As I sat down to write my first-ever fashion column for ICE Today, I wondered what my first topic of discussion should be. I knew from the very beginning that I did not want this to be just another ‘How To’ style manual you’re always so quick to flip past in a magazine.
I promise you – I will NEVER tell you how you should dress. Now, if you made an appointment with me at Zurhem and asked me what you could be wearing at your wedding; sure! I will definitely guide you. I tend to ask you about yourself and learn as much as I can about you before I can even think about designing. Think of me as your therapist during our appointment. I will ask you about your favourite colour, your favourite brands, your style icon, an outfit that you absolutely love, and maybe how you see yourself on your big day. Once I get a sense of who you are and what you are looking for, I will sketch some options for you to pick from. You may end up walking away from my atelier with a bit of financial damage, but you will certainly leave happier – it’s called Retail Therapy for a reason after all.
Now that I have possibly convinced you to consider me as your designer, let’s move on to my actual topic for this month – Why do we Bangladeshis favour foreign brands over our own? Oof! A heavy topic, right? Before you start thinking that I am about to start ranting about how people do not give us local designers a chance and how we are equally as great as the designers in our neighbouring countries, etc., I want to make an honest confession here – I shop foreign brands ALL THE TIME!
Foreign brands are masters of marketing and storytelling. That is a fact. They create a narrative around their products that is hard to resist.
If you see the current state of my shoe cabinet, you’ll think that I have been possessed by the ghost of Carrie Bradshaw and Christian Louboutin’s love child – my shoe addiction is out of control! How can I resist these foreign designer labels who make such stunningly designed, impeccably crafted and beautifully packaged products? And that too, backed by a heart-wrenching story of how a craftsman in a little village in Italy has possibly gone blind while making this one-off piece for me? HOW? I cannot always resist it. And I totally get it – sometimes neither can you!
So this makes me wonder. What is it that these fashion designers are doing overseas that some of us Bangladeshi designers are not? And why are we ‘desi’ designers so quick to judge our clients for going with an A-list Indian designer for their special outfits when some of us local designers plaster ourselves head to toe with European designer labels? Well, the answers to these questions are not that simple.
The allure of foreign brands has deep-rooted historical and psychological reasons. Let’s dive into these factors and explore why Bangladeshis tend to gravitate towards foreign labels despite having a wealth of local talent.
One significant aspect of our preference for foreign brands is rooted in history. The colonial era left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness. During British colonial rule, English products were celebrated as superior, and this sentiment still lingers to some extent. The legacy of colonialism reinforced the idea that anything produced locally was inferior and that quality could only be found in foreign-made goods. This colonial hangover has had a lasting impact on our consumer choices, and as a result we deem bideshi products better than our own.
Foreign brands often come with a sense of prestige and status. The allure of owning a product from an internationally renowned designer or brand is truly undeniable. It is not just about the product; it is about the feeling it elicits – the perception of sophistication and class. We buy foreign brands to project a certain image of ourselves, and that image is often associated with luxury and exclusivity. This is a complex mix of aspiration, status symbolism, and our desire to be part of a global fashion elite. And interestingly, all these brands are aware of this psychology. This is why for some of them, the highest selling items are the ones that have logos and emblems that can be spotted from miles away.
Marketing and Storytelling
Foreign brands are masters of marketing and storytelling. That is a fact. They create a narrative around their products that is hard to resist. Whether it is a beautifully made video of artisans meticulously crafting a garment, or the designer’s personal journey that may inspire you, these narratives draw us in and make us feel connected to the brand.
You are not just buying a piece of clothing; you are buying the experience. How many of us local designers are truly doing that? I know we local designers also have our expertise and stories that are inspiring. But foreign brands are backed by amazing fashion-focused PR companies that push the brand’s narrative into the consumer’s mind. Sadly, to this date, we do not have a single fashion-focused PR company in Bangladesh. We end up doing our marketing and PR in-house with whatever little resources we have.
Innovative Design and Craftsmanship
We know that foreign brands often offer innovative designs and impeccable craftsmanship. Many renowned designers from around the world have honed their skills for years and have access to the latest technology and materials. While this doesn’t discount the potential of our local designers, it does highlight the need for continued investment in design education and technology to ensure our products are on par with global standards.
Our society has a deep and borderline unhealthy fascination with celebrities, especially Bollywood stars. We can all be honest! How many times have we seen the clips of Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli’s wedding? How about Katrina-Vicky? Ranbir-Alia? And recently Pakistani superstar, Mahira Khan? When we see our favourite actors, actresses and sports stars endorsing a brand, it further solidifies our trust in those labels. It is almost like having a stamp of approval from the stars we idolise. This marketing strategy can significantly influence our buying decisions. Foreign designers know this very well. They spend big bucks to make sure these stars are dressed in their designs for special occasions. These photos and videos the public see are posted from the brand’s social media platforms. These are strategies that us Bangladeshi designers need to employ
more with our local celebrities.
The Fear of Experimentation
One of the biggest hurdles local designers face is the consumer’s fear of experimentation. Many perceive foreign brands as safe choices, whereas local brands may be seen as risky. It’s easier to go with what is familiar, especially for significant events like weddings or special occasions. Us local designers should actively engage in educating consumers about our unique designs and encourage them to take fashion risks.
In a nutshell, our inclination toward foreign brands is truly a complex interplay of historical conditioning, psychological factors, marketing strategies, and accessibility. To change this trend, we need a shift in mindset. We need to recognize and appreciate the talent and creativity of our local designers. They deserve the same recognition and support as their foreign counterparts.
It is not about abandoning foreign brands altogether but rather about striking a balance. We can all support local talent while enjoying foreign brands. We have incredibly talented designers right here in Bangladesh who can create stunning pieces that are on par with international standards. Let’s celebrate our own, invest in their growth, and reshape the narrative about Bangladeshi fashion.
About the Author
Mehruz Munir, a renowned name in the fashion industry of Bangladesh, is the Founder and Creative Director of Zurhem, a bespoke & Prêt-à-Porter fashion label in Dhaka. Find out more via:
or visit zurhem.com