly
married women, brides-to-be and their mothers.

Some focus groups were conducted at LUMS, the participants mainly being BSc students.
One focus group was conducted at Kinniard College and another was made up entirely of
NCA students. This focus group took place at a house in Defence. Two of the group
members conducted their focus groups at their homes after having given invitations to
various women to attend the discussion.

Findings

Selected comments made by participants during the various focus groups are presented in
Exhibits 3-7. An analysis based on the findings of the in-depth interviews and focus
groups is given below:

Casuals

Casual wear, which also included casual fashion apparels, were found to be an impulse
purchase. The factor which triggered purchase of casual apparel was the start of a new
season when clothes for the new season were purchased usually in bulk (that is, more than
two apparels at one time). The depletion factor was also strong whereby new casual
apparels were bought because the old collection had worn out or had become outdated. It
was also found that the birth of a new fashion trend or style prompted purchase of casual
fashion apparels. The information gathering in the case of casual apparels was minimal
and consumers made a relatively independent decision which was free from any external
influence. It was also revealed that the selection of a store for the purchase of casual
fashion apparels was influenced by three factors: first, the fashion update offered by a
store; second, the price discounts offered; and finally the designs offered.

Formals

Formal wear, which also included formal fashion apparels, were normally bought for
special occasions (dinner parties) and festivals (Eid, weddings etc). This implied that the
purchase of formal apparels was a serious shopping exercise and not an impulse purchase
like casual apparels. The research suggested that for formal fashion apparels, women
usually referred to fashion magazines to get an update on the latest trends. The explanation
for this behavior was that since women bought formal apparels for special occasions, they
were always ready to go the extra mile in finding out the latest trend in fashion so that they
had an up-to-date appearance. It was also found that women generally window -shopped a
lot at various boutiques before buying formal apparels and were also willing to spend
money if they believed that the apparel was truly wor th the money. As a result, the
information gathering in the case of formal apparels was intensive and consumers made

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the final decision after having conducted a thorough pre -purchase research. It was also
found that the selection of a store for purchase of formal fashion apparels was influenced
by three factors: first, the designs offered; second, the fashion update offered by a store,
and finally the quality of fabric.

Bridals

In the case of a bridal dress consumers tried to gather the maximum possible information
about the product and the place from where to buy it. This was because they believed that
the purchase of a bridal was a one-time expense. This information gathering entailed
market research (visiting both the informal and the formal sectors) and consulting friends
and relatives who had gone through a similar experience. It was also found that the price
elasticity of bridal apparels purchased from fashion designers was relatively low , since the
consumers always looked for quality and design in a bridal jora (dress) and thus, price did
not play a major role in determining their choice of the designer apparel. The research also
revealed the ‘my own syndrome’ amidst the bridal customers, as every bride-to-be wanted
her wedding dress to be exclusive, a unique design that was created for her and her alone.
It was, therefore, the search for this magnificent outfit that made the prospective bride
seek the help of a designer who, as a professional, was more knowledgeable about the
intricate details concerning the bridal, for example, what colour would suit the bride-to-be
and what material would look most appropriate on her, etc. It was because of this belief in
the designer’s expertise that the bride wanted the designer to give her advice regarding the
selection of material, fabric, and design. Furthermore, since the bride-to-be would be
paying a substantial amount of money for the dress, she considered it her right to be given
personal attention.

Future Directions

Armed with these findings Maria B. sat in her office, wondering whether further research
was required. She was thinking over how she could utilize the information effectively to
develop a coherent marketing plan. She was particularly concerned about her flagship
product, bridal wear. Even though Maria B. had a separate floor especially designated for
the bridal collection but the personal attention and customization required by consumers
was lacking. Offering all product lines under one roof also had its drawback. T he image of
one product could spill over to other products, for example the quality image of casual
wear, a cheaper product that could afford less stringent quality standards, might be
associated with the quality image of the bridals which were offered under the same roof
and with the same brand name. Identification of target segment and ways of improving the
perception of Maria B. bridal wear were immediate challenges confronting Maria B.

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Exhibit 1: Production Process for Casual Wear

Fabric & Material


Market Demand Dress Designing Fabric Dyeing
Purchase

Screen Printing

Fabric Quality
Cutting 1 Fabric Pressing
Check

Machine
Embroidery

Cutting 2 Stitching Quality Check Dress Pressing

Branding/
Branding/ Distribution Packing
Sales
Sales Marketing Distribution Packing
Marketing

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Exhibit 2: Profiles of Selected Interview Participants

Person 1: (income Rs 16,000 monthly, age about 40 years, children 4)

Resides in Model Town. Purchases 3 casual suits and one formal for each season 3 .
Typically spends Rs 350-600 on casuals, Rs 700-2,000 for formals. She likes to go to
boutiques but buys only suits priced under Rs 1,000. Purchases most suits from the
informal sector.

Person 2: (income Rs 50,000 monthly, age 40 plus, mother of bride-to-be , children 5)

Resides in Askari complex. Purchases about 15 suits per season. But dresses for weddings
are extra which she makes depending upon the relation and budget she ha s with her.
Typically spends Rs 300-700 on casuals, Rs 500-2000 for formals, and below Rs 5000 for
dresses for weddings. Likes to visit boutiques and designers in order to get an idea of what
is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’, but generally purchases from the informal sector. As mother of a
bride-to-be she would like to buy the bridal dress from designers but spend no more than
Rs 35,000 on it.

Person 3: (income Rs 90,000 monthly, age 30 plus, children 2)

Working woman living in Defence. Makes 10-15 suits per season. Casual price range is Rs
900 plus, and for formals it is Rs 2,000-7,000. For weddings , depending upon the kind of
relation, she makes two suits with an average price of Rs 20,000. On the wedding of a
relative she consults designers for at least one suit. For her normal casual wear she prefers
to buy casuals of Maria B, worth Rs 1,500. But she also gets her suits stitched from tailors.
As she is short of time, she prefers ready-made dresses.

Person 4: (income Rs 100,000 plus monthly, age 30 plus, newly married, working
woman)

Lives in Defence. Purchases 15 suits per season including formals. 80 per cent of them are
casuals and 20 per cent are formals. Her price range for casuals is Rs 250-1,100. For
formals, it is Rs 1,000-2,000 and for weddings it is Rs 1,500-2,000. She prefers the
informal sector. Her bridal dress was of Rs 30,000.

3
Seasons refer to the two main seasons each y ear, summer and winter.

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Exhibit 3: Focus Group Findings - Casual Wear

1. When you talk about casuals, immediately Generation comes to your mind, which
offers casuals in the true sense of the word. Maria should also consider casuals in same
lines (<30 age4).
2. Casuals should have a wide variety with a lot of choic e, because you think of it as
being more researched, more top of the line (teenager).
3. In my mind I just think of Maria B. as really expensive formal wear designer. For
casuals I don’t even consider it, rather I go straight to Generation (age 30-35).
4. I think in casuals volume and variety are more important than quality (age<25).
5. Its young working women who want exclusive casual attires which are simple,
comfortable and in line with the latest trends. Maria B. should target them (age<30).
6. I normally buy casuals at the start of the season; Maria should provide new variety at
this time(age<30).
7. I normally start buying casual wear at the beginning of a season e.g. , in summers every
year, I have to have new prints and then also, your previous year’s clothes get worn
out and so you need to replace them (age <30).
8. Casuals are bought in bulk and when I buy my summer or winter casual clothes, I am
normally willing to compromise on quality and focus more on prices, as I know that I
will be replacing these clothes the next year (age above 25, working woman).
9. When it comes to casuals I concentrate more on the volume and thus price matters for
I know that what I am making this year will not be in fashion the next year(age 20-25
years).
10. I usually go to places like Auriga and Liberty to buy the material for casual clothes.
Generation also offers huge volumes at low prices and so a trip to Generation at the
start of every season is a must (working women; students above 18years)
11. I usually purchase the material for casual wear because that way I can play around
with the design and colors on my own (age above 30).
12. My casuals have to be according to the latest in fashion for I cannot afford to be
termed out of style amidst my friends (age <25).
13. Friends are a big influence on my style of clothing. I look around to see what is in
vogue and then tailor my clothes accordingly (age<25).
14. I purchase casuals more frequently and greater in volume.

4
Numbers in parentheses provide data on respondent demographics, particularly age.

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Exhibit 4: Focus Group Findings - Formal Wear

15. Maria needs to expand variety for formals and it should be occasion specific such as
Eid, birthday parties (age> 30).
16. Formal wear of Maria B. has an exclusive highly priced image. Maria should provide
high quality, top of the line designs according to her customer tastes (age> 30).
17. Maria B .’s strength is in formal designs. She should be capable of providing customers
dresses for all formal occasions (age 30-35).
18. I buy a formal jora when there is an occasion coming up e.g. , a wedding, a formal
dinner etc. (married woman, above 2 5years).
19. I buy formals normally for specific occasions and since these occasions are not so
frequent during the year, I concentrate more on the quality of the fabric and am willing
to spend more on a formal jora (age> 30).
20. The quality of the fabric matters the most in the formal jora; price is a second! (age>
25).
21. I also am very particular about the formal jo ra being according to the latest fashion. It
simply has to be! (age> 25).
22. Fashion and quality are two very important components of a formal jora . Price is
definitely not a concern since this is a rare expense, as formals are not made so
frequently (age> 25).
23. I do copy the latest designs offered by the designers because in that way I can wear the
latest in fashion (age<25).
24. Designers are my main source of inspiration for formal wear but I also don’t mind
buying from them once or twice (age<25).

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Exhibit 5: Focus Group Findings - Bridal wear

25. Maria B. should have a proper consultation session with the customer before deciding
a bridal design for her (age> 30).
26. Relatively young women coming from high class of society go to designers, and they
always look for modern fashionable apparels. Once they are satisfied, they become
loyal customers and also consult for bridal wear (age<25).
27. Maria’s bridal wears lack variety of designs (age<30).
28. I think Maria B. should position herself as a designer for bridals and she should excel
in designs and fashion as well as quality of fabric (age 20-25)
29. There is no question about not going to a designer for bridal wear. It is the IN thing to
do nowadays (18-30 age group, especially brides-to -be).
30. Quality quality quality! I cannot emphasize quality enough for a bridal jora. Quality of
fabric and quality of work are the two utmost things in this jora . Forget about price as
this is a one-time expense (age above 30).
31. Yes I would not mind copying the designs for a bridal jora for why should I pay the
premium price when I can get the same made much cheaper from Anarkali etc …
(mother of a bride-to-be).
32. The prices charged by designers are outrageous. I could get the same made at such a
low price (mother of a bride-to-be).
33. It is just not the jora that matters…it is the entire experience, the attention of the
designer, her personal interest in what colours would suit me, what cloth would look
good on me…that cannot be found at some cheap place like Anarkali…(age>25,
bride-to -be).
34. I am willing to pay a premium price for a bridal jora for I want people to admire my
unique colour combination and exclusive design the day of my wedding…besides to
be wearing a designer brida l wear is the IN thing nowadays…I would love to say that I
am wearing Nilofer Shahid or Maria B. age(>25, bride- to-be)

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Exhibit 6: Focus Group findings - Maria B. Image

35. Maria B. is a premium brand. I think Maria should only sustain this image through
offering high quality products as well as locating herself in posh areas of city (age>
30).
36. It has an expensive look to it too (age 25-30).
37. It should be reasonably priced (age>30).
38. She is so typical(age 18-20).
39. Some people I know are just bored. They say there is no variety in her bridal designs
but they still buy it because they are curious about her premium image (age a bove 30).
40. It is too confusing to make sense of the way her lines are named. I know what a formal
is but what does she mean by semi-formal and similarly, semi-bridal is too confusing
as well (both young and old women).
41. Maria cannot win the price war of casuals. Even if she decreases their prices, she can’t
compete, rather she will spoil her up-market image (age 25).
42. Maria B .’s outfits have bee n around a long time; you can trust the designer (age> 30).
43. People think because it is Maria B., it will be a little expensive but will also be of
better quality.
44. I think mostly women are compulsive buyers,\ ; shopping is their favorite pastime. But
at the same time, they want variety and uniqueness (age<30).
45. Maria B . has a trendy office wear collection (middle - aged working woman)

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Exhibit 7: Focus Group Findings - Store Layout

46. Arranging the display of clothing, its display in neat piles as casuals, formals and
bridals also helps the customer to make a quick decision. Maria B. should improve the
display of her outfits (age<25).
47. Clothes should be hung in a way that makes it easier for the customer to look and
select the designs of their choice easily instead of making a search effort (age> 30).
48. Once I went to Maria B.’s boutique I saw a lot of dresses hanging around. The display
was not good and that’s why I have not tried it (age> 30).
49. The display is a chaos. You have to look, search and search. Too time consuming
(age> 30).
50. With a good display, you really get a good summary of boutique on the front. I like
that because it tells me exactly what I should get from here. I know what I am looking
for and I can quickly decide (age30-35).
51. Maria B.’s Defence outlet is attractive with respect to both physical outlet and
ambiance. However, her display of apparels is not good (age 25-35).

Exhibit 7a: Focus Group findings - Suggestions

52. I think Maria should advertise more, emphasizing quality and variety ‘New Designs,
‘New cuts’ (age<30).
53. In my opinion she should maintain a premium price image. There is a need to keep
coming up with innovative designs which should be trendy as well as graceful and this
can be the core competence of Maria B. (age 30 -35).
54. Tell women tha t Maria B. makes exclusive outfits. Then they will figure out
themselves what they need (age> 30).
55. Maria should enhance her image by using superior quality fabr ic and material for
embroidery (age> 30).
56. I think Maria B . should provide casual clothes like K haddi (teenager).
57. Maria B. should concentrate on quality and designs. She should provide customers the
value for their money (age above 30).
58. Maria B . should improve her designs and should be update with fashion (age<25).
59. I don’t see Maria B.’s formal wear just for glamorous women. I see it for every
housewife and working woman (age 30 -35 working women)
60. In line with her fashion shows featuring only formals and bridals, she should also have
fashion events for casuals (age<25).
61. Maria’s apparels are not occasion specific (30-35 age group).
62. To my knowledge, normally modern young women consult designers because they
always want to be ‘ in’. Maria B. should target them (age<25).
63. I think Maria B . should consider only the upper niche of the society (age a bove 30).
64. Avant Garde! This is my image for an educated, modern woman. And I consider it
while buying my apparels (age above 30).
65. I think Maria B.’s apparels should be fashionable ‘Modern Cuts’ unlike typical
shalwar qameez (age<25).

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