Sunday, March 23, 2008

Branded for Life

Things changed , as I recall, when labels appeared on the outside of ready-made garments instead of on the inside. You were no longer just wearing a garment, you were advertising it as well. The manufacturers ought to have paid you a fee for displaying their logo or label on your person. Instead, you were paying them larger and larger sums for the privilege of advertising their goods. No longer was the appearance, cut and fit of your garment paramount. It had to be good because it was such-and-such a brand. Inexorably, the concept of brands entered our lives. An item was a desirable possession primarily in terms of its pedigree.
Obtaining this pedigree used to take years and years. Since there were fewer goods available to begin with and fewer choices to make, the concept of a 'brand' wasn't very significant a few years ago. Some particular goods were generically known by the names of popular brands, as, for example, the ubiquitous steel almirah was generally known as a Godrej, and a photocopy is usually called a Xerox copy. Some brands did creep into our psyche, especially with the advent of radio jingles, and advertisements on the newly introduced colour television. But these were goods where the price was linked to the quality of the product. And garment manufacturer's labels were where they belonged- on the inside the garment.
The first logo that I remember seeing on a garment was the tiny, fairly unobtrusive embroidered horse and rider on a collared tee-shirt. Of course, I forget the brand. Perhaps it was Jockey, and it was probably given to my husband by some NRI member of the family. (Sorry, my brand recall is very poor- it was actually Polo by Ralph Lauren- had to Google it to confirm!) The next logo I became aware of was the Louis Philippe coronet- our niece was getting engaged, and her fiance` was wearing this smart striped shirt with little embroidered coronets on the cuffs. Till then my husband had been getting his shirts sewn by good old Diplomat Tailor(Lucknow), and we had just started buying the occasional ready-made shirt, a brand called Four Seasons, which was well made, cool, comfortable and affordable- a mere three to four hundred rupees, compared to the approximately thousand rupee basic price of Louis Philippe. This was in the early nineties. Logos were still tiny and very discreet, like the tiny crocodile on another popular brand of tee-shirt. There were some brand labels that were proudly displayed even then - the Levis jeans label was displayed with great pride, but it was visible only on the rear of the wearer, and so was not really obtrusive.
One fine day this dinosaur discovered that the labels had overtaken the garments- I'd see youngsters wearing tee-shirts with a great big BOSS written in front, and I'd wonder who was the boss anyway, and why did it have to be announced in such bold letters. And then more and more names began impinging on my consciousness, and a veritable alphabet of logos appeared, associated with new and strange slogans.
Nike exhorted us to 'just do it', without telling us what 'it' was. The sardarji joke had it that the sardar could never buy an Arrow shirt, because the arrow on the sign always guided him to the shop next door. Children became passionate adherents of particular brands, to the great mystification of their parents, who were mostly dinosaurs like me. What is interesting is that several 'international' brands are manufactured locally, under franchise, but are still sold at far higher prices than similar, non-branded versions.

When I was newly married, living in a small industrial township far from the rest of civilisation, where everybody was most concerned about everyone else's business, there was one thing that really irritated me. Whenever anyone wore a new sari, the first thing asked was the price. Apparently a sari was good only if it was perceived to be expensive. It was also good if it had originally been expensive but you managed to buy it for less in a sale. The beauty, colours, design or anything else were never considered. I guess my response to labels on clothes stems from those early associations. Good garment design involves a great deal of creativity, knowledge and skill. A well designed, well finished garment will look good. Surely it doesn't have to wear its heart on its sleeve, as it were. Imagine going around with our parents' names tattooed on our foreheads- as though we are stating the names of the people who made us. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? It's just about as ridiculous as garments announcing loud and clear who made them. Aren't they confident of the quality of the product? Are they selling quality, or are they simply selling a brand?
What is the value addition? The saddest part is that young children become brand conscious very early in life, and tend to stay away from the unbranded, unknown segment of goods, which may be at least as good. And people tend to pre-judge others by the little tags or big bold names they see on their clothes. It seems like a very superficial short cut to actually knowing what a person stands for.
Let me clarify that brands definitely do help in choosing what to buy. Branding per se is a useful concept. Carrying it to an extreme is what I don't like. The entire rant is about 'spoiling' clothes by affixing brand names or logos on the outside of the garment, where I don't think they belong.

I may be a dinosaur, but if there's one thing I'm quite sure of, it's this:
really good quality never needs to label itself- it simply is.


Sue said...

So you're a fan of bespoke suits and tailored salwar-kameezes, ja?

So'm I. :)

You know what this post reminded me of? The first chapter of 'The Little Prince' where the author talks of how grownups will only value a house if they know the price.

dipali said...

I actually love wearing ready made clothes! But not of having the world peer at my front to see what brand I'm wearing:)

SUR NOTES said...

oh you are wonderful! trying to remember what the crocodile brand is, etc etc. i still cant get the coke and pepsi colours right- forget brands. i am the marketing person's worse nightmare come true. i remember the ad but never the product/brand.

: )

Space Bar said...

yes! i see no reason to pay some ridiculous amount of money for the privilege of being branded.

Choxbox said...

LOL! real stuff doesnt need mktg and ads - that funda reminds me of the time when my mom would say to my lil sis while referring to milk as my sis wasnt a big fan of said liquid. guess what - they started advertising it too on the telly! (the jingle was rather catchy, cant remember it properly now).

Indian Home Maker said...

I always tell my children, if you have confidence in your own taste and judgment you will wear what you like, and not what the marketing guys want you to. We do buy ready made clothes (too lazy/busy for tailors, and its difficult to find good tailors!)but I am as happy buying what I like from Linking road as from a showroom, provided I like what is bought. And the less I pay the better.
I also agree with you regarding the quality of Indian made branded products (franchisee), I have bought something, more than once, from one of these that looked good and turned out to be mediocre.

Space Bar said...

choxbox: :D that's the doodh hai wonderful, pee sakte hain roz glassful one, no? very irritating ad.

Usha said...

Completely, entirely, totally echoes my views.
And it seems that we are paying this whole difference in price for that one brand name.What about those $ 5k purses and $10k shoes?
Once I wanted a pen to sign something and a colleague gave me his mont blanc mentioning it and I was confused and asked him "you still use it only for writing right?" and I think he stopped talking to me after that.
Luckily I don't have the kind of money to throw after labels - sometimes it seems obscene to me.

Unknown said...

let me take some of your comment space and rant.. sorry..

talk of branding in clothes.. how about consumer electronics.

you buy a DVD player from Sony which costs you $99.99 (108 including tax) and the damn thing doesnt play half the CD /DVD types or discs that are slightly scratched or have stickers saying "public library" on the front!

then you go buy this cheap chinese brand APEX for $29 and it plays everything.. even the scratched up CD!! go figure..


Unknown said...

You're so right as usual wise one ! What's with brands ? Whether there's a croc on your shirt or a little crown or arrow hardly matters . And as for my kurtas - I have yet to find a good branded one that fits me .

Choxbox said...

@ spacebar - i think it was something like 'doodh doodh, doodh doodh, har pal hai something something, har pal ki maang hai doodh' or some such. basically everyone and their cousin glugging down glassfuls and leaving a milky moushtache.
rings a bell?

Maggie said...

In Beijing, there's this fascinating fakes market - you can buy all sorts of designer stuff - and for a small fee, they'll fix whatever brand logo you want on it :-D

Sukhaloka said...

Oooh, I must be a 21st century dinosaur then. I home right in on the shop I know, and I don't know what brand my favourite pair of jeans is. It says "B-bell", as I just checked. What is that anyway?

I loved tailored salwar kameezes, until I realized that you can get only 4 salwars done from the same tailor. After that, the tailor decides your size is "readymade and average", regardless of measurements and instructions.

So now I'm a slave to high prices, because the only places that come with trial rooms and can alter something to fit are branded pricey ones. Heh.

Someone show me a moderately priced, good tailor already!

Anonymous said...

well said!

Anonymous said...

Amen to your thoughts, very well written.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ma'm.To be honest, I wondered how could you be one of those AIWEI( I heard an exaggerated use of this word staying in UP ) bloggers around till i read the second paragraph of your post ( the one which says you are married !! ).You see being "married"- rightly or unrightly does give a room for expectation of a little sense,which many a times is not so obvious/rational ( much like the explicit mention of brands on items give a room for the not-so-cheap pricing of the item ).This is probably the most wonderful write-up by a highly observative ( i do not know if the word exists ) mind around.Awesome work !! will blogroll you, if you do not mind educating the kids ( =us) around.

Unknown said...

I found myself agreeing with everhything in this one. These large displays of brands is one reason I find some of the more trendy and hip new Bollywood fare really annoying. Dude! I don't need to know who made your shirt.

Also...the tag is finally done.

Indian in NZ said...

totally agree with you.

dipali said...

@sur: I had to ask my husband- Lacoste is the crocodile-wala brand!
@space bar: exactly!
@choxbox: will they leave anything alone, I wonder!
@indian home maker: if only our kids believed us and not the advertisers:)
@space bar: I get even more irritated by the strange mix of Hindi and English in so many ads.
@usha: 'you still use it only for writing'! Ha ha ha:) My husband was given a Mont Blanc at some company shindig, and I used it to write a letter. It was so damn heavy that I gave up and put it in its box. None of our kids want it either. ( Though I did love my father's Parker pen, which I sadly lost).
@sundar narayan: You are inspiring a post. My husband insisted on buying a Bose Wave thingummy, which announces that most of our discs are not playable. And of course they play perfectly well on the other, less snooty system.
@eve's lungs: Some people do care- the guys the advertisers are after- not sensible people like us:)
@candyfloss:that's the ultimate, isn't it- having fake brands which you can't distinguish from the original!
@suki: Tailors- Bah. They never listen, do they?
@chandni, utbtkids: Thunkoo muchly.
@mishra: Glad to know you don't think of me as another AIWEI blogger, though I really don't think that being married or not has anything to do with being sensible or not! I do know wonderfully sensible people who have never married. The word you were looking for was 'observant'.
@jawahara: exactly, dude.
@2b's mom: Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thats right !! Observant is the word I was looking for.

Yes, I do know that being married is not a 'property'-with the definition of the term intact! Rather, in context of your blog-which I interpreted as talking about brand/price-getting-bigger-than-the-qualities
thing -- "being married" somehow has much the same brand value now-a-days.Being married now is,to a great extent, synonymous to being sensible and worth respect- which ofcourse is illogical/irrational.You might believe me that travelling all alone in Sleeper class (Indian railways) was difficult as every family around thought I was after their daughter/sister/( in some case Mother too !! ).And the same people would as me to join then for dinner with my sister around( thinking her to be my better half )..I hope I am making sense.I am glad you replied to my review.Pleasure listening to your ideas !

dipali said...

@mishra: got it! Being with female friend/sister/partner apparently grants respectability to young men, rendering them 'harmless'!

Anonymous said...

Exactly Madam !!Hope I made sense

Mama - Mia said...


these days i would buy whatever fits me!! period!! even then the choice is less!!

i mean did i get bigger or even small got smaller! :(

but i am indeed fond of certain brands simply because i have had good experience with them! if not i give up on em! for the kid of money they charge, first impression is INDEED the last impression!

apart from that, i guess its an ge when you get carried away by these things and eventually they stop mattering so much!!

i do love looking at atrociously priced designer clothes and shoes and watches!!

i dont mind a watch saying Guggi pretending to be gucci!! i seriously got gifted one of those!! :D