Tawhidur Rashid sits down four of Aarong’s designers – Abu Sayed Md Shamim Chowdhury, Srijib Bhattacharjee, Shaion Azam Shamim and Syed Mehedee Hassan
Do you work with a particular theme in mind for your Boishakh design, apart from being colorful?
We are focusing on four main concepts this year – Baul, Pottery, Butterfly and Floral Inspirations. Our entire collection across categories is based on these themes.
Boishakh is completely a local celebration. We keep that in mind while brainstorming for ideas. Our themes are created by bridging our traditions with modern trends. For example, the Baul theme is the amalgamation of traditional Baul culture and patchwork, which has been popular since 1819. Even though we are inspired by current fashion trends, our main focus is on the 65,000 artisans who work for us. It is a balancing act between customer satisfaction and a manageable workload for the artisans.
What kind of work are your artisans responsible for?
Their works are to do value addition on our clothing items such as embroidery, hand paints, dyes, etc. Aarong made it possible to bring the art and crafts from remote places across the country into the hands of consumers. Not only that, we have made it acceptable and trendy and now there is a significant demand for such products. Even apart from Boishakh, we account for every aspect of our culture while designing a theme. We have always tried to merge Bangladeshi crafts with modern aesthetics, all the while trying to be more innovative. Our themes are a collision between two worlds, world fashion and our own sub-culture. Every collection is a combination of modern crafts and our heritage.
What do you mean by world trend?
Currently, there is a strong representation of tribal heritage across the world. We are accumulating that trend into our subculture.
How many people are there in the design team?
We have 65 designers in total.
How do you ensure continued innovation with color? Doesn’t it get monotonous?
We follow international color forecasting for every season. For Boishakh, we followed international color forecasting along with the core colors of Red and White.
How do you infuse innovation in design? Is there any use of technology?
One is conceptual innovation which comes from practice and review. Discussion and communication are crucial in this context. On the subject of technological innovation, it is getting more and more prominent. Aarong is at the forefront of using technology in design. For example, previously a design had to be hand traced manually, however, now with the use of software, that process has become ten folds faster. It has become so convenient that design is corrected and the instructions are sent to artisans across the country instantaneously.
Innovation is at the core of our designing processes. We also have our own strategy to bring innovation to our design. We blend international trends with our heritage, for example, patchwork has been featured in the international trend in menswear for the spring/summer 2019 and we blended patchwork with the Baul theme in our Panjabis and sarees. We have 65,000 women employees. Every innovation in our process is implemented after evaluating their adaptability to it. We reject anything that might exclude them from the processor might become a threat to their employment. Our responsibility towards them is far more important than innovation. Every innovation in our process is implemented after evaluating the capacity and capability of our skilled artisans.
Have you ever taken opinion from social media regarding design and color?
Every opinion is valuable to us. Social listening these days is very important and plays a big role in terms of receiving feedback from the customers directly. We take suggestions and feedback coming from the social media channel very seriously and try to incorporate these whenever and however possible for our next design processes.
What are the challenges you face as designers?
We take challenges positively here in Aarong. Blending international trend with Bangladesh expectations from Aarong is always a challenge. Working for our artisans being at the core of Aarong’s existence is always a challenge and we happily accept that.
Do you take feedback from other departments?
We have regular meetings with different departments especially with Retail and Marketing as they are customer-facing functions getting the feedback directly from customers.
Do you think the general taste of consumers is changing when it comes to fashion?
Fashion continuously go through changes and evolves. Customer choices and tastes change too. With economic growth, consumers are more aware of what they wear. They are more aware of occasions and seasons. More people are selecting their outfits according to the theme of the place they are visiting. Stronger economic power has enabled them to do so.
On top of this, consumers have an elevated sense of fashion awareness fueled by information. This has an overall effect on customer preference. The durability of the cloth is not in their primary consideration like it used to be. This customer behavior has also affected our design process.
Interestingly, it is said that women don’t wear a saree more than three times. As people share photos on social media, an outfit becomes familiar to one’s social circle very quickly. There, durability becomes less important as the cloth becomes old no matter what.
On a separate note, it might be mentioned that fashion trends in our country vary a lot from other countries because of our RMG sector. In other countries, mainstream fashion varies less; it is very different in our country where good quality clothes are very easily available. That is why there is so much variation in color.
Do you think this variation is an advantage?
In our country, color preference if often district based. People across the riverine districts prefer more colorful outfits. People in the hill tracks have different tastes. Historically, we are a mixed race nation, this also influences our taste. Different parts of the country have different cultural influences which constantly redefine taste and fashion. Economically disadvantaged people in our country often chose brighter clothes, which might stem from a sense of inferiority.
There was a time in our country when women used to wear only sarees, now that has changed. How do you view the transformation?
Basically, it is the same wardrobe. They needed variation and Aarong has successfully played a role in providing that. In addition to economic and zonal preference, color preference plays a big part in consumer choice. They use color to help express themselves. The evolution of women’s roles in society has also played a part in the transformation of the outfit. Nowadays women want easy going clothes which will not be an issue when they board a bus, for example. Recently, kurti has become popular among young girls because they are easy to pull off. Aarong has released a line especially to cater to this demand. We always try to provide to the consumer’s demands with changing times.
Does the presence of readily available RMG products put pressure on the design team?
It doesn’t because we cater to different demand. When a customer buys RMG clothes in bulk, he/she is looking for cheaper clothes. That same customer comes to us with a different expectation. They expect quality and the latest fashions. Both are equally important. This is actually very positive for our industry.
Where do you see as the biggest design challenge in the next five years?
In the next five years, there is a big challenge waiting for the industry. Most of the festivals are going to be finished by April; the next eight months might be a challenge for retailers. We have a marketing calendar where we treat every event differently. We have a research team who work hard at this. We are at a point where all the major festivals are going to take place within a narrow time frame.
Do you think festival dependency is a good thing?
It’s definitely not a good thing. Our research team is well aware of this. But culturally, people shop more around the festival period and we are bound by that. Season awareness might grow in the future. We are already drawing up our plans according to this perception. As the festivals are drawing closer to one another, fashion houses will put more emphasis on seasonal collections.
With all the constant changes that go on, how do you update the artisans?
We are a social enterprise hence it’s our role to work with and empower artisans. Artisans are regularly trained and learn on the job and experiment with designers when trying new things. They are developed through teamwork from various Aarong departments and remain connected to support systems from institutions, and the experts at the Ayesha Abed Foundation. Giving back to the community where we operate in is the very essence Aarong has embedded in the DNA of its organizational culture.