Confessions of a brand slave
I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with “brands”. Everywhere you go these days, you see people sporting the latest designer shirts or sunglasses; ladies toting around huge designer bags and “the look” of the season or teetering down the street wearing ridiculous sky-high designer heels. I’ve been a brand slave, no doubt about it. But frankly, there’s an insidious thing happening to us all: we’re beginning to look alike.
It’s true that when I was working for a global company as their Australian CKO, I fell into the brand trap. I did a lot of travel for global KM meetings – Paris, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, London, the US and so on. So I bought (gasp) a Louis Vuitton handbag. That was about 7 years ago. I still have it and use it, so I guess it was a reasonable investment. I was caught up in the “I’m travelling, so I must make some duty free purchases”; or “I’m in Paris, so I must have the latest French designer costume jewellery”; or “I’m in New York: quick, where’s Tiffanys?”.
But I’m sure we’ve all read about how children in developing countries toil in designer brand “sweat shops” to make the goods you and I covet so we can be thought of as hip, cool, funky – whatever the word is these days. I admit that in the past, I’ve rarely given a thought to where my clothes or accessories might be made or the context in which they were manufactured.
I’m now hearing the term “ethical luxury” – goods which badge their owners as people who are environmentally or socially aware. Organic supermarkets, organic brands and fair trade goods are popping up all over the retail landscape. Buy organic and it does make you feel a tad better I suppose.
As I was growing up, you didn’t hear of brand names. Clothes were made in Australia as far as I recall. You went to the local cake shop and bought a hefty apple turnover with real cream (not that mock shock stuff). You heard more about a Holden Monaro than you did about a BMW or Audi. But now we seem to covet what everyone else covets or what Hollywood celebs wear. There are so many brands now that I get confused!
So I am making a vow to myself (and to you dear reader!) that from now on I will buy no more brands. This winter, I am off to the vintage clothing shop to buy my new (recycled) winter coat. I recently bought a handbag from the early 1950s. No designer name, no idea where it’s made. Next summer, I am buying silk georgette blouses from the 1940s and 50s from another vintage shop I know of. I have a passion for anything from the 1940s and 1950s, so it makes sense for me to buy from that period.
New shoes? off to the vintage shop. A new bracelet or necklace? Make my own. I designed a necklace for a great friend of mine and we were at dinner recently when she wore it. The other person joining us asked my friend “wow, great necklace, where did you get it?”. We joked and said it was a Versace original. I have a jeweller friend who I have commissioned pieces from – so if it’s beyond me, then she’ll make my stuff. Hand make it. When was the last time, in our throw away society, that we lovingly touched something handcrafted and wore it with pride?
So instead of being a brand slave, I will now be an anti-brand slave. This week’s trip to Hong Kong will be my first big test. Normally, I would go on the prowl for that fake handbag (ethical issues in the making of the fake I know) or comb the shops for brand designs. This time, I’m taking my camera and I’m going to try to capture the street scenes and night life of Hong Kong. This should be a good ploy to keep me out of the shops. I’ll try to really look at people and context rather than looking for the nearest shopping mall. I’ll stop and look at how other cultures live instead of rushing off to the modern glistening skyscraper that houses a huge shopping mall.
Why don’t you do the same? Give up the brands and go anti-brand. Or have you already? Tell me more if you have.