Brand names in Bangladesh
-- we're way trendy too!

Ask anyone about brand names in Bangladesh, and they'll tell you that we have none. But the truth is that we do, and they are our very own. Fashion houses like Aarong, Rina's, Andes, Mayasir, Kay Kraft, Artisti Collection and Cats Eye have set their own trends and become brand names in their own right. Some of them started out as one of the many small boutiques still running all over the city today. Many of them produce not only for a local clientele but have participated in various international fashion events.

The specialty of our brand names are that they are, for the most part, truly our own. Local fabrics and local designers ensure that we are buying something distinctly different from the mass-produced -- many of them Indian -- goods that flood our markets.

Ayesha Khan, not into the piles of beaded and sequined formal wear that fill our shiny shopping malls prefers to shop at Andes. “I don't want to be wearing what every other person is wearing,” she says, “and so I look for something exclusive.”

And indeed, Andes has made its mark in the world of fashion with its novel and intricate block print shalwar kameezes and fashionable men's panjabis and fatuas. The same goes for Rina's with its block printed, hand-painted and embroidered silks and muslins. But these are quite high up on the price scale.

Sajia Afrin, an university student, buys many of her shalwar kameez sets from all-time favourite Aarong, which has been catering to local and foreign customers for over 25 years.

“Perhaps it's because of the nice displays,” she Afrin, “but I often seem to find dresses I like at Aarong. Aarong has signature designs,” she says. “You can tell something is from Aarong just by looking at it. Though it's a little expensive, you can get good stuff. The dress material is reasonably priced, I find.”

Tania Zaman, however, though she likes Aarong's designs, finds the material of the ready made outfits to be high maintenance. She prefers to buy her formal wear from local boutiques like Anokhi and Almira which she finds “trendy”.

“Though Anokhi imports some of the material,” says Zaman, “they put them together in their own designs and get the embroidery done locally. I love the vibrant colours they use and the different kinds of embroidery like bead and sequin work, hand embroidery and appliqué.”

Almira uses local fabrics, says Zaman, and has uncommon designs which are a fusion of traditional and modern styles. “They don't mass produce,” she says, “and you can get only one or maximum two of the same outfits.” Zaman is also into Rajshahi silk and gets some of her clothes tailor-made with material from Silk Dynasty and Sopura.

The décor of stores and boutiques is also becoming an important factor for consumers today. Who doesn't want a spacious, tastefully decorated showroom with friendly customer service and, yes, those all-important trial rooms?

Relatively new on the fashion scene is folk-inspired Jatra, which has its own collection of women's shalwar kameezes, sarees, skirts and tops, both women's and men's fatuas and men's panjabis in block prints and batiks.

“I find Jatra's designs unique,” says Saima Ali, “and I love the local, folk feel of not only their products but the whole store with the bauls performing.”

“I also love Mayasir,” says Saima, “and often buy their intricately hand-embroidered fatuas and silver jewellery. They do tend to be a bit expensive though.”

Somewhat more affordable are names like Banglar Mela and Kay Kraft. Banglar Mela again has the traditional feel of local products which are reasonably priced. Kay Kraft, though initially popular for its block prints, is being increasingly appreciated for its experiments with -- and exhibitions of -- deshi fabrics like khadi and blended fabrics.

Men's fashion is becoming increasingly important in Dhaka today. While some brands cater to both women and men, fashion houses like Artisti Collection and Cats Eye serve men exclusively.

“I have always been a loyal Artisti customer,” says Tariq Mohsen, “being a fan of the buttoned down shirt. Although slightly pricey, 8.5 times out of 10, their shirts are very satisfactory.”

“For my casual-wear needs -- jeans, T-shirts, stuff like that -- I depend mostly on Westecs,” he adds. “I used to go to Aarong almost exclusively for my traditional wardrobe panjabi/kurtas, fatuas, etc. I wouldn't say they're cheap, but not as expensive as in many other authentic outlets that have opened up all over the place now in Dhaka. It seems these options have multiplied mostly in the past four or five years.”

Jayed Shahrear, a final year university student, likes to buy what he can from Grameen Check. “They promote local goods,” he says, “and, most importantly, 30 percent of the profits go to the weavers.”

“But it doesn't have as much variety,” says Shahrear, “only shirts, panjabis, fatuas and lungis for men, so for jeans and things I go to outlets like Rex.” He likes the T-shirts at Nitto Upohar at Aziz Market, says Shahrear, for the artistic designs and writing on the T-shirts, and also gets trousers and things tailored from Fit Elegance.

Cats Eye, Soul Dance and O2 are some other favourites with “today's man”, with their formal as well as hip lines.

The problem with fashion in Dhaka is that once a trend is “in” -- often Indian products or their imitations -- that's all you get. Brand names and specialised boutiques, with their local designers and, often, local fabrics, give something different to the customer who wants to look a little different from everyone else. Their only drawback is that most are usually on the pricey side, but for many, it's the price along with the name tag which promises exclusivity and draws them to these outlets.

But most importantly, it's the feel of our very own and exclusive designs, fabrics, embroidery, etc., and their increasing quality that has, happily, begun to draw the conscious, “cool” customer away from foreign merchandise and towards homemade products of which they can be proud. Our designers have proved that Bangladeshi products can be trendy too, and that they are!

By Kajalie Shehreen Islam
Photo Courtesy: Mayasir, DressyDale and Jatra

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