Confessions of a brand slave

March 25, 2008 at 2:00 am 6 comments

Photo by LalidaI’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.

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Entry filed under: Brands, Globalisation, Rant, Reflections.

Urban fragment 1 Urban fragment 2

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Luke Naismith  |  March 25, 2008 at 5:48 am

    Kim – don’t bother coming to Dubai then!! Supermarket City, luxury and affluence abound. Would love to go anti-brand but they are insidious things – shoudl I shop at Carrefours or Geant – Safeway or Woolies? And there are no antique shops around here either!!
    One way that I go anti-brand is refusing to buy McDonalds or KFC, etc (where possible but not easy with kids in tow). Instead, I will go to the local take-way restaurant and buy something healthier or cook myself. I used to own a Toyota Camry until I realised that they were marketed to people who wanted a bog-standard car without any branding or trimmings!
    So Ms Naomi (Klein), I will be interested in how far you can pursue your anti-brand strategy without being tripped up!! good luck in HK

    Reply
  • 2. thinkingshift  |  March 25, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Thx Luke. Dubai must be a brand trap! Will blog any confessions after HK 🙂

    Reply
  • 3. Brad  |  March 26, 2008 at 3:51 am

    Kim,

    I like the emphasis on photography instead of shopping! Snapping images instead of bargains! Look forward to see the results.

    I am almost in agreement with you on brands. However, I have to say that brands are not necessarily all bad. Brands are just an identity created for a purpose and they apply equally to people (our friends, our books, our blogs are part of our individual brand). The secret is to identify with the brands that make sense to you. Being an anti-brand slave is just another brand, but I know what you’re saying. And, I can well guess, there will be plenty more brands that you don’t want to associate with than the ones you do!

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on making your own things or buying original things from friends or traders when possible.

    And as to recycled clothes, a story: my friend who earns a good sized six figure salary plus bonus shops at op shops for clothes. Naturally, it’s not the daggy end of the op shop clothing that appeals. So the good stuff gets gobbled up first, ironically by rich (or relatively rich) people and the stuff that’s left is for the poor – the people the op shops are supposed to actually cater for!

    Finally, a tip for the brand savvy consumer: shop for that branded good without guilt. Take in the tactile, feast your eyes on the beauty and the glamour, enjoy the brand experience. Then walk out of the shop, money in hand, and donate the cost of that good to the Fred Hollows Foundation. Now there’s a brand spanking way to behave!

    Reply
  • 4. Marc  |  March 26, 2008 at 9:50 am

    Hi Kim

    Long time listener, first time caller. (I’ve always wanted to say that). I’ve been reading your really insightful writing for a while (the wonders of RSS) and its been a real pleasure. Intelligent, astute, empathetic thoughts on interesting subjects… who could ask for anything more?

    Anyway, about brands… I’ve got a bit of a love/hate thing going on. On the one hand, I love classic home pieces by designers like Charles Eames and Arne Jacobsen and I’d pay premium for the original, on the other hand I refuse to wear a company’s name across my chest or a monogram on my pocket. If I’m advertising them I figure they should pay me (or at least I shouldn’t be paying them).

    It’s not “brand” in and of itself that bugs me. I like good quality things and I’m sure as you noticed from your LV bag, you sometimes do get what you pay for with good stitching, nice materials etc. I have a brand of jeans I like, not because the’d be seen on the street as “da bomb”, because they wouldn’t, but because they’re tried, tested, reliable and my butt looks good in them 😉 Every time I wear through my boots I replace them with a pair from the same manufacturer. In that regard I guess you could call me “loyal” in some items and couldn’t-care-less in others.

    But the idea of wearing or carrying a recognisable brand kind of icks me. So for years and years i’ve shopped in that way. Plain black T, no logos or identifying features, in the shopping basket. Giant tick on the chest, shop’s name on the sleeve, sneaky little logo embroidered on the pocket, back on the shelf.

    Here’s the rub. There are far MORE clothes out there with external branding than without. I can go through a whole department store looking for a plain shirt and come out empty handed. At some point in history it just became OK to advertise yourself on your product… maybe brands even considered it an “enhancement”. Now I’d challenge anyone who wanted a baseball cap to knock around in on the weekend to go out and bring one back in less than a week without a logo, graphic or silly saying.

    I kind of figure everything in the world is made by someone… some ethically and some not so ethically… so we have to accept that everything from our toilet paper to our takeaway coffee is, in some way “branded”.

    But if I’m going to be a walking billboard, speak to my agent about my fee 😉

    Enough of a rant. Your blog rocks!

    =) Marc

    Reply
  • 5. thinkingshift  |  March 27, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Hi Marc,
    Thx for your comments and for sharing your brand slave experiences. I will share my Hong Kong experiences on my return. Glad you like ThinkingShift blog!! I’m torn on the issue of being “loyal” to one brand as you spoke about with your jeans/boots. I understand that – if you find something that is good quality and it suits you and makes sense to you – then are you being a “brand slave” if you stick to it? I’m going to some more thinking around all this – you’ve given me some good thoughts to pursue
    Kim

    Reply
  • 6. thinkingshift  |  March 27, 2008 at 12:10 am

    Hi Brad,
    Thx for leaving comments. I will share my Hong Kong experiences on my return.

    🙂

    Reply

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