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By Sabrina F Ahmad

In her recent article, Maheen Khan gave us a pretty comprehensive picture of the evolution of the sari. The seven yards of fabric plays many roles: as an economic commodity, as a cultural ambassador, as a style statement, and more. Over the years, locally produced saris have earned their place in the national psyche.

The same cannot be said of the three-piece market in the country. The shalwar kameez has been a popular everyday choice for women, commingling comfort, modesty and efficiency. The economic boom in the 80's, followed by rapid urbanisation and the arrival of cable television and foreign channels in Bangladesh a decade later created the right atmosphere for the fashion industry to start budding. Almost overnight, fashion houses and small boutiques began sprouting up everywhere you looked, offering the 'latest designs'. It was a period that held great promise.

Three decades later, the situation is one of mixed success. On the one hand, we now have a number of established fashion houses proudly innovating 'deshi' fabrics and designs to create culturally relevant couture. On the other, for every one of these houses, you have at least a dozen small boutiques offering you low-quality, mass-produced shalwar kameez sets that are low on originality, but charging exorbitantly anyway. And with the 'deshi' market so bland, consumers are turning towards imported fabrics and designs.

Is this a cause for concern? We caught up with two major fashion houses Aarong and Pride to weigh in on the issue.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Airin
Makeup: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe: Manick Banarashi


“Our collective effort has been slow, but sure. We have achieved enough penetration in the society that these days a person will not think twice about wearing a Jamdani to a wedding, or a cotton kameez with Nakshi Katha to a dawat. While the lower middle class and working masses still prefer their shiny, jazzy Bollywood inspired outfits, the educated class now tends to opt for our local designs and fabrics.”

Mohammed Abdur Rouf, General Manager, Retail and Infrastructure, Aarong

On being deshi and buying deshi

“At its core, Pride is tremendously nationalistic. Pride Limited was created to combat the import of Indian saris into the country in the 60s. My grandfather wanted to prove that our design capabilities, our products were on par, if not superior to those that were being brought in illegally from our neighbour. Hence the name.

“We've carried this philosophy into the present. We believe in promoting what is rich about our culture, our strengths as a nation and as a people. However at the same time, we believe in moving with the trends, and the current trend dictates long kameez. This Eid, we were able to find a harmonious relationship between fabrics and motifs that were wholly 'deshi' but also following the trend.”

“Bollywood has always had a strong influence on local fashion. Over the last two decades, in particular, with the rise of Hindi serials, the market has seen a strong proliferation of imported fabrics and designs. This influence goes deep; even in the divisional cities, you will find people sporting outfits from some Indian film.

“Since its inception 35 years ago, Aarong has been committed to promoting our cultural heritage in a contemporary fashion, be it Nakshi Katha or Jamdani, or Muslin. We have been constantly updating our designs to suit changing tastes, but with a view to our traditions, to prove that a tasteful outfit need not be showy or over the top to be appropriate for a fancy occasion. We have not been alone in these efforts, for sure.

“As Aarong continued to expand in spite of the competition from foreign designs in the market, so did other local houses that took up the challenge, from Deshal, and Banglar Mela to Rang, Nagardola, etc., with everyone promoting 'deshi' designs and textiles.

“Our collective effort has been slow, but sure. We have achieved enough penetration in the society that these days a person will not think twice about wearing a Jamdani to a wedding, or a cotton kameez with Nakshi Katha to a dawat. While the lower middle class and working masses still prefer their shiny, jazzy Bollywood inspired outfits, the educated class now tends to opt for our local designs and fabrics.”

Are the small boutiques a concern?

“Small boutiques that are cropping up are undoubtedly enterprising and we appreciate the business of it. But they are not a major concern because in recent years we have seen a re-emergence of customers picking 'deshi' fabrics and promoting local brands because these are favoured on a daily basis as opposed to wearing a heavily bedazzled three piece for one bridal event. As an individual brand, we have cultivated a long-standing loyalty with our patrons, and we have been gaining ground with the younger, three-piece wearing market because we have become trendy without compromising on our principle of 'deshi' designs.

“Yes, culturally, a particular niche has been adopting Bollywood, and the aspiring markets have followed suit and that to me, personally is a shame. But no one can or will deny their roots, and eventually everyone will tire of walking into a party to find someone else wearing the same long Sana Safinaz kameez.”

“Are they a source of concern? Not really. We appreciate having more players in the market to keep us on our edge. We're not even too concerned with the few outlets that consider copying and mass-producing our designs, because that only gives us further incentive to continue reinventing our designs. Also, considering we have a strong brand identity, when a design is identifiably Aarong, no matter who else is selling it; ultimately that's marketing for us.”

Fashion houses vs. small boutiques and foreign imports
So what is the advantage to buying from an established 'deshi' fashion house, as opposed to a mall outlet offering foreign brands, or a small boutique offering you your fix of three-pieces?

“The most obvious answer is one about the good of the local economy. Each Aarong item is a labour of love, created by craftsmen sitting in their village homes, pouring their passions into their work. That young woman tending chickens in her backyard and doing a little kantha-stitching on the side. That old weaver working his loom to create a particular Jamdani pattern.

“We bring the work to their doorsteps. Every time you buy an Aarong kameez, you are not only getting a high-quality, fashionable garment, you are putting work in the hands of these local artisans, and the talented 'deshi' designers we have working for us. The profits from your purchase will be spread out to say, four or five stakeholders, and pumped back into the economy.

“When you buy an imported piece, that money goes to the middleman who brought it into the country, and then ultimately out of the country to wherever the product is from. Think about that for a minute.

“Our advantage over the small outlets is simply one of scale. We have about 65,000 artisans across the country, crafting our products. We have a large team of dedicated designers working on constantly innovating and refreshing our designs, and outlets around the city and in the major districts. Simply put, we have the resources they haven't achieved yet, and we can afford to provide our customers with more variety, and far more choices than any small boutique can.”

“Pride Limited is a lifestyle brand. We have started with a brand philosophy that is rooted in our love for everything Bangladeshi. Our strength is in our quality, and our relentless need to satisfy our customers. We have evolved with the times to meet the ever changing tastes of the customer, but we have also stayed true to what makes Pride, Pride. Tasteful, beautiful and 'deshi'. And 'deshi' never goes out of style.”

Special thanks to: Sumbal A Momen, Manager, Marketing Communications, Pride Group Retail; Director, Pride Group and Mohammed Abdur Rouf, General Manager, Retail and Infrastructure, Aarong.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Tanik
Wardrobe: Tangail Saree Kutir
Makeup: Farzana Shakil
Jewellery: Genuine Himalyan Jewelleries


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