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     Volume 7 Issue 22 | May 30, 2008 |

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Fashioning Our Roots

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

Debashis Chakma, designer of Debashis Nabagata.

While it is not an industry that has not, up to date, been given much appreciation and kudos, fashion in Bangladesh is growing and becoming increasingly fruitful in its endeavours. More and more designers are popping up, making an effort to bring the industry up to international standards. In the process, however, it is sad to say that, in many cases, the glamour and glitter of other, more advanced industries around the world, such as India, influence our fashionistas so much that we often lose our own sense of fashion and merely follow the trends set by others.

What makes Debashis unique is that his collections are made solely
out of adivasi fabric.

Having India as a neighbouring country is hard for Bangladesh's self image. As it is we tend to measure our success according to the success of the Indians, never taking into account that they are far older as a nation. In addition, we look to India for guidance in many different aspects of our daily lives, be it arts, music, entertainment or even fashion.

Instead of looking to India for tips on fashion, Debashis believes that it is important to realise what we have and take advantage of the resources that we have in Bangladesh.

Let's not deny the fact that many Bangladeshi women are quite happy trying to look like the latest Bollywood actress. In fact how many times have you walked into a sari store and had a chumki-ala, shaded sari thrown in your direction, claiming it was the latest thing in India, even naming it after the movies in which beautiful doll-like actresses with impossibly thin figures wear. We constantly fall into the trap of idealising everything the Indians do. Those who can afford to do so always go to India for wedding shopping, rather than doing any major shopping in Bangladesh. And already there are a handful of big stores in the Gulshan area which strongly resemble shops in India. Rather than taking pride in what sets us apart from other nations-- our culture, our traditions and our heritage -- we spend all our time copying Indian trends while we slowly lose our own sense of style. Gone are the days of Tangail prints and Jamdanis, because Bollywood has not thought them worthy of glamourising. Our designers have no choice but to keep bringing in more Indian trends in order to keep their clients happy.

According to Designer Debashis Chakma, of Debashis Nabagata, "Bangladeshi fashion design only deals with the surface -- block, batik, embroidery, hand paint -- these aspects are very strong in the fashion industry, but unfortunately surface work is only a part of designing. There are many different aspects that are not touched upon as much as they should be here, such as fittings, patterns and also the relevance of what works with your surroundings. For example, many people don't recognise that the colours and fabrics that are relevant for summers -- mainly light colours and fabrics that breathe -- are not necessarily relevant for other seasons, such as winter, in which we use darker colours and more heavy fabrics."

Debashis' designs are targeted towards a more western audience,
with designs of skirts, tops and dresses.
The adivasi community in Bangladesh has a lot to offer, according to Debashis, in terms of fabric and patterns.

Debashis, a graduate of the Bangladesh Institute of Design in 1999, launched his brand in September of 2005. Prior to opening up his own design studio he worked for other design companies such as Shatabdi, Grameen Check and Travel Craft Emporium, also winning first prize in the Altamira young designer competition. Although most of his designs centre around western chic -- his clients, are mostly from the west and most of his shows he does in Europe, such as the London-based show "Expo Bangladesh" -- Debashis' designs are distinct for the sole reason that he uses indigenous textiles. Using hand-woven fabrics that are both 'colourful and cultural,' Debashis feels that his fashions depict the innocent and pure beauty of the indigenous community of Bangladesh. He takes fabrics, both chemically dyed textiles as well as handloom, from adivasi communities such as the Mru, Chakma, Tripura, Mro, Khumi, Tanchaya, Bawn and Garo, personally supervising the women workers from the groups in Chittagong. Originally these fabrics were used in the making of household items such
as napkins, curtains, etc.

"Our country is so rich, but we just don't realise it or know about it," he says. "There are so many opportunities for us and we have a variety of things to choose from, but we do not take advantage of what we have. We are surrounded by so many cultures that can contribute to fashion. There are a number of different patterns and bright colours that we can use and bring into the mainstream market in order for people to see what we have."

Brightly coloured patterns with clunky jewellery make the overall look of most of Debashis' designs stand out from others. A perfect blend of traditional and modern chic.

True to his word Debashis' studio in Banani is filled with brightly coloured patterns of skirts and tops, as he only works with western patterns (aside from the fotua). The unique fitting style of his designs is also something that sets him apart from other designers. "In addition to working with adivasi fabrics I try to focus on making the fitting of the outfits different than other designers.”

This fusion of chic fittings and traditional patterns merge into an interesting blend which symbolises the strength of a fashion industry that wants to hold onto its roots but at the same time move forward. In addition, Debashis' designs also remind us that there are many aspects of Bangladesh that the majority of us have not explored or educated ourselves about. We constantly look to other nations for reassurance and acceptance, all the while not promoting and taking pride in the beauty that we have within our grasp. It is people like Debashis, who despite all the odds, has taken his own path and tried to set an example for appreciating what we have in our own nation. And while his designs are western patterns, at least it is important that he is supporting these forgotten cultures by showcasing their worth and bringing them out of the shadows that they have been hiding under for far too long.




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