Is Independence Day fashion patriotic or just empty consumerism?
As Independence Day looms closer and ‘going green’ becomes fashion’s favorite catchphrase, there’s one thing that’s pretty apparent about patriotic fashion: it’s fun, it’s trending but it’s also extremely predictable.
Consider the usual inspirations that tend to make the rounds every August 14th: stamps, currency, architectural monuments and our chaand-taara, mingled together with 50 shades of green. Meanwhile, the brands that do actually forget to delve into Azaadi lines simply root around in their stock, fish out anything green and voila, they have their Independence Day display ready. Patriotic love really can be that easy.
It is also apparently very profitable. High-street brand Sapphire has been bringing out capsule patriotic lines for two years now and Creative Director Khadijah Shah observes how the clothes are a hit.
“Our prices begin at Rs 1800 and we like to focus on imagery that goes beyond Independence Day. Our ‘Freedom Nation’ line this time features calligraphy, bright florals, local monuments, vintage postage stamps and the chaand-taara interspersed in places. The menswear kurtas are plain with tiny detailings like printed flag borders on the inside. Our scarves sell out very quickly too. The designs are certainly nationalistic but not in an overt way, so that they can easily be worn later as well.”
Khadijah’s words ring true for some of Sapphire’s patriotic tunics, although not all. What she says makes sense though. The sensible shopper will not be inclined to buy clothes that can only be worn on Yaum-e-Azaadi and the odd cricket match.
HSY, in collaboration with the Citizens Archive Pakistan (CAP), has created tunics where digital imagery of the oldest Pakistani rupee has been interspersed with ten present-day young stars whom HSY calls "Pakistan’s new earning."
Many more high-street brands are following suit. Nishat Linen’s Liberation collection features architecture, skylines and script, fashioned into the usual kurta silhouettes as well as a lightweight funky jacket for women. There are also kurtas for men and some very pretty childrenswear, all mixed in with requisite spurts of green.
Ideas Pret delves into embroidered cambric and digitally printed geometrics with Lahore’s minarets and monuments peeping amidst them. Nationalistic but very wearable all the year round, the brand has cashed in on Independence Day further with a flat 25% off sale.
Ethnic by Outfitters dedicates its ‘Azadi Spirit’ to national heroes with kurtas printed with the Nishan-e-Haider as well as florals and vintage sewing machines.
Others have stuck to a staid green. Al-Zohaib Textiles’ ‘Azaadi Kurti’ collection is all-green and comes digitally printed with the works: Quaid and Iqbal’s images, postage stamps, currency, et al. J., similarly, etches out Pakistan’s map, the chaand-taara, geometrics and postage stamps. House of Ittehad’s patriotic line follows the same aesthetics, although one kurta immediately catches the eye, printed with local landscape in black and white etchings.
It’s easy breezy predictable design and beyond country-love, people buy them because of their phenomenally low prices. Al-Zohaib’s kurtas, for instance, are priced at just Rs 1200. But it’s hardly edgy, outstanding fashion.
Further away from the high-street, though, there are designers who are adding an extra oomph to Azaadi. HSY, in collaboration with the Citizens Archive Pakistan (CAP), has created two tunics where digital imagery of the oldest Pakistani rupee, found within CAP’s reserve, has been interspersed with ten present-day young stars; among them, Bilal Ashraf, Gohar Rasheed, Sadaf Kanwal and Hareem Farooq.
“These are young people who have built their careers from nothing to now rule the hearts of a population of 200 million,” explains HSY. “They represent Pakistan’s new earning. We need to invest in them because they are our currency now.” A few minor tweaks to the silhouettes have made the designs more standout than the regular kurta. A lawn sepia tunic is cinched around the waist and has cut-out sleeves while a silk black and white design has a draped neckline. With the lawn design priced at Rs 8000 and the silk at Rs 13500, the prices are much higher than those in the high-street but then again, the clothes will stand out amidst the generic inundations of green.
Over at Sonya Battla, proceeds from her 'Edhi' tunic will go to the Edhi Foundation. “People can give charity for Rs 8400 at Edhi Centre, bring the receipt to my store and they’ll get the tunic for free,” she says.
But what is all this interest in 'Azadi' fashion actually doing for the country it celebrates?
In a completely different league is Sonya Battla’s endeavor to etch the recently demised Edhi onto a patriotic tunic. The tunic is somewhat controversial — many have asked whether it is correct to place the face of a revered icon like Edhi onto fabric which will be worn, soiled and washed repetitively. Sonya has her reasons.
“It is quite common to wear the images of heroes on shirts and Edhi is my hero,” she says. “Often, we incorporate flags, currency or stamps onto our designs but they say nothing about our value system. On the other hand, Edhi had a value system that we all need to adopt. He stood for charity, patience and humanity. We need to be the same way. And instead of complaining about the mess, we need to focus more on cleaning up the mess, which is what he did.”
“Some people may feel uncomfortable about wearing Edhi’s face on their clothes and that’s their choice. But this is going to be our first Independence Day without him and I designed this tunic as a tribute to him and his values,” she continues.
The cotton tunic is priced at Rs 8400, which might seem pretty steep. However, it should be noted that Sonya says all proceeds from the sales are going to be donated to Edhi’s charities.
To prove her point, she adds: “People can give charity for Rs 8400 at Edhi Centre, bring the receipt to my store and they’ll get the tunic for free.”
Herein lies the true essence of Independence Day: to be charitable and work against all odds for a better Pakistan. You may choose to donate to Edhi Centre and wear a bona fide Sonya Battla or you may love the high-street’s many lower-priced offerings.
You may even decide to celebrate Azaadi by rolling up your sleeves, loading up on caffeine and diving straight into the many 14th August sales currently doing the rounds.
But none of us must forget the meaning of patriotism and the desperate need to somehow make things better.
In these sad, trying times, it is not something to be forgotten.