Zürain Imam

Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in all aspects related to fashion, style and image.  As a teenager and young adult it was for all the superficial and puerile reasons (trying to impress; fitting in and in some bizarre cases trying to betray one’s  true status vis à vis wearing fake designer labels!)

As a fashion and lifestyle journalist working in Pakistan for the past two decades and reporting on fashion designer collections, new brands and  the ilk, I have since garnered a pretty astute estimation of why individuals are drawn to designer labels and popular brands and why these stick.

Personally I never wear any easily recognizable brand (real or fake) especially with a logo. No Ralph Lauren Polo; Abercrombie & Fitch or even Armani Xchange for me except perhaps to the gym but certainly not to impress or for fashion’s sake.  My reasoning which might sound egocentric  is:  “Why am I wearing someone’s logo and advertising for them when  I am not getting paid to do so?” Also, with the proliferation of  “good” ‘Made in China’ copies of  Louis Vuitton  and Hermès loafers and belts found in mall shops and worn by office boys from middle class families who definitely should not be able to afford them, I would never wear real or imitation of the abovementioned  lest someone accuse me of “faking it.”

I understand the aspiration-driven desires of  women who wear  Pakistani designer labels like Sana Safinaz. especially their ubiquitous Lawn: for a moment they are buying into the lives of the socialite designers just as the  fake Louis Vuitton  and Hermès crowd is trying to. The designers are cognizant of this fact and fuel the fires of aspiration by offering a taste of  seeming luxury at relatively affordable prices.

Other brands like Junaid Jamshed or Khaadi may go the opposite route and relate their brand to the sentiments of the  awam (common man) and provide girl or boy-next- door campaigns and billboards.

As a public figure  in Pakistan I am sometimes invited to wear  pieces from a fashion designer’s latest collection on the Red Carpet especially during Fashion Weeks. I personally don’t get paid to do so- I don’t know about celebrities- I  wear their creations  if I believe in a designer and want to support their growth. Designers know I enjoy fashion, clothes and dressing up and know I will put my own spin on their creations with my whimsical accessories.  My wearing their clothes might for a moment give their label a minuscule amount of validation

Recently for the last Bridal Fashion Week in Karachi I was asked if I would wear a sherwani by HSY who is one of the most brand-cognizant logo-driven and image-conscious  designers in Pakistan. I faltered for a moment because I did not want to look like a walking advertisement for the HSY brand. However, I perused myriad alternative offerings and chose the  one which I thought was most elegant, age-appropriate and in which I felt most comfortable . The previous Prêt Fashion Week  HSY had given out scarves as giveaways. In an almost kitschy ode to the brand’s self-adulation I made the scarf into a tank top (there was not much fabric!) and wore it under the sherwani in an ironic and almost mockingly overt manner!

The point I am making is that personally I like to look unique, idiosyncratic and unlike anyone else which is the reason I never shop  from  high street brand stores. I don’t want to bump into someone wearing the exact same Khaadi kurta at some event!

Brand labels  are ubiquitous in our increasingly upward mobile capitalist culture from handbags, shoes, T-shirts,, cars, smartphones, tablets. et al and for every brand label there is an alternative cheaper version – we’ve all seen those  fashion magazine pictorials to the tune of  ‘Bargain vs. Splurge”.

So why is there that predilection for so many to covet brand label products? Why do some refuse to believe that brand name clothing just isn’t worth the price? Well, buying brand names go beyond what the critics say.

Many will opt for a brand name plain shirt for $25 rather than a non-label for $20, because they feel that they’re buying a good quality product from a reliable company with the belief that high-end companies will ensure superior quality in order to uphold their reputations. These individuals also believe that generally the very first impression that anyone has of them is focused on the image that  they project. For instance, if  they don’t  take care of their appearance, others may think that  they are disorganized. Brand name clothing  they believe renders a positive impression to everyone around them.

Generally, despite not being  a fan of “popular brands” – I prefer off-beat labels like Moschino or classic timeless designers like YSL and Charvet-. I do admit that  despite the fact you are paying in part for the “privilege” to wear the brand’s name, you are also probably purchasing a product that is high quality. Designer brand clothes are usually made from finer fabrics and have superior stitching compared to those of bargain stores.

Of course there is the narcissistic aspect to brand label coveting. Many women in Karachi  just  love  being the centre of attention and enjoy when people ask where they can buy a Louis Vuitton purse like theirs. Wearing designer clothing aligns you with an elite group: those who can afford it. People who wear designer clothing recognize designer clothing. They can also usually recognize cheap clothing. When you are wearing a Valentino LBD, you appear wealthier and of higher social status than others. And who doesn’t want others to be insanely jealous of  their clothes?

I believe that this dependence  for brand names is a layover from one’s teen-hood years when  teens bought strictly brand names, looking to their clothes for self-confidence. By wearing the hottest T-shirt they were trying to  avoid the awkwardness of fitting in, thinking that their clothes would provide comfort, much like a security blanket. They believed wearing brand names would automatically put them into a category labeled “cool & trendy”. To many adult Karachi socialites  fitting in right away based on appearance is more appealing than making friends based on personality. Of course, our clothes should somewhat represent our personalities but they shouldn’t replace them. . For this reason, people sometimes buy brands because they believe the brands will contribute to greater social acceptance. This is especially true in fashion. Consumers often buy clothing brands that are either perceived as fashionable, trendy or high class, or that fit into a particular subculture or peer group. The “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality epitomizes this brand buying motive.

­­­­­­­­­­­­Consumers also generally buy brand names for the first time in hopes that it provides a quality experience.. They hope a computer works efficiently and helps them perform personal or work tasks effectively. They buy food hoping for a quality taste or nutritional value. Recognized brand names typically have shown a consistency in product quality that has contributed to the evolution of the brand. Often, consumers rely on prior experiences or public word-of-mouth when selecting brands.

Over time, consumers develop loyalty to brands that provide a consistent, high-quality experience. Most people who wear designer clothes swear by a few designers. People keep going back to the same brands because they consistently perform well for them and they enjoy the signature style which in turn becomes an identity for themselves. Loyalty is essentially an emotional attachment to a brand. Some car buyers have a strong affinity for the Toyota brand, while others have a similar commitment to Honda. Brand loyalty causes customers to inconvenience themselves or spend more for a particular brand. Developing a strong company brand or carrying desired product brands leads to more customer loyalty and long-term business benefits.

Just as company or product brands have identities, people do as well. Some people buy certain brands to support their personal or professional image. Certain brands represent certain things. Cutting-edge, tech-savvy consumers buy Apple technology to correlate with a desire to be perceived as “techie.” Buying a BMW or other higher-priced car brand or Armani suits can contribute to your image as a high-class, well-to-do or sophisticated professional. Ralph Lauren represents classic preppy. Club Monaco is worn most often by young stylish professionals. People buy certain brands because what you wear represents who you are.

In our celebrity-crazy pop culture many of us are influenced by the fact that celebrities wear designer clothes. Yes, it’s stupid to buy expensive designer clothing just because Madonna wears it. Or buy an expensive smart-phone because a Bollywood star is endorsing it. But celebrities are like living bulletin boards for designers and manufacturers.

One of the few reasons I would spend a lot of money on an expensive item of designer clothing was if it was unique and rare.  If I had to pay $45.00 for an (overpriced) Abercrombie shirt, I guarantee you that during its shelf life in my wardrobe I would run into at least three people who own the exact same tank and at least 20 people who own a tank very similar. But If I paid $500.00 for a pair of Balmain loafers I can almost guarantee  that no one else will be wearing them at the same time as me.

Social acceptance. Status.  Quality. Experience.  Brandloyalty and Celebrity culture are some of the reasons why brand labels stick and consumers keep returning to them.

But I’d still prefer to be individualistic and unique in my own self-created wardrobe that looks culled from tailors and flea markets. Perhaps that is my own brand of dressing and signature style. I’ll stick with that.


About the writer-

Zurain Imam is a US-Pakistani print and broadcast fashion journalist and consultant from Karachi. He has been described as a “leading and influential fashion journalist” deemed “One of the 50 Most Important People in Entertainment” and “One of the 100 Most Memorable People in Fashion” by Diva magazine. Since 2005 Imam has been a member of the prestigious Lux Style Awards (LSA ) Fashion Jury that nominates fashion candidates for the LSAs.

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