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Branding Bangladeshi design industry

OVER the past few decades, the fashion and design industry in Bangladesh has experienced a revolution, both in philosophy and in volume. This revolution has been brought about largely as a consequence of ideological changes over the past decade or so, which aimed to repackage and present Bangladeshi design in forms that have been desirable to markets both local and global. Considering the past and current trends, Maheen Khan explores the people behind the industry who continue to invisibly and inevitably shape the scene today.

The industry, as it stands today, is at most a few decades old. The real growth in its development has occurred only in the last ten years. It blossomed and advanced in a hitherto unprecedented scale, reaching out to a much larger target audience. The seed of initiation had been planted by small groups of private and government bodies, associations and fair trade organisations.

The idea was specifically to revive lost traditions through research and development and find ways in which income may be generated for the entire population of crafts-people. Bangladesh was only again coming to terms with its inherent identity after a long debacle of West Pakistani rule during which period very little progress had taken place in the development of our design industry.

Privately owned companies were already in business in the early seventies but they were almost invariably small. The Bangladesh Small Cottage Industry Corporation was probably instrumental in setting up the foundation to shape our crafts as marketable products, through training and skill development on a large scale. These steps taken were crucial for change in the long run.

The Tailor Shop
The master tailor continues to provide us his tailoring service today as he has in the past. He has little or no formal training, but he has acquired his skill on the job and continues to be very relevant in the modern scene.

In the context of fashion in Bangladesh he has played a pivotal role. He is the neighbourhood tailor who infallibly delivers on the patterns set before him. He tailors pieces of material into shalwar suits, shirts, and tops; the higher skilled masters can also custom make trousers, blazers, formal skirts and so on.They have moved with the times, but with the support of vocational training they may possible be better able to execute their orders. They are unparalleled at replicating patterns, even with their limited expertise.

Custom tailoring may not be big business but it provides adequate service to fulfil our fashion need, as it is an important player in the industry.

The blouse shop
The sari is the most worn ensemble n> The idea is catching on, the market is slowly growing and the business has potential. The blouses are becoming more elaborate and are now being considered stylish statement pieces. I believe young designers with institutional training will be able to sculpt, drape and embellish sari blouses fashioned with much greater creativity and innovation than what is being presently prepared.

The shirt maker
The urban metro man prefers to wear a fine shirt. The retail business of formal and casual shirts is a thriving business today. Many such stores may have started with shirts but have moved to denim, t-shirts, gents suit and even ladies wear.

These are the smart shops that produce and/or import apparel, and have achieved significant success. They have found their niche in the urban western wear market, and deliver high street fashion to the upwardly mobile Dhakaiites. They present trends that are wearable and stylish, i.e. imitate fashionable collections that are widely accepted. The genre is bilaterally global posure worldwide the neckline and sleeves with little fashion styling. It is in the print applications that they are using novel and stimulating ideas.

Calligraphy or motifs from the diverse Bangladeshi heritage are widely used. The richness of surface application derives from the fact that most of the designers involved in such activities have a fine arts back ground and hence are less able to develop challenging styles in cuts, as they can execute only basic shapes, instead investing their time in skills they do have - in designing unique surface styles.

The quality of fabric is relatively poor, as these designers rarely find the need to improve the construction of the material. These shops more or less look similar to each other, and experience the same limiting factors. To take their ability forward they must construct their garment professionally and emphasize on the durability of the textile as an feature of their work.

High-end stores
There are a number of stores in the city that cater to an exclusive clientele for whom price is relatively irrelevant as long as the article in question is unique. These retailers who claim to be designers flick their ideas together. Block-printed or embroidered, their saris or suits are invariably an amalgamation of ideas partially copied and hacked together in a random fashion. What they lack in surface ideas is made up for with their ability to replicate designs. It is their preoccupation to copy designs from couture Indian shops. They use a relatively fine grade of materials, either imported or local, with a hit-and-miss approach to design which is carried through boldly without the slightest hint of judgement or creative control. Their use of ready designs is neither original nor inventive; yet, they carry them through with their eccentricity and boldness. They may be deficient in novel ideas but they make up with their detail in finish, which allows them to add the illusion of passing for designer material. If they chose to explore our own heritage as opposed to aping Indian couture and weave constructive elements from it into their work, they would bring about a positive change both stylistically and in theme, thus lending them real credibility and quality.

The heritage shops
The Old School. These are the same people who were instrumental in reviving the textiles of Bangladeshi heritage in recent times. By so doing, they made it attainable to a larger market, and brought the fashion quotient back within the domain of traditionally Bangladeshi wear. Over years of research and development, they have developed work ethics and principles that have enabled them to establish themselves as true players in the fashion industry using classical motifs and styles. These are deeply guarded institutions that have remained consistently classy and continue to set the standards for style. They practice a design doctrine that is deeply rooted in Bangladeshi culture. Their work may not always be exciting or flamboyant, but it is almost always timeless. Over the past two decades these signature stores have held on to their traditional values to showcase the indigenous traditions of Bangladesh. The body of work of these shops can sometimes tend to be repetitive - but their relentless effort to popularise the age-old textiles, fashion and lifestyle accessories is done with sincerity and honour as befits the traditions they uphold. The unfaltering attitude of these old-guard designers who continue to develop such classical collections have shown a clear direction in the process of tinctly and uniquely Bangladeshi.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Syed



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