It was not too long ago when everyone – or almost everyone – I knew wore designer clothes. Most of us wore exclusive designs, tailor-made cuts.  But the days have gone with the wind I suppose.  The reader must be wondering what mumbo jumbo this writer has to share on this forum but it isn’t that mindless a talk as it might sound right now. 

Anyone in her/his late twenties or thirties can go back to the days when we all went to buy cloth and get it stitched. I would say the designs were not the best that could be imagined but in most cases it used to be ‘exclusive’ unless one opted for the printed design. 

Each had her/his own favourite patterns and fabric and once decided individuals wore the kind of clothes for years to come. Such clothes could easily be identified with the personality of the individual. It also mirrored the temperament of the person in a subtle way.  But the last decade has landed us all in the whirlwind of ‘designer stuff’ and ‘brands’. The nomenclature could not be more misleading for us Pakistanis.  The ones who were wearing the real exclusively designed and stitched clothes were talked into buying the ‘bulk’ factory stuff all in the name of brands.  

The ‘designer’ offering his or her best creative skills might have their headquarters in Paris or New York but we all know the truth. Since so much money is spent on buying the ‘branded’ stuff, some might shy away even from recognizing the fact all that is sold is solely made in sweatshops of China. 

One should not be smug so as to not accept that China-made products have flooded each market, worldwide. And there is no escape from buying their goods as a consumer and I have no issues with that as long as it does not carry a Zara logo on it. 

Paying for a shirt made right behind in your backyard should not cost us half of the paycheck of an average Pakistani.  Staying loyal to our traditions as a nation we never hesitate to follow fancy things blindly.  

Something that started in the form of bulk production, to meet the everyday needs of average Americans in the start of nineteenth century soon overtook the world where designers like Chanel sent in their catalogues to the women living in far off corners of America.  But never could they outweigh the importance of made-to-measure or bespoke clothes.  It was later in the century that brands like Chanel, Dior, Lacroix and Saint Laurent launched Haute couture for women. But still their main source of income is the bulk ready-to-wear so called designer clothes that they market worldwide including the selected stores in some parts of Pakistan

In case one comes across a person who is too ‘brand’ conscious, first thing they would put forward as the logic is how durable and well produced the designer stuff is.  How exclusive in nature. 

Firstly, there is no durability guaranteed in any designer stuff and if not all then half of the individuals who have bought these goods would agree.  Secondly there is no element of exclusivity in them.  The designs are manufactured not just in numerous pieces but in all saleable sizes.   The only thing achieved out of this is the ticket to a ‘exclusive designer club’ one that is non-verbally formed wherever two or three money squanderers happen to get together.

It might be acceptable as the clients in abovementioned situations are adults who on their own free will chose to wear and buy whatever they wanted to but it does not end here.   It was just a couple of weeks ago that a good friend of mine was almost reduced to tears on not finding the right size for his daughter. He told me how his school going daughter had to buy ‘branded uniform’.

It did not occur to me for quite a while that he was not joking.   He added that his daughter’s school was not doing anything outrageous. It was the norm of the day as most of the schools nowadays not only recommend the color of the school outfit like the old times, they also ask you to buy them from a specific ‘designer’.

Now how would one interpret this? Where has the concept of simplicity and uniformity gone? As a kid I asked my mother once why we all had to wear similar clothes to school and she told me it was to provide a level playing field to each student coming from different economic backgrounds.  “Everyone cannot buy fancy clothes. It is to maintain discipline and uniformity.”

So now we have a uniformity and discipline in the name of the ‘branded’ stuff for the school going children.  As a nation we are already into becoming blind sheep but this inculcation of brand slavery at this tender age is absolutely vile.

I am not suggesting here that quality of the product is not important but quality of the product should not always be gauged by the label it carries, its price tag should not determine our choices.  There are other ways as well and we all know how to buy good stuff without indulging in overspending in the name of a lifestyle shoved down our throats very recently. 

Local made stuff of good quality is way more precious to the bags and shoes made in some dark alley of Vietnam and China only under the umbrella of a brand name that most of us do not know how to pronounce.

Geti Ara is a story-teller, journalist and a documentary maker